Editor's Note: Two years ago, the Bruins dominated the NHL's annual awards night in Las Vegas, with Tim Thomas winning the Vezina, Zdeno Chara the Norris and Claude Julien the Jack Adams. Last year, Boston came away empty handed, but this year they have a chance to make a few more trips up to the podium between Chaka Khan performances. Over the course of the All-Star break, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will look at the chances for several Bruins to bring some hardware home from Vegas after this season. In this installment, will Zdeno Chara make a run at winning a second Norris Trophy in three years?
On Friday, Zdeno Chara was the second defenseman selected in the inaugural All-Star fantasy draft, a reflection of how highly regarded the Bruins captain is among his peers.
Chara certainly holds the respect of his teammates.
"You know, that's our leader, that's our captain," Patrice Bergeron said after a recent game. "That's why he's probably the best defenseman in the league."
But will Chara once again be recognized as the league's top blueliner with his second Norris Trophy in the last three years?
A month ago that seemed unlikely. While Chara was playing his customary strong defense shutting down opposing team's top lines, he was mired in one of the longest scoring droughts of his career. He went 23 games without a goal after scoring against Montreal on Nov. 11, and while the Norris is supposed to go to the best all-around defenseman, it's rarely awarded to a d-man who doesn't also possess some impressive offensive numbers.
Fortunately for Chara, he's begun to take care of that in the last month. He scored six goals in the first name games of January, capped by his first career hat trick against Carolina on Jan. 17. Overall, Chara had 6-6-12 totals in 14 games this month, giving him 10-16-26 for the season.
That compares favorably to where he stood at this point in his Norris season in 2008-09. He had 11-19-30 totals through 50 games that year, and finished with 19-31-50. Chara was also a plus-23 that year and a plus-24 through 50 games. This year he's at plus-22.
That's good for fourth in the league among defensemen, while his 10 goals also rank him fourth. He's tied with Nicklas Lidstrom, Dustin Byfuglien and Brett Burns for the most power-play goals among defensemen with six, second in shots to Byfuglien with 166 and his average ice time of 26:08 is third to just Dan Boyle and reigning Norris winner Duncan Keith.
Keith was the only defenseman picked ahead of Chara in the All-Star draft, but the Chicago standout is actually having a subpar season by his standards. Keith has just 3-25-28 totals and is a minus-4. Last season's other finalists have also slipped a bit, with Washington's Mike Green managing just 8-14-22 totals and Drew Doughty of the Kings at 4-22-26.
That opens the door for some new names to garner Norris consideration. Phoenix's Keith Yandle actually leads all defensemen in scoring at 8-36-44, while Anaheim's Lubomir Vishnovsky is a surprising second at 8-35-43. Byfuglien has taken well to the switch back to defense in Atlanta after playing forward in Chicago, and has 16-25-41 totals, while Minnesota's Burns is at 14-17-31, Pittsburgh's Kris Letang is at 7-34-41 and Nashville's Shea Weber has 9-21-30 totals and 131 hits.
But the biggest obstacle for Chara to overcome is likely Lidstrom. The Detroit veteran has won the award six times, and there will certainly be sentiment to give him a seventh in what could very well be his final season after the 40-year-old signed just a one-year deal this summer. Lidstrom is more than a sentimental choice though, as he's third among NHL defensemen with 11-31-42 totals, albeit with an uncharacteristic minus-3.
Chara's chances could come down to how much voters value the overall contribution he makes to his team. He's raised his offensive numbers enough to get into the conversation, but it's his physical presence (105 hits) and defensive work (74 blocked shots) that would have to put him over the top as it did in 2009.
"Well we try to be involved and help the offense, but you know, obviously our first priority is to play strong defensively and take care of our own zone," Chara said. "If there's a chance and an opportunity to jump up and help create something offensively or put those shots through, we have to do that. It's a big part of the game and everyone is trying to do that so obviously the same for us."
Putting up offensive numbers is a big part of winning the Norris too, but if Friday's All-Star draft is any indication, the rest of the league recognizes the many ways Chara helps a team. Norris voters may want to take notice too.
Friday, Jan. 28: Patrice Bergeron's bid for the Selke Trophy was analyzed.
Next up, Tim Thomas is cruising toward another Vezina with his spectacular start to the season, but could he be in line for even more hardware if he can keep up this pace all season?
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