Editor’s note: NESN.com will preview every NHL-level Bruins player over the next few weeks, leading to the Oct. 8 season opener. Click here for the full schedule and to read other player profiles.
Zdeno Chara is the captain of the Boston Bruins and arguably the best defenseman in the NHL.
Outside of starting goaltender Tuukka Rask, Chara is Boston’s most valuable player. His impact on the team’s offense, defense and both special teams units is incredible, and he’s able to play at a high level against top competition despite being 37 years old.
After breaking a few fingers in the Bruins’ second-round series loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, Chara is ready for another Norris Trophy-caliber campaign as he enters his ninth season with the Black and Gold.
2013-14 Stats: 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points in 77 games
Contract: Expires after 2017-18 season, with a $6,916,667 million salary-cap hit ($4 million cap hit in final season of deal only)
What He Will Bring The Team
Despite what some fans and foolish sports radio hosts will tell you, Chara enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2013-14. He tallied 40 points, including 17 goals (tied for the second-highest single-season total of his career), 10 of which were scored on the power play (tied Torey Krug for the most PPG). Chara’s shot from the point is the most powerful in the league, and when he’s around the net, his long reach and underrated stick-handling allow him to score goals from the dirty areas.
From a defensive standpoint, Chara remains elite. He’s exceptional on the penalty kill, a unit that ranked eighth in the league last season. He tallied 104 blocked shots and 20 takeaways, and his 29.5 Quality of Competition rating was the second-best among all D-men. He also was a major reason why the B’s ranked second in goals against.
The following chart (via Extra Skater) shows how Chara compared to other top defensemen in Quality of Competition, Corsi-for percentage and zone start ratio. Basically, the B’s captain faced the toughest competition, helped drive puck possession with a fantastic 55.4 CF% and didn’t start the majority of his shifts in the attacking zone.
This chart (via War on Ice) illustrates how the Bruins allowed more shots in many different areas of the ice when Chara was on the bench last season.
Weakness That Must Be Improved
Chara lacks speed, and that was obvious at times during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks and in last season’s second-round series versus the Canadiens. The B’s captain makes up for this weakness by being so well-positioned, but he still sometimes has trouble with speedy, highly skilled wingers in open ice. Chara entered training camp in tremendous shape, even better than he usually does, which should help him stay fresher this season.
With that said, Boston’s coaching staff also needs to manage Chara’s minutes. His team-leading 24:39 of ice time per game in 2013-14 was too much, although to be fair, injuries to Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid forced Chara to play more than he should have.
Expected Role For 2014-15
Chara’s role won’t change for the Bruins, who will rely on him to do a little bit of everything. He will log over 20 minutes per game and provide scoring, excellent defense, a net-front presence on the power play and excellent penalty killing. The B’s captain also will face the opponents’ top forwards on just about every shift and lead with his voice, as well as his performance.
When Chara is playing at an elite level, the Bruins are the toughest team in the league to beat.
Projected 2014-15 Stats: 16 goals, 26 assists in 78 games
Photo by Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Have a Bruins/NHL question for Nick Goss? Send it to him via Twitter at @NickGossNESN