When the Boston Bruins bestowed their largest free-agent contract on Zdeno Chara in the summer of 2006, the 2008-09 season was just what they had in mind for the gargantuan defenseman.
It wasn’t just the career-high 19 goals and the plus-23 rating that made Chara the best defenseman in the league this season. When it came time to put the clamps on Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk or any of the league’s other offensive machines, Chara was there to grind them to a halt. He had his share of problems with Eric Staal in the playoffs, but regained his form in time to help the team force a Game 7 with Carolina and did nothing to tarnish what was definitely a Norris Trophy-worthy campaign.
Stats: 80 GP, 19-31-50, 95 PIM, plus-23 regular season; 11 GP, 1-3-4, 12 PIM, plus-1 playoffs.
Contract status: Signed through end of 2010-11 season at $7.5 million cap hit.
Season highlight: The eighth-seeded underdog Montreal Canadiens were dreaming of an upset, and for more than 2 1/2 periods they hung tight with the top-seeded Bruins in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. That’s when Chara unleashed his laser-like slap shot on a power play to put the Bruins ahead, 3-2, with 8:45 remaining in regulation. Phil Kessel added an empty-net goal and the Canadiens were never in the series after that, as the Bruins won a round of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
Season low light: The Bruins were outshot, 41-23, and thoroughly outplayed for more than 60 minutes of action, but they still had a chance to steal Game 3 on the road against Carolina in the best-of-seven second-round series. While he wasn’t 100 percent at fault for the miscue that led to the Hurricanes’ game-winning goal — Chara was at the end of a long shift and the Bruins were in the midst of changing their forwards — the blueliner’s airborne clearing attempt was just soft enough that Jussi Jokinen could steal it and start the sequence that ended with the Finn banging home the clutch goal.
In summation … Chara has about as complete a season as a defenseman can have in the NHL these days, and not only should he win the Norris but he should’ve received greater consideration for the Hart Trophy.
Grade: A. When a player actually lives up to a hefty free-agent contact, it’s a sight to behold.
The crystal ball says … without the encumbrance of offseason surgery or a trip to Africa this summer, Chara will be able to prepare even better for next season and could come back even stronger. No doubt, the Bruins’ short-lived playoff run will be a driving force for the captain.