Now that the last Bruins-Montreal game of the regular season is in the rear-view mirror, maybe everyone can turn the page on Zdeno Chara’s season from the Max Pacioretty hit to what are some impressive numbers.
Chara’s totals are so prolific, he should be front and center in the debate over this year’s Norris Trophy. Chara previously won the award as the league’s best defenseman with 19 goals, 50 points and a plus-23 rating in 2008-09.
Chara is in the midst of a stretch of seven games that has featured him putting up 10 points, including two goals. One has to hope that the controversy over the Pacioretty hit and the league’s decision to not suspend Chara doesn’t jade the view of the voters of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (a group I’m a part of). Because when you break it down, the Bruins’ captain might be the perfect choice to win the Norris.
With last year’s winner Duncan Keith of Chicago kind of behind the pack statistically this year and Washington’s Mike Green, a perennial finalist the last couple years, out with a concussion for a lengthy period of time, I’ve narrowed the list of candidates to eight, including Chara. Without getting into any detailed, sabremetric analysis, here’s a capsule look at how Chara compares to the following players: Lubomir Visnovsky (Anaheim), Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit), Keith Yandle (Phoenix), Dustin Byfuglien (Atlanta), Kris Letang (Pittsburgh) Shea Weber (Nashville) and Dan Boyle (San Jose).
Let me start by saying that on my ballot, I could never give a first-place vote to a defenseman that barely gets on the ice during penalty kills when there are so many great all-around defensemen to choose from and no one is putting up historic offensive totals. So right off the bat I rule out Visnovsky, Yandle and Byfuglien.
Chara currently sits 15th among defensemen in points with 42 (two shy of last year’s total) and seventh with 13 goals with nine games left in the Bruins’ season. After the points leader Visnovsky, Lidstrom is second (58), Letang is sixth (48), Weber is ninth (45) and Boyle is 14th (44). As far as goals, Byfuglien leads with 19. Among players I consider contenders for a first-place vote, Weber is second (16), Lidstrom is fifth (14), Letang has just eight goals and Boyle has scored just six.
Now this might not matter to some voters, but among my Norris contenders Chara scores the lowest percentage of his points on the power play. Just 33.3 percent of Chara’s points have come on the man-advantage, while Lidstrom (63.8), Letang (47.9) and Boyle (59.1) are heavily reliant on the power play. Weber closely compares to Chara at just 35.5 percent.
Ice time usually factors into Norris talk. Amazingly, the player that’s seemingly favored most by some of the bigger-name writers, Lidstrom, averages just 23:41 of ice time, which is 26th in the league. Boyle is second overall and first among my contenders at 26:35 on the season. Then comes Chara at 25:37 (fifth overall) and Weber at 25:21 (seventh overall). Letang averages 24:03.
When it comes to plus/minus — a flawed by widely accepted way to rate defensive effectiveness — Chara is the leader among this group with a plus-28 that ranks fourth overall in the NHL. Letang is plus-14, Boyle minus-4, Weber plus-11 and Lidstrom — who I repeat had this award won back in October according to some writers — is minus-2.
So while ranking among the best of the best blueliners in points, but scoring less of his points on the power play, Chara logs the most minutes of his closest competitors and sports the best plus/minus. Sure, he got off to his annual slow start and Lidstrom might finish up with the most consistent season start to end among the top defensemen, but Chara definitely has to garner serious consideration for another Norris.