September 5, 2013

2013-14 Bruins Player Preview: Zdeno Chara

By Jesse Connolly

Leading up to the start of the season, New England Hockey Journal will be taking a look ahead to 2013-14 with a series of Bruins player previews throughout September.

Today, we're examining what proved to be an up-and-down season for Zdeno Chara last year and taking a crack at predicting what's in store during the upcoming campaign for the Bruins' captain.

ZDENO CHARA | #33 | Defense

HEIGHT: 6-foot-9 WEIGHT: 255 SHOOTS: Left

BORN: March 18, 1977 – Trencin, Czechoslovakia

DRAFT: 1996 – 3rd round (56th Overall) by the New York Islanders

CONTRACT STATUS: Signed through 2017-18 ($6.9 million cap hit)

2012-13 STATISTICS: 7 goals, 12 assists, 19 points, plus-14 in 48 games

LOOKING BACK ON 2013

Chara hit the ground running in his seventh season as captain of the Bruins. After deciding early on to play in the KHL during the lockout, where he racked up 10 points in 25 games for Lev Praha, the behemoth blueliner posted 3-5-8 totals and a rock-solid plus-7 rating in Boston’s first 17 games of the season. – during which he spent time alongside prized rookie Dougie Hamilton before settling in next to Johnny Boychuk for majority of the remainder of the campaign.

After helping Boston win 14 of their first 18 games, Chara cooled off in the second of the season and, as is almost always the case, so did the team as a whole. The 36-year-old rearguard had just one goal in the final 23 games leading up to the playoffs and was just plus-1 during that stretch after sporting a plus-13 rating through 25 tilts. 

The 2009 Norris Trophy winner brought his A-game come playoff time with 15 points in 22 contests, helping the Bruins come within two victories of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. But Big Z’s game slumped in the final round of the postseason against the Blackhawks, as Chara found himself on the ice for nearly all of the goals Chicago scored in the second half of the series.

Boston lost three straight, including the unforgettable, heartbreaking, season-ending collapse in Game 6, to fall four games to two to the Blackhawks. Chara was minus-6 in those last three games.

FIVE FACTS

1. Chara failed to be named as a finalist for the Norris Trophy for just the third time in the last nine seasons. The others were 2010 and 2007.

2. The 2013 season saw Chara fall short of averaging at least half-a-point per game for the first time since 2001-02 in Ottawa.

3. Since the disastrous, 2006-07 campaign under Dave Lewis, Chara is plus-136 over the last six seasons.

4. With an assist on Jaromir Jagr’s goal in a 1-0 win over the Devils on Apr. 4, Chara notched his 300th career point as a Bruin.

5. Chara ranks 11th in career points (478) among NHL players from Slovakia and third among his active countrymen. He’s a ways away from the top 10, however, as former Nordique Anton Stastny is next up on the list with 636 career points.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2013-14

The biggest question surrounding Chara’s upcoming season is this: Was his performance in the Stanley Cup Final a product of exhaustion and a handful of minor injuries, or was it a sign of things to come? The 6-foot-9 defenseman is going to turn 37 by year’s end, and it might be time to start scaling his workload back – especially during the regular season.

There’s no disputing that Chara is still an elite d-man at both ends of the ice, but Boston’s captain faltered after playing heavy minutes in a combined 95 games between the KHL, NHL regular season and playoffs. It’s hard to bet against Chara turning in another season we’ll go on to label as “very good” or perhaps “great,” especially given his otherworldly training regimen and spectacular track of record of being impossible to knock out of Boston’s lineup.

Furthermore, I expect Boston’s power play to fare better (famous last words) in 2013-14 than it has for the last, uh, half-a-decade – especially sans Marc Savard. Chara registered just one single, solitary assist in the truncated 48-game season last year. So long as that was a crazy anomaly and not some ominous sign of the apocalypse for No. 33’s offensive abilities, Chara’s PP numbers should be much approved.

Defensively, I expect more of the same. Boychuk will serve as the primary partner, but Hamilton should be poised to pick up more playing time in his second year as a pro. Don’t be surprised if we occasionally see Chara team up with his playoff running mate, Dennis Seidenberg, for a few stints during the 82-game campaign.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14

Prior to the start of a postseason that was highlighted by a dominant shutting-down of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the high-powered Penguins in the conference finals, Chara, just didn’t seem to be as dominant -- and to a lesser extent, as snarly -- as he’s been in years past.

Expect the herculean Slovak to have a strong start to the upcoming campaign. If Claude Julien’s defensive corps is up to the task, hopefully the rest of the blueliners can afford Chara the opportunity to pace himself and stay on top of his game at both ends of the rink the rest of the way -- especially given that Big Z will be sporting the 'C' for Slovakia during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

PREDICTION: 10 goals, 33 assists, 43 points, plus-28 in 78 games.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com