Grade: A, Class Salutatorian
I pointed out earlier this season that Boston had exactly two indispensable players: Chara and Tim Thomas. Chara supported that theory, and then some. Without Patrice Bergeron, Boston managed a home and home split against Tampa Bay. Without Nathan Horton, Boston beat Vancouver 4 out of 5. With David Krejci and Milan Lucic mostly invisible in round 1, the Bruins still got past Montreal. Without Chara, suffering from the Stomach Virus of Doom, Boston was embarrassed in Game 2 of that series.
Chara's +1.85 per 60 minutes was the best among Boston defensemen, against a +1.16 per 60 minutes when he was off the ice. That difference of 0.69 goals per 60 minutes was the best among Boston defensemen. It is made doubly impressive when one notes how unimpressive most of Boston's other defensemen were throughout the year, and in the playoffs. Unlike Shea Weber, Chara didn't have a superstar on his pairing to pick up the slack. It was on Big Z; if he faltered, the opposition was sure to get a good scoring chance. It was like that all year for Chara: regular season and postseason.
Above all else that he accomplished was his magnificent performance in the Finals. The Bruins matched him up against the Sedin line at every opportunity. If they were on the ice, he was on the ice. If they went to the corner, he was there with a crushing hit. If they went to the ladies' room, he stood there and made sure they washed their hands. Neither twin was a factor in the Finals.
Chara's regular season started a bit slow, with even a few (idiotic) suggestions that he should surrender his C. Chara was a monster in the second half, however, finishing with a 12.7 GVT that was all the more impressive due to a very high quality of competition, and very poor zone starts. For some reason, the NHL voters saw fit to give the Norris Trophy to a power play specialist who didn't help his team in the least at even strength.
Whatever. Given the choice, I'm pretty confident that Big Z would take the Stanley Cup over the Norris Trophy.