For the second straight year, Zdeno Chara was a Norris Trophy finalist, and for the second straight year, another defenseman took the trophy home because they were a more appealing story, as opposed to being a better player. Nicklas Lidstrom didn't deserve it in 2011, and Erik Karlsson didn't deserve in 2012. As Wilt Chamberlain once said, "no one cheers for Goliath."
No matter. Whether he has the hardware to show for it or not, Chara is the NHL's best defenseman, and was once again in 2012. Karlsson may have had the offensive bona fides that voters seem to love, but Chara actually played, y'know, DEFENSE. Chara was always matched up against the other side's best scorers, boasting the highest quality of competition on Boston's defense, and the 4th highest in the NHL. With Chara on the ice, Boston was a goal per 60 minutes better than with him off the ice, and were 7 shots per 60 minutes better than the opposition. Chara's relative Corsi was a whopping 13.0, good for second in the NHL, among defensemen with at least 70 games. Incidentally, both Chara's relative and absolute Corsi ratings were better than offensive powerhouse Karlsson.
Relative Corsi, of course, is a measurement of the player against his own teammates. Chara's massive relative Corsi is partly a reflection of his own magnificence and partly a reflection of the fact that Boston's defense isn't anything to write home about without him. Johnny Boychuk had some nice numbers, but that must be tempered by the fact that most of his ice time was shared with Chara.
In terms of absolute numbers, Chara set a career high with 52 points, but what's more interesting is his metronome-like consistency: since 2002-3, he's had between 39 and 52 points every year. Since coming to Boston in 2006-7, he's had at least 43 points every year and played at least 77 games and done so with at least 25 minutes of ice time. It's a good thing he's so durable; Boston relies heavily on their captain, and will likely continue to do so for years to come.
Chara is 35 years old, an age at which we would ordinarily expect decline, but historically, size and hockey sense are attributes that age quite well, and those are two of Chara's best qualities. Physically, Chara is a marvel, even apart from his 6'9 frame. He's probably the strongest player in the NHL, and his track record of durability, coupled with his freakish workout regimen, make it likely that he'll continue playing at, or near, his current level for several more years, though at some point, the team will probably scale back a bit on his ice time. Indeed, this has already happened; when he first came to Boston, Chara averaged 27:58 of ice time per game. Last year he was down to 25:00.
In Boston's long tradition of great defensemen, Chara is a worthy heir to the mantle passed from Shore to Orr to Park to Bourque.