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Underappreciated: Zdeno Chara

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NHL: Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

“Chara is too slow, he’s washed up, the Bruins should trade him”

We have all heard it on sports radio, read it in numerous articles and maybe even thought it ourselves this year…

The thing is, Zdeno Chara is remarkably having one of his finest seasons in years, at the age of 40. Whether you use the eye test or varying statistics, there is no way around the fact that Chara has had a noticeable resurgence this year. While he may not be the same two way threat he was in his 08-09 Norris Trophy season, he has undeniably been a #1 Defenseman and still ranks among the league’s elite. Some key points breaking down his strong season are included below.

Special Teams Usage: As the charts below indicate, Chara has seen a dramatic shift in how his Special Teams TOI is used. Most notably, his PP TOI is virtually nonexistent (00:26 PP TOI/GP). In place of PP TOI, he ran away with the NHL SHTOI/GP lead, with the runners up a full 00:30/GP or more behind. Simply put, Chara has been a defensive force and a workhorse on arguably the best PK unit in the NHL [3rd in xGF%, 2nd in GF% - Ed.]. Chara is currently tied for 14th among defensemen in even strength points. Over the course of his Bruins career, he has averaged over 12 PPP, and he's been close to that number over the past four seasons. Considering this, it is conceivable that with more PP TOI this season, Chara would have finished as a Top 30 defensive point producer.

Power Play & Penalty Kill:

Power Play Statistics
NHL.com
Penalty Kill Statistics
NHL.com

Time On Ice:

TOI Splits
NHL.com

Pairings: It would be hard to mention Chara without bringing up his rotating cast of defense partners in recent years. Whether it was a bottom pairing player like McQuaid or Trotman, an inexperienced player like either Miller or even a top young prospect like Carlo or Hamilton; it is fair to say Chara has largely carried each of them to varying degrees. This season, Carlo, while a pleasant surprise, has had his fair share of defensive miscues, that Chara has largely covered for effectively.

Unlike other top pairing defensemen, Chara doesn’t have the luxury of a D. Keith/B. Seabrook or A. Hedman/V. Stralman type of pairing. Frankly, the fact that he on a mediocre Bruins team, with a 20 year old rookie partner, is tied for 9th in +/- among NHL defensemen at +21 is borderline remarkable.

Pairing Combinations 2014-Present
corsica.hockey.com

Health: Finally and perhaps most importantly, Chara seems to be at full health for the first time in 2 seasons. In 2014-2015, it was a trip to the IR for a knee injury that cost him 19 regular season games. In 2015-2016, it was a pre-season injury that cost him the first 2 games of the regular season. After his return, Chara never looked fully healthy and in hindsight was likely rushed back due to an also injured Dennis Seidenberg, leaving Krug and McQuaid as the Bruins top pairing.

Synopsis: At the end of the day, the NHL’s eldest rearguard is still one of the best in the game. While he may not be a 50+ point Norris Trophy favorite anymore, the future Hall of Famer is indisputably closing out his storied career on a high note. In a season where the Captain celebrated a Masterton Trophy nomination, his 600th point and 1300th NHL game played, it’s a real shame he is doing so while being underappreciated by many in the fan base.

All statistics provided by NHL.com & Corsica.hockey.com