clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is Zdeno Chara getting old? Father Time always wins, part 1

No matter how hard you work, your body will fail you. It's time to start preparing for the end.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It's comforting, knowing that some things never change.

The big maple tree in your front yard; knowing that your mom will always cook you a homemade meal; your high school crush still isn't into you; or that your favorite athlete is going to be playing on your favorite team on gameday.  I still have several comforts like that.  There's the family barn, built in 1896.  There's the worn out, stained sweatshirt I wear every Saturday.  I still visit my mother every other week (or so) for dinner, and it's always better than anything I've ever cooked.

But there have also been changes that I never thought I would see happen.  The big maple tree in front of my grandmother's old farmhouse is gone; cut down by my father and I a few years ago.  That same farmhouse with the flower wallpaper, yellow cabinets, the pantry that hid the oatmeal cream pies, and the pea-green refrigerator with string cheese in the freezer has been completely renovated since she passed away.  Now, I live there.  Brett Favre, the iron-man who's youthful smile got me into football, retired a couple of times. I guess he decided sitting on his wrangler jean money was better than getting his brain knocked around for a few more years.

And now? The next familiar face to emulate the Titanic, both in size and form?

Zdeno Chara.

I haven't been a Bruins fan my entire life.  Part of this is due to location; I live about 3 hours from Montreal, and 3 hours from Boston.  I don't see Bruins sweaters walking down the street, nor do I listen to 98.5 the Sports Hub.  I also don't see the point of dogs that fit in purses or a burger without cheese, but that's a topic for another time.  Hell, the only hockey on TV I was able to watch was on channel 8, broadcast from Maine; one of the two channels our giant antenna was able to get.  The first Stanley Cup game I ever saw was from the 2000-2001 season when the Colorado Avalanche, with Sakic, Forsberg, Hedjuk, Bourque and  Roy, won the cup.  I don't remember many details, because it's all pretty fuzzy.  Literally fuzzy.  It was like watching a hockey game during a snowstorm at night; there was so much noise, I'm surprised I don't need coke-bottle glasses.

That was all it took to get me hooked.  I found a few friends who also happened to like hockey, and it took off from there.  My first live Bruins game was in Febrary, 2007.

boston trip.jpg

Talk about nosebleeds. I drove myself and four other buddies down in my first car, a 1997 2-door Honda Accord.  My navigator, the only one of the bunch who needed reading glasses, held the map upside down the first time we entered Boston.  Just when I thought we had it, the second time, we were crossing the bunker hill bridge going north on 93 - the route to get back home.  Third time's the charm, I suppose.  Once we finally made it and emptied our wallets directly into Jeremy Jacobs' money-vacuuming pie-hole, guess who was standing head and shoulders...and elbows...above everyone else on the blue line with a fresh C stitched on his XXXL sweater?  Big Z.

The guy's been a stud ever since he's been in Boston.  I would say his career has been overlooked, but at 6'9" and 250 lbs without skates, it's literally hard to be overlooked.   The media loves unique characters, and the tallest hockey player ever certainly is one. With all of the hardest shot competitions and one-punch fights, the dude's had a target on his back for his entire tenure in Boston.  But enough non-factual praise...

Let's go to the charts!

Here's one I created myself, using a similar template that Rob Vollman of Hockey Abstract and used in a recent article regarding the career greatness of Henrik Lundqvist.  It's a simple calculation, and it doesn't paint the whole picture, but I think it helps put Chara's career in perspective.

It is formulated by accumulating the total points that a player has received from Norris Trophy voting: 10 points for a Norris Trophy win, 7 points for second place, 5 points for third place, 3 points for fourth place, and 1 point for fifth place.  I tallied every vote from the 1979-1980 season  to 2014-2015 (trophy wasn't voted on during the lockout because that would have been silly, thanks Gary!), and removed everyone who didn't get to 10 voting points (Phil Housley only 8 voting points?).  1980 was sort of an arbitrary cutoff point to use.  Bobby Orr, with his 8 STRAIGHT WINS! isn't on here, nor Doug Harvey (ick).  Again, let me reiterate - this chart should not be used as a singular tool to measure career worth.  Voters don't always get things right...prohibition? Donald Trump? But it's a jumping off point.

Click image to enlarge and save your retinas

Norris Trophy Voting Points For

Interesting results.  I had an idea that Coffey was good, but third in Norris points since 1980?  Also a bit surprised to see Rob Blake so far down the list, but a few injured years in the prime years of his career had something to do with that.

And who comes in at number 5 on the list? Number 33 in your programs but number 1 in your hearts, Zdeno Chara!  Heck, if he even manages to put together one more good season, combined with some late career sympathy, he'll pass Chris Chelios on this chart.  He's a shoo-in first ballot hall of famer and will certainly have his number retired by the Bruins, and deserves every bit of hateful respect he's received from NHL fans.  Well, except for the time he had the Canadian Mounties called on him.  No one deserves that fate.

Let's try to visualize his tremendous career with a bit of #fancystats.  The following chart shows his percentage of zone starts by his Corsi for percentage, sized by TOI/game, and colored by personal shooting percentage.

(Don't know what the hell I'm talking about? Go here. Set aside ten minutes or use ctrl+f.)

Every year he's been here, he's been taking a majority of the defensive faceoffs.  Every year, except his inaugural as a Bruin, he's been driving play, as shown by his Corsi for percentage being over 50%. Let's add 15-16 to the same chart as above.

I think the newest year confirms what most Bruin fans have seen with their eyes.  He's gone from tremendous to merely good.  You watch a game and see him make an uncharacteristic mistake, giving up an easy goal.  You then think he's a washed-up bum who couldn't get a job flipping burgers at McDonalds.  What you don't realize is that you're actually projecting your own inadequacies and forgetting that Chara still can be very good at using his rule-breaking stick to deflect anything within the length of a limousine.  He still knows how to properly defend a 2 on 1, start a breakout, and make smart decisions on when and when not to jump into an offensive zone play; all things the Bruins defense struggles with mightily as a unit.

Now his cement blocks for feet cause him to reach more often than he should, and he seems to be out of position more so than in previous years.  It's as if Chara hasn't realized he's becoming the grumpy old man who says things like "back in my day, things were different!" before he pops some heart medication and eats dinner at 4 pm.  That's ok; teams can usually use a guy or two like that on their roster.  But guys like that can't be their linchpin anymore, playing the lion's share of minutes and shutting down the opposing team's top line.  It just can't happen.  Like ripping off a band-aid before your skin starts to grow over it, Chara will eventually need to cede his #1 defenseman status to someone who can handle it (miss you Boych and Dougie).  And I rue the day I see Zdeno Chara become a #2 defenseman.

The Bruins aren't in a position to let Chara see less minutes. His defensive partners simply are not good enough yet to be that guy.  Some of us like Colin Miller as the heir apparent; but let's face it, we don't know what we're getting with him.  22 years old, playing sheltered minutes with the lowest TOI of any Bruins defensemen.

While Chara's still barely above 50% Corsi for, he's also taken the most amount of defensive zone shifts since his first year as a Bruin.  Not only is he declining in puck possession play, he's also having to play more defensive faceoffs due to a younger, thin defensive corps around him.  Is the cause for the lower Corsi for percentage the heavier defensive zone work?  Perhaps.  Can my love for B-grade sci-fi films ever be satiated? Probably not.  But those are questions I'm not prepared to find the answer for.  If someone out there knows those answers, email me.  Seriously.

And who can blame the guy for some drop off?   He's 38 years young, and has logged 29,989 minutes over 1,242 games.  That's a handful of minutes short of THREE WEEKS PLAYING PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY NON-STOP. My wife just turned 30 and has a sore shoulder from falling uphill while cross-country skiing, bless her heart.  During Chara's first year with the Islanders, I was 9.  I think I might have learned how to tie my shoes; now, I've matured and definitely know how to tie my shoes.  Except I wear slip-ons, so, who knows.  The point is, the guy has put in his fair share of time and taken his fair share of physical punishment.

Now that we've attempted to quantify Zdeno Chara's skills, let's look at some film... coming up in PART 2 of FATHER TIME ALWAYS WINS!