Chara has strong case for Norris Trophy

Chara has strong case for Norris Trophy
April 12, 2011, 7:03 am
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By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- The compassion and earnest sentiment in Zdeno Charas eyes was undoubtedly genuine when he talked about it.

Chara knew that he had hurt Ryan Callahan badly during a typical hockey play that transpires numerous times each and every week in the NHL, but this time things didnt turn out harmlessly.

The Bruins defenseman had cocked his devastating 105.9 mph slap shot and connected on a one-time blast amid a scrambling comeback attempt against the New York Rangers in a game that was important at the time.

The puck screamed off Callahans leg in the high ankle area, and Chara knew immediately the gritty Rangers forward was in trouble given the awkward way Callahan blocked the shot at the last minute.

Callahan gamely attempted to skate it off, but it was learned the next day that a key cog in New Yorks spirited playoff crew was going to be lost with a broken bone in his leg.

Chara said he was aware of the injury following the game after talking with fellow Slovak Marian Gaborik at Madison Square Garden, and he wondered aloud what he could have possibly done to avoid harming a player he held in such high regard.

"Callahan is a top-six guy, yet he still plays with so much heart and grit, said Chara. You don't see many guys that throw their bodies around to block shots like that. He plays the game so hard. You have to respect a guy like that. I just hope that he's okay long term.

The Bs defenseman, who led all NHL blueliners with a resounding plus-33 this season and paced the Bruins with eight power-play goals courtesy of that booming slapper, wondered whether he should even let up on his heavier-than-Joba Chamberlain slap shot to avoid such injuries in the future.

That should tell everyone something about the turmoil Chara was feeling inside after the Max Pacioretty situation unfolded in Montreal.

Chara is a hulking intimidator, a force of hockey nature, and hes a natural villain straight out of central casting based on his long 6-foot-9 frame, the long, lethal hockey stick used to break up offensive plays all over the ice, and the I Must Break You Ivan Drago accent still thick despite the numerous languages hes learned over the years.

But Chara's never had it in his heart to be the hockey hit man he appears to be.

Thats why so many of his teammates current and former players who have shared ice with the Bs captain don't think the collision with Pacioretty into the Bell Centre stanchion was purposeful. The big defenseman plays a punishing physical game, but he also plays with a sense of fairness when it comes to easing up on vulnerable opponents . . . and hes played so well hes put himself in position for a second Norris Trophy.

It would also be the second trophy in the last three years amid a monstrous season for the Black Gold, and its easy to see why.

Its like half the game that hes on the ice. When they do get it in our zone against him the puck doesnt stay in there for very long, said Johnny Boychuk. Hes so big and strong and hes got that reach, and guys cant keep the puck away from him at all. It makes it a lot easier when hes on the ice.

When hes playing well everybody just follows him. Thats why hes the team leader here. What is he like plus-33 or something ridiculous like that? Thats something special and it tells you how much hes been taking care of things out there 5-on-5.

Chara put up three goals, nine assists and a plus-12 in the 15 games to close out the regular season following the Pacioretty hit, and managed to ignore threats of criminal investigations, CNN news crew interrogations and the normal monsters ball greeting that accompanies him at almost every Eastern Conference rink.

I was really impressed with the way he handled the Pacioretty situation and the way that he played said general manager Peter Chiarelli. His play didnt falter. Zee gets booed pretty much everywhere in the Northeast anyway, so I dont think thats obviously much of a change for him.

"This guy should be a strong Norris candidate. I think hes been very good this year and this incident may overshadow the fact that hes deserving of a candidacy for the Norris.

I think hes had a real strong year and his game is not sexy, but his game is really, really effective. Hes shown this year that he can play at that level and continues to play at that level. But Im really impressed with the way he finished off after that incident.

Thats why it would be a shame if the 9-1-1 shenanigans and an Air Canada flap centered around the CharaPacioretty brouhaha could take anything away from his candidacy, and that the New YorkNew Jersey boycott of award voting a byproduct of the Chris Botta credential issue with the Islanders could affect a worthy Eastern Conference player.

The offensive numbers werent eye-popping with 14 goals and 30 assists in 81 games for Chara, but they were certainly upper echelon among defensemen while setting the standard for a two-way defender capable of doing everything on the ice.

Offensive blueliners like Lubomir Visnovsky and Keith Yandle posted big offensive numbers this season and will get some consideration, but there is also the sense those particular players are never on the ice against the other teams biggest offensive weapons.

That bears out in the penalty kill ice time for each potential Norris trophy candidate as both Chara (2:48 of PK ice time per game), Nik Lidstrom (2:40 of PK ice time per game) and Shea Weber (2:08 of PK ice time per game) were anywhere near the top of penalty-killing defensemen. Those three defensemen live up to the positions true name, and provide the kind of team value that makes blueliners the most valuable commodity on a teams roster.

People dont realize that he plays against top lines, or maybe they do realize. But when you look at his stats and you look at his plusminus, how can you not say that he should be recognized, said Claude Julien of Charas Norris candidacy. Hes not just an offensive defenseman that plays and gets points on the power play and goes up against third and fourth lines all night long. He plays against top players all night long, and his numbers show you that hes winning a lot of those battles.

Perhaps hell win another one of those battles with the Norris Trophy race, but he embarks on perhaps the biggest campaign of his career when his Bruins open up against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday night.

Great pressure makes for great players, and everyone will find out if thats true over the next two weeks.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs