Chara steps to the head of the line

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Chara steps to the head of the line

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Zdeno Chara may finally be rounding into the leader everyone always wanted him to be.

Thats no knock on the 6-foot-9 defenseman and Bruins captain in his fifth year with the team, and his 13th year in the NHL, of course.

Its more a nod to the demands that come along with wearing the C on the Black and Gold sweater of the Spoked B tribe, and the downright crazy expectations of a frothy fan base that hasnt tasted from the Stanley Cup in 39 anguish-filled years.

Chara couldnt just be a sterling leader by example or the hardest worker on the team as hes always been during his All-Star, Norris Trophy caliber career with the Islanders, Senators and Bruins.

Chara had to show fire and emotion in times of need for his team, and learn how to connect with every single member of his hockey club on a greater level than simply showing them how many pull-ups he could do in 60 seconds.

There was an emotional component to the job that Chara always seemed to be searching for, and it was clearly a process. It would seem that in his most challenging NHL season the Bs defenseman finally broke down those walls, and everyone within the organization has taken notice of his evolution as hes battled true adversity all along the way.

Weve been together for both our tenures here. We went to one conference final with Ottawa and lost, so that was a bit of painful memory. We just kind of connected briefly after Game 7 and I could see a little bit of a twinkle in his eye, said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. It was kind of a special moment for me to share with him. I cant say enough about him as a player and his defensive impact on the game.

I think in the Tampa series you saw him try and do a little more offensively on his own and at clutch times. That was -- for me -- him stepping up. His leadership abilities have grown exponentially. I cant say enough about Zee and the impact that he has in the locker room -- and on the ice.

The crowning moment came following the Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning when Chara finally experienced the victorious glory hes waited for his entire career.

Chara was invited to center ice to accept the Prince of Wales Trophy from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly that signified Bostons Eastern Conference Championship, and his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

This was after taking down the Montreal Canadiens in seven games after that team, that city and that whole region forced Chara through the ringer for his clean hit on Max Pacioretty. This was after a police investigation for a hockey hit deemed a hockey play by the league that polices these sorts of things.

This was after Chara missed Game 2 with a case of severe dehydration that forced his hospitalization and caused him to drop a sickening 10 pounds over a 24-hour period leading up to the game.

This was after Chara blew away the questions about his 0-5 career record in Game 7 leading into this years playoffs with big performances in Game 7 victories over the Habs and Lightning.

It would have been natural for Chara to be thinking about himself when he was called to accept the Prince of Whales Trophy, pondering deeply what the victory meant to his standing both in the league and in the long history of the Bruins organization.

But thats not what happened at all, and it spoke volumes about Charas priorities.

Chara conjured up images of the 2001 New England Patriots when he summoned all of his teammates to crowd around the conference trophy and get a group picture with a mildly surprised Daly.

Why surprise?

Because its not normally done that way in the tradition-beholden NHL.

Chara departed from the norm to include an entire team thats grown incredibly tight over the last four years amid concussions, cheap shots, playoff collapses and a European trip that bonded the squad tightly together.

It was a group gesture that made a lot of people happy up and down the organizational ladder, and revealed just how closely the Bruins have developed into a unit that rises and falls on a united front.

It says a lot about the team. Zees never been there so he goes up there and you always talk about whether you touch the trophy or not. Youre probably thinking about a bunch of different things like Wow, we made it and all this stuff, said Chiarelli. You can tell what was first on his mind Lets get the team up there.

You look at the photo afterwards and its a pretty cool photo. Zee is growing exponentially as a leader. Im certain that he would say also that his support group is very strong. It has been getting stronger as a group. Hes a very effective and very good leader for this team.

Chara was anointed leader because of his role as a captain, but hes been supported by a stalwart leadership group within the Bs dressing room.

Mark Recchi has been a big factor in the Chara evolution as a leader because its given the big defenseman a veteran thats seen everything during his 21 years in the NHL. Chara listened to the 43-year-old from the first day he arrived in Boston via a trade with the Lightning three years ago.

Patrice Bergeron is the emerging force thats becoming a voice just as strong as Chara and Recchi when it comes to leadership, intensity and the commitment to bringing a Cup back to Boston. It was Bergeron and Chara after all that believed so much in the Bruins Way of doing things that they both signed on for lengthy contract extensions before the season commenced in Prague.

That trio is supported fully by Shawn Thornton, Andrew Ference, Tim Thomas and now by Chris Kelly, Shane Hnidy and a burgeoning group of young leaders within the dressing room taking their paces from the vets. Its created the perfect environment of winning inside the Bs dressing room, and Chara has seen it built from the ground up when he arrived in Chiarellis first season.

Its pretty special here, said Chara. Winning Game 7s thats when you know that everybodys buying into it. Everybodys willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes for the win.

We are just showing our desire. We want it bad and for every player in this room and every fan outside of this arena. We are very thankful to the fans and all the people for our support.

Chara has shown it while playing against the Canadiens at much less than 100 percent when he did return from his dehydration episode, and managing to lead the NHL playoff field with a plus-11 while lining up against the best offensive players in the world. Its left little doubt how much of a game-changer Chara is on the ice, and what his standing is within an organization thats boasted some pretty outstanding defensemen in its black and golden history.

It does validate that were filling the holes with the right people and bringing the right organization together. It validates the quality of the management and the leadershipnot just at the top but throughout the organization, said Bs owner Jeremy Jacobs. From the player on the ice, you take Zdeno Chara. His leadership is indispensable. I think the organization from the top to bottom has evolved into a singular objective.

Its taken time and some stunning defeats over the years for that message to be honed into something ready for a Cup-worthy ascension, but Chara has finally reached it this season as a leader still operating at an elite level.

Chiarelli always envisioned what Chara would become before his career was finished in Boston, and big Zee is now that guy forged through the fire of experience and time.

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

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

There’s been smoke for weeks signaling trade talks between the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche, and things are reportedly heating up with the Bruins potentially reaching a tipping point with their subpar play on the ice. According to Bleacher Report columnist Adrian Dater, things may be progressing between the two teams because the Bruins are beginning to entertain the idea of trading away 20-year-old top pairing rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Bruins Director of Player Personnel John Ferguson Jr. was expected to be out in Colorado scouting the Avalanche/Blackhawks game on Tuesday night, and perhaps getting a long look at players like Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie among others.

The expectation is that 24-year-old Landeskog is in the middle of these trade discussions, and that he would be one of the players targeted by a Bruins team that could use more size on the wing, and more players that can put the puck in the net. Certainly Landeskog has done that in his brief NHL career after being a No. 2 overall pick, and has four 20-goal seasons on his resume prior to a disappointing, injury-plagued current season in Colorado.

The word around the league was that talks fizzled between the Bruins and Avs previously when Joe Sakic asked about the availability of the Colorado Springs native Carlo, and those discussions hit the same crunching roadblock that Winnipeg did in discussions with Boston about Jacob Trouba.

Perhaps that has changed in the last 24 hours after Cam Neely and Don Sweeney watched their Bruins completely no-show against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders, on Monday afternoon. Now one would expect that Bruins management is getting desperate feeling that a third “Did Not Qualify” for the Stanley Cup playoffs could be in their future if they don’t make a bold, swift move to shake up their dazed hockey club.

But let’s not pull any punches here. The entire Bruins management group should be fired on the spot if they trade a 20-year-old, top pairing shutdown defenseman on an entry level contract like Carlo unless they are getting a bona fide superstar in return. Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak should all be young, untouchable assets for a Bruins organization that is years away from legitimately holding a chance at a Stanley Cup.

Landeskog is not a bona fide superstar. He’s a good player that’s topped out at 26 goals and 65 points in the NHL, but he’s also the Captain on a horrendous, underachieving Avalanche team over the last three years.

If the price were right for Landeskog it would make all the sense in the world for the Bruins to deal him, but it’s a giant honking red flag that Colorado is looking to unload a player like him that’s signed for a reasonable $5.5 million price tag over the next four seasons. Teams don’t trade young players like that with term unless there’s more to the story, and that’s something the Bruins would do well to consider before giving up a player that could be a top-4 shutdown defenseman in Boston for the next 10 years.

Teams like the Bruins that are in reloading mode also shouldn’t be trading 20-year-old players for 24-year-old players that have already cashed in on their second contract. That’s exactly how the Bruins can get right back into salary cap trouble, and do it with a team that’s producing far less than the Peter Chiarelli groups that were at least still making the playoffs.  

Certainly the Bruins have other young D-men like Charlie McAvoy, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon coming down the pipeline, but none of those defensemen are in the mold of a true shutdown D like the 6-foot-5 Carlo. With Zdeno Chara in the final few years of his career with the Black and Gold, the B’s are going to need Carlo to slide into that defensive stopper role given his size, strength, wing span and willingness to do the dirty work the D-zone.

That goes beyond the simple fact that rebuilding the back end with ALL of those young stud D-men is the best way to actually build the Bruins back up into a legitimate Eastern Conference power. 

It would be a giant mistake for the Bruins to ship away a player like Carlo with the hope Landeskog can put Boston over the hump for the playoffs this season, and perhaps ease some of the intense pressure currently weighing on Sweeney and Neely. That kind of desperate move smacks of doing it for all of the wrong reasons, and that’s one way to ensure that the Bruins will never escape the web of mediocrity that they’re currently caught in. 

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins pulled the worst of their no-shows on Monday afternoon in the 4-0 shutout loss to the Islanders.

It was a lethargic, mediocre start in the first period that devolved into the bottom dropping out on the Black and Gold when they allowed three unanswered goals in the second. Then, to top it all off, they showed zero urgency or push to make a comeback in the final period. 

It was “unacceptable” in the words of the Bruins players from beginning to end with careless, elementary mistakes in the defensive zone and absolutely zero sustained push in the offensive zone despite a deceiving 32 shots on net.

So, where was the urgency for a Bruins team that’s barely ahead of the Maple Leafs and Senators in the Atlantic Division despite having played six more games than each of those two?

Apparently the Bruins were feeling a little cocky after playing a solid five-game stretch where they’d gone 3-1-1 and taken down the Panthers, Blues and Flyers while elevating their level of play. Heart and soul team leader Patrice Bergeron admitted as much on Tuesday morning as the Bruins cancelled practice and turned their attention toward righting the ship Wednesday night in Detroit.

It was frankly a little stunning to hear Bergeron admit that his Bruins team thought they could win just by showing up on Monday afternoon, but that’s exactly what he copped to in something of an apologetic way.

Brad Marchand said Monday postgame that the Bruins “just weren’t ready [to play]” against the Islanders, and it sounded like his linemate agreed with him.

“It’s about realizing that you can’t take teams lightly, or take the foot off the gas pedal for a period, for a game, or whatever. It hurts us every time we do it, so we have to learn and realize that it just cannot happen. Teams are too good and the points are too valuable for us,” said Bergeron. “You never want to do that, but at the same time maybe it was something that happened because it was a terrible start, and to not respond when they scored the goals. Maybe that’s what happened yesterday.

“As much as you don’t want it to happen, maybe we thought it was going to be an easier game than it actually was against them.”

On the one hand, it’s somewhat shocking to hear that admission from a player that’s always played with full work ethic and an effort level that’s never been questioned. But Bergeron was also a minus-3 in the 4-0 loss and was every bit as guilty as everybody else up and down the roster for the team’s most pathetic loss of the season at a time when results are all that matter.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, though, because the lack of urgency on the bench is mirrored by the lack of urgency upstairs in the Bruins management office right now. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe last week that he’s considering a move with the head coach along with a number of other things to spark a team treading water, but it doesn’t feel like a major move is on the horizon with this Bruins team.

Trade talks are still in the formative, discussion stages as GMs like Joe Sakic and John Chayka are overvaluing their players looking for a king’s ransom for guys like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. While Claude Julien should be under the microscope with a team sleepwalking its way through perhaps a third season in a row without the playoffs, it also doesn’t feel like the Bruins are going to pull the trigger on that move until the offseason at the earliest.

This humble hockey writer still insists that this playoff-caliber Bruins team plays at times like a one that needs a swift kick in the backside. Perhaps Julien isn’t up for it after 10 long, successful years of battles with the same core group.   

So, what is there to do then besides make cosmetic moves like shipping underperforming Anton Khudobin down to Providence, or rearrange the deck chairs on a third and fourth line that it’s difficult to tell apart on most days in Boston?

If the Bruins front office wants to truly get to the bottom of their team’s lack of urgency on the ice, perhaps a look in the mirror might be in order. Because that same lack of urgency is playing out with a management group that’s watching their team sink into the Atlantic Division muck right now and seems gun-shy on making a move that could rattle cages.

“Right now where we are in the standings, we’ve got a lot of games to play but we’re still in a playoff spot,” said Julien. “We try and play with the expectations that we have, and that’s to do the best with what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of new faces and we’re trying to build with what we’ve got here moving forward.”

Certainly nobody is talking about trading away their blue chip prospects like Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy, but there are veteran players on Boston’s current roster that aren’t cut out for battling into the postseason with a young team. It’s plain to see when a middling hockey team can’t find the inspiration to go out and take care of business against a bad Islanders group on a sleepy Monday afternoon just a month after they made the same mistake against the same team on home ice.

The Bruins showed in a five-game stretch leading up to the Islanders debacle that they should be held to a higher standard - that of a team that should qualify for the postseason. But one question arose again and again watching the poorest of poor efforts play out on Monday afternoon: why should the Bruins players show any feet-in-the-fire urgency on the ice when it doesn’t feel like there’s much feet-in-the-fire urgency from upper management to improve the flailing hockey club?

Until that organizational dynamic changes, it’s difficult to see things getting much better, or worse, for a Bruins team that looks destined for the mediocre middle once again this season.