Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination

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Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Zdeno Chara prides himself on the reputation hes built, and the respect he's earned, during his decade-plus in the National Hockey League.

Its no overstatement to say that Monday was a big day for a big man.

After more than a month of scrutiny following his hit on Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre, which unfairly painted him to be some kind of fire-breathing monster, and the vague drama thats played out after a dehydration episode caused him to miss Game 2 against the Canadiens, its fair to say this has been the most challenging season of the 6-foot-9 defenseman's career. But he's fought through it all, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates.

Nor did the announcement on Monday that he was one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy as this season's top defenseman.

We actually talked about it a few weeks ago, and he said to me that he didnt think he was going to be a Norris finalist, said Charas defense partner, Dennis Seidenberg. I said Youll see and that he would be up there again. Sure enough he was. I think rightfully so, since hes so dominant in his own end and always seems to chip in with some really timely offense. Its what a Norris defenseman is all about.

If it was me, it would be really gratifying because there was so much negative stuff written about him . . . He must really be happy about being recognized.

Being able to bask in the announcement that he's a finalist for the fourth time in his career was a nice respite for Chara. Teammates could hear the relaxed tone in his voice and see the spring in his step as he enjoyed one of the best days hes probably had in more than a month.

With accusations of intentional dirty hits, and foolish criminal investigations, swirling all around him in addition to normal playoff pressure, Chara has been in the market for some good news for a good long while.

He finally received it, and was appropriately appreciative.

Its obviously a big honor. Im very humbled and very thankful, especially when you consider how many guys have had good seasons and breakout seasons, said Chara. Im just thankful that the people that did vote recognized the definition of the Norris Trophy award.

Chara has captured one Norris Trophy in his career -- in 2008-09, amid Bostons run to the top spot in the Eastern Conference -- and will compete for this one with Detroit's six-time Norris winner Nik Lidstrom, and Nashville's Shea Weber. All three Norris Trophy finalists hold elite reputations within the NHL as franchise defensemen, and each of them would be an excellent candidate for a number of different reasons. Each also has black marks against him.

Lidstrom is a force of nature who's still going strong for the Wings at age 40, but he also had the first negative plusminus of his career. That may be the first sign that the Swedish defenseman is starting to slow down, though 62 points and 23:28 of ice time per night might indicate otherwise.

Weber has the shot, the skating, the leadership and the reputation while playing for an up-and-coming Predators squad. But the argument could be made he isnt even having his best season in the NHL.

Clearly we know who Claude Julien thinks should take home the hardware from Las Vegas this summer as the best defensive defensemen in the game.

Obviously Chara's a well-deserving player, said the Bruins' coach. There are a lot of reasons. I think everyone who knows him here knows he plays lots of minutes. He also always plays against other teams' top lines. Hes utilized as a shutdown 'D' against the top players on other teams. The plusminus stats at the end of the year plus-33 . . . I think that speaks for itself . . . and certainly offensively hes contributed as well.

"If youre talking about Norris and talking about a defenseman that brings a lot, hes certainly one of them. I dont think there are many players in this league who will raise their hand and say they really enjoy playing against him.

Even though hes played in something of a weakened physical state against the Canadiens and -- as noted by ex-Bruins coach and noted CBC analyst Don Cherry last week -- is not quite as ferocious as normal, Chara still remains the most irreplaceable piece of the Black-and-Gold puzzle. He finished the year with similar offensive numbers to his Norris Trophy campaign two years ago, leads the Bruins with eight power-play goals, is Bostons best penalty killer and lines up against the oppositions best lines while leading all NHL defensemen with a plus-33 this season.

That leaves Chara at a whopping plus-68 in his five seasons with the Bruins. The plus-33 matches the best season of his career, which he achieved as a 26-year-old playing for a stacked Ottawa Senators team in 2003-04.

Chara has been incredibly heartened by the recognition he received as a true defenseman, as he is by the movement away from simply handing Norris recognition to the defenseman who posted the biggest set of fantasy stats. That played out in Chara reaching the top three in voting rather than offensive specialists like Anaheims Lubomir Visnovsky or Phoenixs Keith Yandle a pair of high-powered offensive defenseman who didnt factor into the penalty kill or play against other teams top lines during their breakthrough campaigns.

In the minds of many, it's true hockey value on the ice rather than gaudy point totals and power-play specialties that hold meaning when it comes to finding the best blueliner in the NHL landscape.

Its something I take a lot of pride in, said Chara. Im very competitive when it comes to defending top lines and playing against top lines. I know its not an easy job, but I really get up for it every night. You cant think that its just you. Its the five guys that are on the ice with you and the 25 guys that are on the team helping you. But its a big motivation for me to face such skill and great players.

It will be back to the riotous Bell Centre, and the grind of the playoffs, on Tuesday for Chara and the rest of the Bruins. But Monday was perhaps what the doctor ordered for the big fella.

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

Talking points from Bruins' 2-1, overtime win in Detroit

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Talking points from Bruins' 2-1, overtime win in Detroit

GOLD STAR: Solid night’s work from Ryan Spooner, who finished with the OT game-winning strike and was solid throughout the game as the de facto No. 1 center. He had four shots on net, six generated shot attempts and won 12-of-19 face offs as he continues to improve in that area while training camp rolls along. Spooner is trying to hold onto the No. 3 center spot in the lineup despite the addition of David Backes via free agency, and Friday night’s big boy performance with speed, playmaking and skill showed exactly what his potential can be when he puts it all together. It was also a nice little bounce-back from an up-and-down game on Wednesday night against the same Detroit team when he struggled in the face off circle and was part of a team-wide malaise.

BLACK EYE: It wasn’t necessarily a bad night for Brian Ferlin, but it was more of the invisible variety with just a registered hit and one face-off taken in 13 minutes of ice time. The forward earned some NHL time with the Bruins a couple of years, has battled concussion woes over the last year plus and is trying to push his way back into the crowded forward picture during this training camp. While he certainly showed some toughness and skill around the net a couple of years and didn’t seem shy about going there on Friday night, the results just weren’t there and Ferlin didn’t have much of a presence in the game. In general it was a pretty decent performance for the Bruins, so Ferlin’s game was quiet more than problematic.

TURNING POINT: Credit the Bruins coaching staff for switching up the lines in the third period, and that sparked the offense a bit after zero goals through the first 40 minutes against Detroit. Zach Senyshyn was moved with Danton Heinen and Riley Nash, and they became a threat in the third period before Heinen broke through for the game-tying goal from his knees. That score allowed the B’s to push things into overtime, and then Spooner made it a quick extra session by snapping home a shot from the slot after a good effort from Joe Morrow down low. It all was made possible by the adjustment to the lines that took place between the second and the third periods.

HONORABLE MENTION: Joe Morrow is battling to hold onto his NHL roster spot with the Bruins, and that is absolutely underscored by the news that Christian Ehrhoff is being brought to Boston on a PTO. So it was expected that the young D-man would come out with something a little extra after a mediocre performance in his preseason debut, and the left shot D-man was an impact player in the win for the Black and Gold. Morrow dropped the gloves with young tough guy Givani Smith in the second period as part of a B’s group that played with a little bit of an edge on Friday night, and then he won a battle down low in overtime to set up the Ryan Spooner game-winner. Morrow had two hits, two shot attempts, the assist and the fight in 19:48 of ice time, and showed that he’s ready to battle in camp to hold onto his spot.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 – the number of goals in two preseason games thus far for Danton Heinen, who scored important game-tying goals in both instances in the shootout loss to the Blue Jackets and Friday night’s overtime win against the Wings.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The compete level, especially when he got down 4-0 [on Wednesday night], I don’t think it was high enough. So we talked about it, and we expect a better effort for sure.” –Ryan Spooner on Friday morning prior to going out and snatching the win away from the Red Wings in Detroit with an OT game-winner. 

Ehrhoff signs a PTO with the B's after World Cup

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Ehrhoff signs a PTO with the B's after World Cup

The Bruins will add another veteran defenseman to their training camp group fresh off the World Cup of Hockey as German D-man Christian Ehrhoff is headed to Boston on a PTO (professional tryout agreement). CSN has confirmed that Ehrhoff has indeed agreed to a PTO with the Bruins, and he'll report to the team sometime this weekend.

The 34-year-old Ehrhoff had three assists in six World Cup games for Team Europe, and had two goals and 10 points in 48 games for the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks last season while clearly starting to slow down a bit. He’s clearly no longer the player that averaged 14 goals and 47 points for the Vancouver Canucks from 2009-2011, and is another left-shot defenseman to add to a team that already has Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.

But it behooved the Bruins to bring in at least one “name” veteran D-man on a tryout basis during this training camp with so many needs for upgrades on the back end, and with a host of young players that might not be ready for prime time. This might also be a warning sign for young veteran Joe Morrow, a left shot D-man that has struggled a bit in training camp after coming off an erratic first full season at the NHL level.

Clearly the Bruins need more than Ehrhoff, however, even if he’s somehow re-energized with the Bruins after playing pretty well in the World Cup. The Kings were down enough on his game to put him through waivers last season, but he was a top-4 defenseman for the previous eight seasons for San Jose, Vancouver, Buffalo and Pittsburgh prior to getting bounced around between the Kings and Blackhawks last season.

The added bonus with taking a look at Ehrhoff is that there’s no risk associated with a PTO, and the Bruins can simply walk away with no cost if the B’s coaching staff decides he’s not a good fit for the group in Boston. On the other hand, bringing in a Kris Russell-type would cost a great deal in terms of money and term in a free agent contract, and it might not benefit the Black and Gold club in the end result.