Zdeno Chara ; Roberto Luongo

Zdeno Chara isn’t succeeding in a Tomas Holmstrom role on the Bruins’ power play

Sometimes a concept seems so clever, people have trouble letting go of it when it doesn’t really work very well. I can only speculate on the number of times I came up with a great idea (in my head) that ended up receiving shoulder shrugs, snickers or even eye-rolls.

Conceptually, putting 6-foot-9 behemoth defenseman Zdeno Chara in front of a goalie during the power play seems brilliant. Even some of the NHL’s sky-scraping goalies (such as Ben Bishop or Devan Dubnyk) wouldn’t be able to see with Chara in front, especially when they go to their butterfly styles.

So, yes, it sounds like a brilliant plan in theory. It might even work as a change of pace idea every now and then, just to keep opponents on their toes.

Yet it just doesn’t seem to work that well without a training camp’s worth of practice (or at least a regular season’s worth of tweaking). Casual observers might look at true masters of screening goalies – and scoring on deflections – and think that what Tomas Holmstrom, Ryan Smyth and other net front nuisances do is easy work. Perhaps it isn’t rocket science if you spend a ton of time perfecting the little nuances of that style, but it’s tough to ask a big, bruising defenseman to pick up that art in the middle of a challenging stretch of hockey.

Let’s not forget the factors outside of Chara’s control, either. By moving Chara from the point, the Bruins lose a historic slapper that broke the all-time All-Star Game record in the hardest shot competition (105.9 miles per hour). It’s not like the Bruins employ anyone else who could create havoc from the point in his place, either. Even when he wasn’t a whipping boy in his days running the Toronto Maple Leafs power play, Tomas Kaberle’s passing made him a weapon, not his shot. Dennis Seidenberg is a nice, versatile player but he doesn’t possess the kind of shot that keeps special teams coaches up at night.

Mark Spector elaborates on the problems that come with moving Chara from the point to Roberto Luongo’s grill.

Chara did spend some time tipping pucks after practice, but where Holmstrom has about an 85 per cent success rate in getting a stick on hard slap shots in one of those sessions, Chara redirected the puck about 40 per cent of the time — and his defencemen were floating in weak wristers.

(snip)

In Game 1 he did not show the ability to re-direct a point blast, nor was he quick to find a loose puck and jam it home. And, as Byfuglien perfected in those Vancouver-Chicago series, Chara never once found a way to crash into Luongo, or fall on the sprawled goalie as hard as possible at the end of the play.

Smyth doesn’t want to come across as criticizing Chara, who is doing his best to learn an element of the game that a guy like Detroit’s Holmstrom has worked years and years to perfect. But Smyth knows he wouldn’t have any more success trying to learn how to play defence at such a crucial point in the season.

“The old cliché is, practice makes perfect. It takes time,” Smyth said. “I (tip pucks) every game day, every morning skate. Like Holmstrom does. It takes time, and it takes practice.”

It’s not as if the Bruins are without options for the role, either. Milan Lucic is an obvious example of a big forward (listed at 6-4, 220 lbs.) who could be more adept at scoring dirty goals than Chara. Perhaps someone like Brad Marchand would work well too; he might have the right combination of skills to seal the deal and courage to take the abuse that comes from standing in front of the net.

You cannot blame head coach Claude Julien and his staff for trying something different to generate points from a stagnant man advantage. The problem with putting Chara in this role is that you’re taking away one of the few strengths you had (his blistering shot) for an idea that works better in our minds than it does on the ice. Julien might be wiser to go back to a simpler setup and make smaller changes to his power play units. (Tyler Seguin for Mark Recchi, anyone?)

For more analysis of Boston’s PP struggles, click here.

San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

Quite a promising present

So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

 

Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

91rinneea

To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

Some other debate-starters

Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

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Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.

NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

“I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

(Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

Best of both worlds for Coyotes

Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

(H/T to the Score.)

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.