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How long can Zdeno Chara keep this up?

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While he’s only taken one Norris Trophy in his already distinguished career, Zdeno Chara might just be the best defenseman in the NHL. He’s the common denominator in a Boston Bruins defense that helped Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask and even backups like Anton Khudobin put up big numbers.*

Even so, the Bruins made a bold gamble by signing him to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal in 2010: they bet that he could be effective into his early 40’s. So far, at 36, he’s shown few signs of slowing down, but the question is: how long can he really keep this up?

Rather than focus on the negatives, let’s get them out of the way really quick: injury risks increase with age, and with a player at Chara’s unprecedented size, mobility and other assets can fall off rapidly.

With that out of the way, here are a few reasons why he could remain dominant for years.

Treating his body right

Chara isn’t just riding his history-making frame; he’s a fitness fanatic who’s made waves for his devotion to cycling.

The benefits of such habits are obvious, as we’ve previously seen with age-defying Detroit Red Wings defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios.

Cue awkward but requisite ESPN “The Body Issue” photo:

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Of course, being in prime condition doesn’t mean that injuries cannot strike.

While many wine-like-aging blueliners have leaned toward the “finesse” side – barring the occasional outlier such as Scott Stevens – Chara isn’t throwing around his body as much as one might expect.

Sure, he’s not shy, with 101 hits in 48 games played last season. Still, that ranks him third on his own team last season; his regular partner Dennis Seidenberg had 115 hits in two fewer contests. Fifty-nine NHL players delivered more hits than Big Z last season.

Usage

Chara uses positioning and his otherworldly reach in ways that seem heartening for his future. Even so, the worry is that the Bruins will run him into the ground with heavy minutes.

After studying the workloads of players like LidstromRay Bourque, and Al MacInnis, it was clear that elite blueliners received heavy minutes until their last season or two. Chara has been clocking about 25 minutes per contest for the last four seasons, which is a significant haul, but not outrageous for a top defenseman.

His 24:56 minutes per game ranked 15th in the NHL last season … five seconds fewer than Dennis Wideman. (Pauses for Bruins fans to snicker.)

All things considered, the Bruins could probably hand him the same basic workload for two or three more seasons without too many worries.

(Even if Chara’s struggles in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final weren’t just overblown, he’s consistently been a dominant force in his own zone. Overreacting to one series would probably be foolish.)

***

Father Time is a daunting opponent, but Chara could join that select group of defensemen who played at an all-world level deep into their careers. Perhaps that record-breaking slapper will slip a few miles per hour, but if he maintains his fitness level and is selective about throwing hits, the Big Z might gracefully become the Big Old Z.

Of course, a freak injury could just as easily scuttle those hopes.

* – Remember Manny Fernandez?

Max is back: Lapierre to attend Rangers camp on PTO

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 01: Maxim Lapierre #40 talks with Craig Adams #27 of the Pittsburgh Penguins before a face-off during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Consol Energy Center on April 1, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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After a year abroad, Maxim Lapierre is getting a shot to rejoin the NHL.

Per TVA, Lapierre has agreed to join the Rangers in training camp on a professional tryout. The news comes after he split last season between Swiss League outfit Lugano and Swedish League side Modo, with midseason rumblings there were NHL teams interested in bringing him back.

In New York, Lapierre will be reunited with Alain Vigneault, his former head coach in Vancouver. Vigneault has brought in a few former Canucks during his time with the Rangers, including Tanner Glass, Nicklas Jensen and Michael Grabner.

Lapierre, 31, last played in the NHL during the ’14-15 campaign, splitting time between Pittsburgh and St. Louis. A known agitator, he finished the year with 11 points in 80 games, and appeared in all five games of the Pens’ opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Prior to his time in Pittsburgh and St. Louis, “Yappy Lappy” played in Montreal, Anaheim and Vancouver. His best season came in 2008-09, when he scored a career-high 15 goals and 28 points, earning a handful of Selke votes.

Ready for No. 1 duties, Elliott wants to be ‘backbone’ for Flames

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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At 31, Brian Elliott will be one of most experienced guys on the Calgary roster next season.

But he’s also ready to embark on something unique.

Elliott will have the chance to be a clear-cut, unquestioned, No. 1 starting netminder for the first time in his career when the Flames open play in October — an opportunity he’s ready to embrace.

“As a goalie you want to be wanted. You want to have that opportunity,” Elliott said on Wednesday during his introduction to the Calgary media. “I’m going to do my best to be the backbone of the team and try to be a leader and just do whatever I can to be the rock for the guys on the back end and let the guys do the rest of the work.”

There’s little doubt about Elliott’s role in Calgary for next season. He was stellar in ’15-16, posting a .930 save percentage and 2.07 GAA, helping the Blues advance to the Western Conference Final. And the Flames further anointed Elliott as the No. 1 by signing career backup Chad Johnson to fill the No. 2 role.

So, next year is sorted.

But what about after that?

Elliott is a UFA after this season, and so is Johnson. Flames GM Brad Treliving did say at the draft that Elliott’s contractual status and cap hit played a role in the acquisition, adding that discussions about a new deal could be in the works.

“As part of this deal, Doug [Armstrong, Blues GM] allowed me to talk to [Elliot’s] representative, so there may be the opportunity to look at an extension,” Treliving said at the time. “We’ll look at that. There’s no need to rush, but maybe there is a need to look at something.”

It’s been long rumored that Calgary wasn’t looking for a long-term solution in goal, but rather a “transitional guy.” That’s why Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, currently under contract for two more years, had been tied to the Flames.

Looking down the road, it’s clear Calgary is anticipating one of their draftees pans out in goal. The club took Providence standout Jon Gillies 75th overall in 2012, Mason McDonald 34th overall in ’14, and Tyler Parsons 54th overall this  year — but none of them are close to being NHL ready.

Which brings us back to Elliott.

Given how erratic things were in Calgary’s net last year both performance- and contractual-wise, one would assume Treliving would like to keep “Moose” around for more than just this season.

With ‘no expectations’ for Franzen or Vitale to play, Wings aren’t worried about cap situation

Detroit Red Wings v Edmonton Oilers
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At first glance, Detroit’s current financial situation isn’t good. Petr Mrazek’s recent two-year, $8 million extension pushed the payroll to nearly $78 million, well over the $73M ceiling for next season.

But there is a catch.

“Certainly we have no expectations that [Johan] Franzen and [Joe] Vitale are playing hockey this year,” GM Ken Holland said Wednesday, per MLive. “I talked to Vitale after we traded (for) him. He’s having on-going issues with concussion.

“He certainly not expecting to be in camp. I’m not expecting to see Johan Franzen on the ice.”

Vitale, acquired from Arizona as part of the Pavel Datsyuk deal at the draft, carries at $1.16 million cap hit. Franzen, who played in just two games last year while dealing with concussion issues of his own, carries a $3.95M hit.

Putting those two on long-term injured reserve would almost get Detroit right back into cap compliance. Holland can also exercise a similar option with Teemu Pulkkinen, who underwent shoulder surgery this offseason (and makes $812,500).

Thing is, cap compliance isn’t all Holland wants to accomplish.

Though he re-signed Danny DeKeyser to a big six-year, $30 million contract earlier this week, Holland still wants to add to his blue line. The Wings have a surplus of forwards, and Holland has said he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” prior to the start of next season.

A top-three defenseman will undoubtedly cost a fair bit of money. Which means a fair bit of money would need to go the other way in return.

Detroit has reportedly spoken to Anaheim about acquiring Cam Fowler. Fowler, 24, would be a good fit — he’s got a very reasonable contract ($4 million annually through 2018), the type of money the Wings could bring aboard if they were to part with the likes of, say, Gustav Nyquist ($4.75 million through 2019).

The catch, of course, is that the asking price for defensemen is sky high. It cost the Oilers Taylor Hall to get Adam Larsson out of New Jersey, and there are teams like Boston — still desperately searching for a “transitional” defenseman — that have publicly stated the acquisition cost is steep.

So while Detroit might not be worried about its cap situation for next season, it has to be concerned about having what it takes to upgrade the defense.

Related: Blues GM says he might just keep Kevin Shattenkirk

 

With Peters re-signed, ‘Canes ready to snap playoff drought

Bill Peters
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It’s been an exciting offseason in Carolina.

Now the team is equally excited about the season at hand, and the prospect of making the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

“We think we’re right there,” GM Ron Francis said on Tuesday, in announcing head coach Bill Peters’ contract extension through 2019. “We want to get in the playoffs, and we want to have success around here.”

Hired with little fanfare two years ago, there’s a sense Peters has finished the unglamorous dirty work in shaping the team, and teaching players how he wants the game to be played.

Now is the time to see the fruits of his labor.

In his first season behind the bench, the former Mike Babcock assistant was working with an expensive, older, mediocre group that included the likes of Alex Semin, Eric Staal, Tim Gleason and John-Michael Liles. The group wasn’t especially inspiring, and all the guys mentioned are now gone.

Next season, the ‘Canes project to be a different lot.

They’ll boast a young, dynamic group of players aged 24 or younger: Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Teuvo Teravainen, Noah Hanifin and Sebastian Aho, to name a few.

These are all a positive changes for Peters, who is clearly a coach on the rise. He was named the bench boss for Team Canada at the world championships, and led the country to gold. This fall, he’ll reprise his role as Babcock’s assistant for Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.

“When you go back a couple years ago, there were a lot of questions about who we had hired,” Francis explained. “[Peters] wasn’t really well known, but in the two years he’s been here, he’s done a tremendous job.”

Put it all together, and it’s easy to see why optimism in Carolina is so high. Though the roster will be young next year, it’s absolutely loaded with talent and there’s good reason to believe they’ve got the right coach to lead the group.

If there is one thing that could dampen enthusiasm, though, it’s the club’s goalie situation.

Francis made the curious move of bringing Cam Ward back on a two-year deal, resurrecting the Ward-Eddie Lack tandem that struggled at times last season.

Peters was extremely patient and protective of his netminders during that spell, but with expectations raised, that tone might change.