With Chara on the decline, focus turns to Hamilton and Krug

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The Detroit Red Wings haven’t been the same since Nicklas Lidstrom retired, and the Philadelphia Flyers haven’t been the same without Chris Pronger. This cannot be disputed. To do so would be to willfully ignore the greatness of those players, and their ability to impact games.

The fact is, when it comes to the makeup of championship-caliber teams, you’ll almost always find a cornerstone defenseman.

Still playing in the current NHL postseason: Duncan Keith for Chicago, Drew Doughty for Los Angeles, PK Subban for Montreal, and Ryan McDonagh for New York, even if the latter hasn’t been all that great in these playoffs.

There are exceptions to the rule, sure, like the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, who won the Stanley Cup with a blue line of good-but-far-from-great players. Similarly, there are great defensemen who never won the Cup, like Brad Park. But take a look at the list of Norris Trophy winners; most of them have rings. That is not a coincidence.

Zdeno Chara has a ring. He got it in 2011, when the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1972, which just so happened to be the year Bobby Orr won his fifth Norris. The B’s also won the Cup in 1970, the year Orr won his third Norris. Orr won the Conn Smythe Trophy in both ’70 and ’72.

Even if it was Tim Thomas that ended up winning the Conn Smythe in 2011, Chara was brilliant during that run. The big man logged 27:39 per game and finished the playoffs with nine points and a plus-16 rating. He was kryptonite for the Sedin twins in the Stanley Cup Final. Vancouver scored just eight times in the contentious seven-game series.

But Chara did not have a good series versus the Montreal Canadiens in 2014. Or, at least, he wasn’t the dominant force he’s been in the past.

Chara is also 37 years old. Despite his famous fitness regimen, his NHL career is winding down, and he knows it. No, he’s not done yet, but it’s clear the Bruins need Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton to keep progressing if they want to remain Cup contenders in the years to come.

Of the two, it’s Hamilton that screams cornerstone defenseman the loudest. He’s big. He skates well. He has good offensive instincts. There’s a reason he was drafted ninth overall in 2011. Granted, at just 20 years old, he still has a lot to learn. Consider: when Chara was Hamilton’s age, he was still a raw rookie with the Islanders. In reality, he didn’t become an impact player until he was traded to Ottawa a few years later.

That being said, young defensemen can make big impacts in today’s faster game. Subban just turned 25 and already has a Norris to his name. Erik Karlsson is only 23, and he won the Norris before Subban did. Doughty won the Stanley Cup as a 22-year-old, not to mention an Olympic gold medal at 20. Krug, 23, led the Bruins with 10 points this postseason.

As an organization, the Bruins have been blessed with great defensemen. We already mentioned Orr. They also had Ray Bourque, a five-time Norris winner. Chara won the award in 2009, and he’s a finalist again this year.

Add it up and a Boston player has been named the NHL’s top defenseman an incredible 14 times since the award was first handed out in 1954. No team — not even Montreal (12) — can say that.

Will the tradition continue?

Related: Disrespected? OK, but that’s not why the Habs won

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row.

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.

Who could take Taylor Hall’s place if he has to miss the All-Star Game?

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With Taylor Hall set to miss the next couple of games due to a hand injury, and with that injury putting his All-Star Game prospects in jeopardy, we look at the players who are worthy of replacing the New Jersey Devils forward if he has to miss this weekend’s festivities.

Two names that immediately come to mind are Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel and Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean Couturier.

There was already an argument that Kessel deserved to be at the ASG over Sidney Crosby. He was leading the Penguins in points then and two weeks later, he continues to pace Pittsburgh with 21 goals (tied with Evgeni Malkin) and 54 points, three more points than Crosby.

Couturier has already smashed his previous career highs in both goals (26) and points (47). He’s been part of the reason that Claude Giroux is already headed to the ASG and deserves to be there himself.

At third would have to be Sebastian Aho. The talent in the Metropolitan is evident with his snub. He’s clearly the best player on the Carolina Hurricanes this season (no disrespect to Teuvo Teravainen).

Aho is well on his way to eclipsing his rookie-season totals and a big reason why the Hurricanes are three points back of a playoff spot.

Beyond those three guys, there’s a few that certainly deserve the honor:

  • Anders Lee has 27 goals this season, seven off the pace he set last season with half the season to go.
  • Jakub Voracek leads the NHL with 45 assists, four more than teammate Giroux.
  • Evgeni Malkin. Not having a bad year.

It’s important to remember that the at-least-one-player-per-team rule goes out the window when it comes to replacing another All-Star.

There are certainly some very deserving names that didn’t get the first call.

But life’s about second chances.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

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Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita KucherovBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosChris Kunitz

Alex Killorn — Matthew Peca — Yanni Gourde

Michael Bournival — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Jake DotchinAnton Stralman

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnAndrej Sustr

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Tomas Jurco — David Kampf — Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson — Brent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass