Zdeno Chara, Brendan Smith

Chara is still ‘the best defender in the game,’ says Neely


We wrote last week about Zdeno Chara, and how considering the 37-year-old defenseman isn’t getting any younger, the Bruins will need youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug to carry on the tradition of great Boston blue-liners if the B’s are to remain Stanley Cup contenders for years to come.

Today, while not outright disagreeing with that notion, Bruins president Cam Neely tried to quell any talk of Chara’s decline.

“Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game,” said Neely, per CSN New England. “I still think we’re in our window. We just have to recognize what we need to do to make our team better, whether it’s guys playing better, or whether we’re adding different players.”

Certainly, Chara is far from finished, and for the record, we never suggested he was. He earned a Norris Trophy nomination this season, and he led the B’s in playoff ice time, averaging 25:20 per game. He’s got a couple of good years left, even if they’re not quite at the level they were a few years ago.

Neely is also right that the Bruins “haven’t fallen off the cliff.” There’s more than enough quality youth on their roster to remain contenders. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are only 28; Brad Marchand is 26; Milan Lucic is 25; and Reilly Smith is just 23.

The key will be to keep adding to the mix, and getting that all-important “support from the bottom” that no team can afford to ignore in the NHL. Not ever.

Habs claim Byron off waivers from Flames

Paul Byron
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Montreal added some forward depth on Tuesday, acquiring diminutive forward Paul Byron off waivers from Calgary.

Byron, 26, is a veteran of nearly 150 career NHL games, most coming with the Flames. Despite fairly solid production over the last two years — 40 points in 104 games — he was exposed to waivers on Monday, along with fellow forward Mason Raymond.

(Calgary does have a logjam of players at forward, hence parting ways with Byron and Raymond.)

Byron can play both wing and center but, at 5-foot-7, 153 pounds, is one of the most undersized skaters in the league. Thankfully for him, Montreal has an affinity for undersized forwards, with the likes of Brendan Gallagher (5-foot-9, 184 pounds) and David Desharnais (5-foot-7, 174 pounds) already on the active roster.

Byron could also fill Zack Kassian‘s roster spot. Kassian is currently suspended without pay while undergoing Stage 2 of the NHL’s Substance Abuse program.

Isles claim goalie Berube off waivers

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jaroslav Halak
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The New York Islanders have claimed goalie Jean-Francois Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, the club announced today.

Berube won the Calder Cup last season with AHL Manchester, but the 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NHL game.

That the Isles claimed Berube could be evidence that Jaroslav Halak will not be ready to start the season after all.

If that’s the case, Berube would back up Thomas Greiss, with Stephon Williams expected to go to the AHL.

The Isles open their regular season Friday at home versus the Blackhawks, then play the next day in Chicago.