The Boston Bruins made news Thursday, signing restricted free agent forward David Pastrnak to a contract extension. There was also another nugget of information to come from Don Sweeney’s meeting with the media.
Chara turned 40 years old in March and has 1,350 regular season games under his belt, not to mention almost 150 playoff games. He also has one year remaining on his seven-year, $45 million contract, which, according to CapFriendly, has a cap hit of $4 million for the upcoming season.
Chara has been a beast for the Bruins for many years, imposing his will on opposing forwards and putting up impressive offensive numbers on numerous occasions throughout his career. Last season, he led all Boston players in overall ice time and time on the penalty kill — both by a sizable margin.
“It’s something that probably management has to think about and make a decision on that,” Chara told NESN in April. “I’ve said many times I want to play and would like to play beyond this contract. I want to still be very effective and still want to get better and improve and maintain my game and keep adding to my game.”
Prized Boston Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins last postseason out of necessity. The team was dealing with a rash of injuries on the blue line, and McAvoy, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, just happened to be the next man up. At just 19 years of age and with only minimal pro hockey experience on his resume McAvoy found himself playing playing more than 26 minutes per night in the Stanley Cup Playoffs alongside a future Hall of Famer in Zdeno Chara.
Even though the Bruins’ season came to an end in that first-round matchup against the Ottawa Senators, McAvoy showed them a promising glimpse of their future on defense.
Now he is ready for a full-time role with the team this upcoming season.
He spoke to the Bruins’ website this week about that first NHL experience and what he can learn from that when it comes to making the Bruins’ opening night roster this season.
From Eric Russo of the Bruins website.
“I think that the experience I had last year was an unbelievable opportunity,” said McAvoy, who joined 13 of his teammates for a captain’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday morning.
“That experience was so valuable for myself to get familiar with the organization and the team itself, and I can use that now heading in for the full year, the rookie camp, opening the season, all of those things.
“I’m excited to have a full year and I can definitely use all of those experiences that I had to make sure I’m ready to go.”
McAvoy’s developmemt has to be exciting for the Bruins because their defense, the team’s greatest strength just a few years ago, has taken some significant steps backwards in recent seasons due to trades (Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton) and age (Chara getting older, Dennis Seidenberg moving on).
But there is hope on the horizon with some of the young talent that has been assembled on the back end.
Torey Krug has developed into one of the most productive offensive defensemen in the league, while Brandon Carlo had a really promising rookie season, appearing in every game and playing at a high level for a 20-year-old.
Now McAvoy is ready to join the picture and give the Bruins another young and potential impact player.
The Bruins have a lot of talent up front with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and David Pastrnak (once they get him signed) leading the way, and now they have a pretty strong group of young, offensive minded defensemen that can get the puck to them and help create chances.
By most measures – including the “eye test” – Zdeno Chara has lost a few steps, with last season providing the starkest example.
The tricky thing with declining superstars is weighing how you remember them vs. whether or not they remain effective. In the case of the Boston Bruins, the archaic structure of Chara’s contract makes it easier to reconcile his decline in 2017-18; his cap hit sinks from just under $7 million to a trimmer $4 million.
If things were totally fair to “The Big Z,” both fans and management would expect Chara’s work to be closer to that of a $4M player.
A No. 1 defenseman’s burden
Such a mindset would represent a change of pace, as reports of Chara’s decreased workload seem largely exaggerated.
Yes, 23:20 time on ice per game represents his lowest average since 2001-02, but he still easily topped all Bruins skaters in ice time. Torey Krug was second with 21:36 and Brandon Carlo was a quick study with 20:48, representing the only B’s who averaged 20+ minutes.
Those aren’t cushy minutes, either. Chara easily averaged the most shorthanded time per game, too, with 3:46 per night. Carlo came in second with just 2:36.
More of his shifts are starting in the defensive zone, too. In 2016-17, he began 58.9 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone versus just 41.1 in the offensive zone. That’s his highest d-zone percentage since Hockey Reference’s numbers began recording in 2007-08 and the lowest of his career for offense via those same metrics.
“I can only control what I can control, and that’s being in shape and when they give me those minutes, I’m handling them,” Chara said. “I love it. I enjoy it. I want to be on the ice all the time and I want to be on the ice in all the situations.”
To his credit, he’s still scoring at a decent clip, relatively speaking.
He generated a respectable 29 points (including a robust 10 goals) last season, and managed 37 in 2015-16.
Chara’s effectiveness seems to trend toward those offensive numbers lately. This chart compares him to its template for a No. 1 defenseman, and it seems that Chara seemingly slipped out of that designation:
As painful as 2016-17 was at times, it also seemed like Carlo and later, Charlie McAvoy, really rose up the ranks in the Bruins’ defense.
Between Carlo, McAvoy, and Torey Krug, Boston is gaining players they trust more and more. Even if Chara were to continue playing and continue playing with the Bruins, the 2017-18 season seems like an obvious time to transition a greater share of the responsibilities to younger blueliners.
Chara isn’t what he used to be, but he still has the potential to help the Bruins win. Just not like he used to, and if the B’s are smart, not even like he used to last season.
Poll: Are the Bruins legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?
The Boston Bruins were finally able to end their two-year playoff drought last season, but they were bounced in the opening round by the Ottawa Senators.
Things were looking bleak for them during the season until management decided it was time to let go of Claude Julien. They replaced him with Bruce Cassidy, who was able to get them back on track.
But what are the expectations for Cassidy and his team this year? Can they do more than just make the playoffs?
The Bruins showed us that they’re one of the premiere possession teams in the NHL. Last year, they ranked second in the league in CF%, fourth in total shot attempts and first in shots against.
No matter what you think of possession stats, you have to believe that they’ll have some measure of success if they’re able to post similar numbers next season.
Looking at Boston’s roster, it’s clear that they have the necessary star power to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.
Patrice Bergeron‘s point total may have dropped in 2016-17 (53 points in 79 games), but he’s still an elite two-way center that every team would love to have. Both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak provide their team with excellent offensive production on the wings, while David Krejci can be a quality second-line center when healthy.
On defense, Zdeno Chara is definitely not the player he once was, but the Bruins finally have some good, young defensemen that can also contribute. Brandon Carlo had a very good rookie season and Charlie McAvoy wowed the hockey world with his performance in the playoffs.
Carlo played in every single game of the regular season in his first year. He finished with six goals, 10 assists and a plus-9 rating, while averaging 20:48 per game. He was so impressive that the Bruins trusted him to play alongside Chara for a good chunk of the year. Taking another big step forward in 2017-18 would be huge for his team’s chances of making a long run.
McAvoy didn’t play in any games during the season because he was at Boston University. Once his NCAA campaign came to an end, he played four games with AHL Providence before making the jump to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not only did he hold his own in the postseason, he also managed to pick up three assists in the six games while averaging over 26 minutes of ice time (he played over 31 minutes in Game 5 against Ottawa). It’s still a little early, but it certainly looks like McAvoy has the potential to become a number one defenseman in the near future.
Between the pipes, Tuukka Rask has had his share of ups and downs. Now, it’s time for him to put together another consistent year. When Rask is rolling, the Bruins can compete with anyone. But when he’s in a slump, it’s hard for them to be competitive on a nightly basis.
Boston doesn’t have another goalie in their organization that can play at as high a level as Rask does when he’s on his game. So if Rask struggles like he did at times in 2016-17, they don’t have anyone else to turn to.
Even though they have some high-end talent, the biggest question mark surrounding Boston’s roster is depth. Competing with some of the deeper teams in the conference might be a problem.
The free-agent signings of David Backes and Matt Beleskey look silly at this point. Backes put up a respectable 17 goals and 38 points in 74 games last season, but he has four years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $6 million. Yeah, that contract looks like it’s gonna hurt.
As for Beleskey, he comes with a much more manageable cap hit of $3.8 million, but he still has three years remaining on his contract, and he’s proven to be a major flop. The 29-year-old had just three goals and eight points in 49 games.
Both veterans were expected to provide the Bruins with some depth behind their bigger names. Unfortunately, things just haven’t worked out that way.
They also have some quality on the blue line with Torey Krug, McAvoy and Carlo, but they’re a little thin after that. Chara isn’t getting younger, Adam McQuaid isn’t getting faster, and Kevan Miller and Paul Postma are nothing more than depth players.
Getting quality performances from Krug, McAvoy and Carlo will be key if they want to last longer than one round next spring.
Alright, it’s time for you to have your say. Have a vote, but also feel free to leave a note in the comments section.
Assuming he does not sign with the Colorado Avalanche — and it appears as if he will not — 2017 Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher will be a highly sought after target on the open market when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15. His agent has already said he would listen to an offer from the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, while teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings figure to be interested.
Pretty much every team could use a young, puck-moving presence on its blue line.
On Saturday, CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty argued that the Bruins should not be one of the teams interested in making a play for the 22-year-old rearguard even though the team has a need for a left shot on its blue line.
What the Bruins don’t need is another undersized, unproven youngster on their back end while 21-year-old Brandon Carlo enters his second full NHL season, and 20-year-old McAvoy readies for his first full pro hockey season in Boston. Instead, they really could have used a battle-tested, grizzled veteran D-man on the left side capable of being an on-ice tutor as McAvoy’s D-partner this season, and that’s what they were unsuccessfully looking for via free agency or trade earlier this summer.
He also mentions the collection of prospects knocking on the door as leaving little room.
Even with all of that, the Bruins were one of the first teams I thought of when it came to potential landing spots for Butcher. Due to the exits of long-time veterans like Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg in recent years, the trade of Dougie Hamilton, and the fact that Zdeno Chara is closer to the end of his career than his peak their defense has taken a pretty significant fall in recent seasons and gone from being its greatest strength to, at times, its biggest weakness.
To be fair, the emergence of Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy as young players on that defense gives them a lot of hope for the future, and Torey Krug has become a tremendous point-producer on the back end. Adding a prospect like Butcher to that group would give them a pretty strong collection of young, cheap puck-movers, and that isn’t a bad way to try and win in today’s NHL. After all, the team that just won the past two Stanley Cups wasn’t exactly full of rugged, battle-tested veterans.
Basically, the Bruins shouldn’t let the fact they already have some prospects in the system and similar players on the roster prevent them from taking a shot at adding a player like Butcher. Not all of your prospects are going to pan out and you can never really have too much talent. And when you have a chance to add a talented young player for practically nothing it is a possibility that is always worth exploring.