Zdeno Chara

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Big, bad contracts? Bruins’ salary cap situation after Pastrnak signing

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With a $6,666,666 cap hit, David Pastrnak‘s six-year contract might seem like a deal with the devil for the Boston Bruins. All things considered, it’s actually pretty reasonable, though.

Pastrnak is 21, and he only reached the legal drinking age in the U.S. on May 25. His youthful potential makes him stick out like a sore thumb on a Bruins roster that is, well, a little … veteran-heavy.

(It’s really experienced; yeah, that’s the way to put it.)

This Pastrnak contract seems like a solid excuse to examine the Bruins’ salary cap structure, continuing what’s become a running series at PHT.

Expensive old guys (and David Pastrnak)

Let’s begin with aging players whose contracts aren’t so scary … at least not right now.

Patrice Bergeron – 32 years old, $6.875M cap hit expires after 2021-22

Here’s a quick summation of my opinion regarding Bergeron: I once argued on Rotoworld’s Podcast that he probably belonged on the NHL’s list of the 100 greatest players of all-time. Bergeron can do it all, and figures to remain a serious difference-maker for some time.

Even so, Bergeron’s dealt with some troubling concussion issues, and has a lot of NHL mileage on his body. He’s been a fixture since 2003-4, after all.

There’s some concern that he’ll regress sharply, but here’s the thing: Bergeron is a steal right now, so the Bruins might just have to pay more in the future for getting a huge bargain in the past.

Pastrnak – 21, Mark of the Beast cap hit runs through 2022-23

It’s a near-certainty that Pastrnak’s numbers were inflated by his time with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but such logic didn’t hurt Leon Draisaitl‘s wallet (i.e. the Connor McDavid bump), now did it? Injuries and other bad bounces can change things fast, but as it stands, this seems like a nice value.

Marchand – 29, $6.125M through 2024-25

The Bruins must have breathed a sigh of relief that they were able to re-sign Marchand at a reasonable cap hit, even as he was erupting from “really good and really annoying” to “really, really, REALLY good and really annoying.”

It’s easy to forget how frequently Marchand’s name landed in trade rumors when his points-to-agitation ratio wasn’t quite as helpful to the Bruins’ cause.

Right now, Marchand is a steal, probably an extreme one. He’s dangerously close to 30, and that’s a long contract, so that deal could be a problem in the future (especially considering how he likes to mix it up).

Tuukka Rask – 30, $7M through 2020-21

As the Bruins have declined from a contender to a team scraping to make the playoffs, the hype has fizzled for Rask to an extent. That’s just a nature of hype, though, because Rask remains one of the best workhorses in the game.

The problem remains similar: he’s getting up there in age. The term is both good news (not agonizingly long if he really slips) and bad news (four years, so if he does slip, the Bruins must find answers in net).

Old, expensive guys: part yikes

Matt Beleskey might not qualify as “old” at 29, but his contract is aging like reverse-wine with three years left at $3.8M. David Backes is 33 and costs $6M for four more years. Yeah, not good.

David Krejci straddles the line between those two groups. He quietly had a solid season in 2016-17, but at 31 and with a $7.25M cap hit, his contract might be something the Bruins regret. Especially if he really starts to hit a wall with four years remaining.

Decisions on defense

Reports indicate that the Bruins have at least discussed an extension with 40-year-old, bedrock defenseman Zdeno Chara. His $4M cap hit for next season is very nice, yet you wonder if Boston would be dancing around mines if they pull the trigger on a deal without being confident about his long-term viability.

(It would also provide cruel comedy if they’re proactive in re-signing a 40-year-old man after waiting until training camp to sign a 21-year-old rising star.)

Boston’s defensive future is fuzzy, as they only have two blueliners (Torey Krug and Kevan Miller) locked down for three years. Everyone else is on one or two-year pacts.

There are other young players to assess, from prospects to Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano.

(Opinion: Vatrano could be in for at least a moderate breakthrough in 2017-18, so the Bruins might be wise to at least explore a cheap extension sooner rather than later. Or, you know, they could pay a lot of money for another rare, precious young scorer. That seems to be going well for them.)

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So … yeah, the Bruins seem like a mess, at least when you take a view beyond the next season or two.

On the bright side, their best players are locked up at good-to-great rates, at least as of 2017. It’s not all bad, but you still have to wonder if management has the right vision for the future of this franchise.

Report: Bruins have interest in extending Zdeno Chara

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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.

According to Joe Haggerty of CSN New England, the Bruins have interest in a contract extension for defenseman Zdeno Chara, and there have been discussions between the team’s general manager and its captain.

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.

But he’s only getting older, which raises the discussion about whether he can still handle such a significant workload going forward, especially if he does return beyond this season. The Bruins also have defensemen like Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy who could be ready to take on even more responsibility on the blue line.

“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.”

Celebrate Labor Day by pondering the ‘hardest working’ NHL defensemen

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It’s Labor Day (or Labour Day), so hopefully you’re getting those last summer nights/hot dog grillings out of your system.

(Not just talking to you, Phil Kessel.)

With the holiday in mind, it seems sensible to get into the theme of things and ponder the “hardest working” players in hockey. For the record, these lists are based on stats, so feel free to project your own opinions about hustle/grit/other things that would show up on a John Cena t-shirt.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to discuss some stats that don’t get as much attention.

Defensemen tend to be some of the biggest workhorses in the sport, so this first post will be devoted to them.

For forwards and goalies, check out this post.

Sheer volume

In maybe the least surprising development imaginable, Ryan Suter continues to stand out as a guy who just logs an inane amount of ice time.

Suter headlines a list of five players who’ve logged at least 8,000 minutes of regular-season ice time from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

1. Suter: 9,201:55
2. Drew Doughty: 8,906:33
3. Erik Karlsson: 8,897:18
4. Shea Weber: 8,116:20
5. Alex Pietrangelo: 8,055:50

(Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Roman Josi are very close behind them.)

Killing penalties is one of the toughest jobs, and it can be a very specialized one. Using the 2013-14 to 2016-17 standard, only one defenseman logged 1,000 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, six players logged at least 900.

1. Andy Greene: 1,115:48
2. Alex Pietrangelo: 996:28
3. Zdeno Chara: 986:38
4. Karl Alzner: 935:08
5. Jay Bouwmeester: 945:03
6. Francois Beauchemin: 900:15

(Big-minute guys Doughty and Weber also ranked up high in penalty killing.)

For a significant defenseman, Pietrangelo carries a considerable workload. Consider how much tougher his role has become over the last few seasons.

2013-14: 52.3 percent offensive zonne starts vs. 47.7 defensive
2014-15: 48.4 offense, 51.6 defense
2015-16: 46.9, 53.1
2016-17: 43.1, 56.9

Pietrangelo still manages to produce offensively, so the 27-year-old is quite the all-around gem.

Gritty leaders

However you feel about certain “grit” stats and how helpful they actually are for a team, it’s easy to admire players who put their bodies on the line.

Using the framework of 2013-14 to 2016-17, Kris Russell easily leads the NHL in blocked shots with 907, even doing so in 277 games while Dan Girardi comes in second place with 719 in 300 contests. Russell blocks a hearty 3.3 shots per game.

It’s easier to understand Girardi slowing down when you consider the bumps and bruises he likely endures. Girardi blocked 719 shots during that span, and he also delivered 690 hits. (Shea Weber is a similar bruiser: 637 blocked shots, 644 hits in 313 games.)

Karl Alzner piles up those grit stats while spending a lot of time on the PK, which is predictable but also commendable.

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These stats don’t guarantee that the listed defensemen work “harder” than others. Still, it’s easy to get lost in possession stats and other considerations, and lose sight of how much effort goes into the dirty work in hockey.

If you’re bored and hockey-starved on this holiday, consider clicking around the above links to notice certain names that show up consistently. It might give you a greater appreciation for players you otherwise might have dismissed.

McAvoy ready to make an impact for Bruins

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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.

How much does Zdeno Chara have left at 40?

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This post is part of Bruins Day on PHT…

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.

In stating that he wants to play beyond next season, Chara not-too-surprisingly welcomed the big minutes, as NESN reported in late April.

“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.”

Time to temper expectations?

Even at his advanced age, Chara tends to put up decent possession stats, though things admittedly get fuzzier when you go deeper.

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:

By the fancy-stats-friendly (but also eye-friendly) setup of HERO charts, Chara probably rests closer to a No. 2 defenseman. There’s no shame in that, especially for a 40-year-old man, but his precipitous drop is as apparent in “fancy stats” terms as it is to most onlookers.

Pass the torch

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.