Ray Bourque

Bruins’ Chara cements towering legacy with Stanley Cup Final run

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

While Boston sports fans have been spoiled by a wave of championships across several leagues, you could make a similar argument for Boston Bruins fans when it comes to watching great defensemen.

Most obviously, they had Bobby Orr in all of his statue-worthy glory. People who were lucky enough to be alive to see his too-brief prime still often rank him as the greatest player – not just defenseman – to ever lace up the skates, and it’s not outrageous to have that debate.

Plenty of other names come to mind, with Ray Bourque enjoying a transcendent, high-scoring career in his own right.

It’s time to place Zdeno Chara‘s name in that select group.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

For such a tall player, it makes sense to consider the highest heights of his career, of which there have been many:

  • Chara has served as captain of the Bruins since 2006-07, becoming one of just three European-born captains to win a Stanley Cup when Boston won it all in 2010-11.
  • This marks the Bruins’ third trip to a Stanley Cup Final during Chara’s time, as they also came within two wins (and suffered through 17 wild seconds) of another championship when they fell to Chicago in 2012-13.
  • Chara won the 2008-09 Norris Trophy, and was a finalist on five other occasions. Personally, I believe that Chara should have won at least one other Norris during his splendid career.
  • Overall, Chara’s played in 1,485 regular season games, and an impressive 175 playoff contests.
  • While Chara probably would’ve won another Norris or two if he was a more prolific scorer, he’s a guy who’s been able to contribute offensively, too, collecting 10 seasons of 10+ goals, including 19 in 2008-09.

The numbers can get pretty mind-boggling with Chara, yet the story becomes even bigger (almost larger than life?) when you zoom out.

Sustained greatness

As tough as it’s always been to miss a 6-foot-9 fitness freak, there have been moments in his career where his brilliance was overlooked, or at least misjudged. Infamously, the New York Islanders traded away Chara before they really knew what they had, but the Ottawa Senators also let him walk in free agency, possibly choosing Wade Redden over Chara.

Betting against Chara was clearly a bad idea, but then again, it’s easy to forget just how much of an anomaly he truly is.

Alongside Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton, Chara’s managed astounding longevity, as he remains a key part of the Bruins even at age 42.

Sure, Chara isn’t playing almost half of every Bruins playoff game like he did during his gaudy peak, but he’s still important. It’s almost unthinkable that Chara is basically breaking even at five-on-five (via Natural Stat Trick), especially since he’s still called upon in tough situations, as he saw plenty of John Tavares and Mitch Marner during the Maple Leafs series, for example.

Tall tales

Chara isn’t just an impossibly huge defenseman who can still, somehow, keep up enough with young skaters that he remains a useful player for Boston to this day. He’s also someone who probably set expectations too high for plenty of players who’d come after him.

Would players like Tyler Myers, Rasmus Ristolainen, or even Colton Parayko have gotten the same looks in today’s NHL if Chara didn’t show teams that a huge defensemen could find ways to keep up, whether that meant leveraging an outrageous reach or the natural intimidation factor that comes with such size? In breaking the mold, Chara also set a high bar: just about any skyscraper-type prospect could be compared to Chara, especially since “The Big Z” is considered a late bloomer.

While others show that bigger guys can still play (Parayko, Dustin Byfuglien, and so on), there’s really only one Zdeno Chara.

When you think about it, in a less media-saturated age, Chara would probably inspire Paul Bunyan-like stories.

After all, this isn’t just a large dude, it’s also the player whose 108.8 mph slapshot may not be matched for years. He’s scaled mountains. Chara seems to project the typical “Aw, shucks” hockey attitude, yet it’s clear that his ambition separates himself from the rest, and elevates him to a special place among Bruins legends.

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While Chara can be a punishing presence, and maybe blurs the line from time to time, he doesn’t have the mean streak of another elite, gigantic defenseman like Chris Pronger. “Gentle giant” might be too much, but Chara rarely resembles the bully he easily could be. To an extent, his towering presence does the bullying for him.

***

The Bruins have enjoyed a strong run of goalies as Tim Thomas passed the torch to Tuukka Rask, but who knows how successful those goalies would have been without the combination of Chara and Patrice Bergeron?

Adding young players like Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak breathed new life into this Bruins’ core, but remarkably enough, Chara remains a huge part of that foundation, and not just literally.

This run cements a thought that probably already should have been present: Chara belongs on the short list of Bruins legends. Winning another Stanley Cup would only make it tougher to deny — and it would also tie Chara with a certain No. 4.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better special teams?
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
X-factors
PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bourque brothers looking to reunite with Rangers

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Chris and Ryan Bourque may be minor league mainstays to this point in their respective careers, but both are hoping they can make a case for NHL roster spots and reunite with the New York Rangers this season.

If you’re wondering about the last name, yes they’re both sons of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.

Ryan, originally a third-round selection of the Rangers in 2009, signed a new contract with the Rangers last week. The 23-year-old is coming off a season where he scored a career-best 21 goals and 37 points in 74 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL.

Chris, the elder of the two, signed a one-year deal with the Rangers on July 2, which will pay him $600,000 at the NHL level should he make the team. At 28, Chris is the more experienced of the two having appeared in 51 NHL games with Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston. Originally a second round selection of the Capitals in 2004, Chris split last season between the KHL and Switzerland. He did however have 10 goals and 38 points with the Providence Bruins during the 2012-13 season, his last in North America. Chris added a goal and three helpers in 18 games with Boston that season.

“It’s going to be an awesome experience,” Ryan Bourque told Blueshirts United Tuesday. “There’s not many fields out there, or even in sports, where someone can experience something like this. We always said growing up that we would want to do this if we could. The fact that it all fit in and worked out this year is incredible. It’s definitely going to be an unbelievable experience and we are definitely excited about it.”

With the loss of key players up front such as Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle and Brad Richards, Ryan, who is a center, is hoping there’ll be opportunities come training camp.

“Every camp provides an opportunity, but this is really a big year for me,” he said. “This is an opportunity for me to get serious looks to see if I can make a difference. I am going to try and make the most of the opportunity because there are spots to be won.”

Though it’d be a nice story, it’s doubtful both Chris and Ryan make the defending Eastern Conference champions roster out of training camp. The blue shirts added NHL veterans Matthew Lombardi and Tanner Glass, among others, in free agency.

But if it’s any consolation, they could be reunited with the Rangers’ top farm club, the Wolf Pack for 2014-15.

Related: Boyle: ‘There’s going to be some pressure’ joining Rangers

Chris Bourque on Bruins: “They could have had me for free”

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Growing up as Ray Bourque’s son probably created quite a burden for Chris Bourque. Still, he also had the chance to watch the likes of Cam Neely and his father up close and personal growing up near Boston, so it’s not shocking that he told CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty that he’s thrilled to play for the Bruins.

“They could have had me for free. I was going to be unrestricted and if they put up any kind of offer they were going to have the big edge with me being able to play in front of all my friends and family. It would have been intriguing to me no matter what,” Bourque said. “There’s a lot of history here between my family and the Bruins, obviously. I grew up idolizing Cam Neely, Adam Oates and my dad…to get to see them up close at the rink every day as a kid [was special]. Now with what the Bruins have meant to the city over the last few years; it seems like it would be so much fun to be a part of.”

Of course, as a player who bounces between the NHL and minors, there’s no guarantee that B’s fans will see much of the next generation Bourque. The 26-year-old forward said that he’s been told that he’ll have a shot to make the pro-level team and Bourque will do whatever he can to stick with the Bruins.

“That’s all I’ve ever asked for. It’s up to me to do the rest and bring some energy to the team. I’m known as more of a playmaker, but I’ll play any kind of role that they need me to,” Bourque said. “Whether it’s on the power play or the penalty kill I’m just hoping they give me the chance to show I can do … I’d play defense or goalie if it gets me into the NHL with a full-time job.”

GM Peter Chiarelli certainly didn’t provide guarantees, but he backed up Bourque’s claims that he’ll have a chance.

“I think he’s got a good chance of making our team,” Chiarelli said. “He does have the ability to shoot to find seams, but he also has a great element to his game where that if he has to play lower down the line he can do that. I told him, among other things, that he’ll need like another quarter step to maintain it at this level. If he gets that – and I think he will — he’s another guy who’s relatively young, and that he’ll be able to play at this level on a regular basis.”

If so, it’ll probably be a treat for the Bourques and Bruins fans – even if Chris isn’t the kind of player you’d throw a parade for.

It might not take long for Chris Bourque to make his Boston Bruins debut

Ray Bourque went straight from being selected in the first round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft to winning the Calder Trophy for his 65-point 1979-80 campaign.

His son, Chris Bourque, hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of storybook beginning to his NHL career, but at the age of 26, he’s under contract with his father’s old team, the Boston Bruins, and they’re willing to give him a legitimate shot at making the team.

“I told [Chris] that I think he has a good chance of making our team. I told him that he’s just not there to go to Providence,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “If he goes to Providence then that’s great, but giving him a one-way deal in the second year speaks to how we feel about Chris. He’s got a couple of areas to work on and I told him that.”

So far Bourque has established himself as a star at the AHL level, but he hasn’t been able to prove himself in the NHL. Of course, he hasn’t really gotten much of a shot lately. He has played in just 33 NHL games, and none over the past two seasons.

In the AHL, he’s known as an offensive juggernaut, but he doesn’t necessarily need to earn a spot on one of Boston’s top two lines to be of value to them.

“He does have the ability to shoot and find seams, but he also has a grit element to his game where he can play lower down in the lineup if he has to,” said Chiarelli. “I told him – among other things – that he needs another quarter-step to maintain it at this level, and he’s a young guy so I think he will.”

He’s inked to a two-year deal at the crossroads of his career. He can still establish himself as a late bloomer like Matt Moulson or he could go down as one of those guys that just can’t quite make the jump like Alexandre Giroux.

Ray Bourque’s son on becoming a Bruin: “A dream come true for me”

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On Saturday, the Boston Bruins raised a few eyebrows by trading former first-round pick Zach Hamill to Washington in exchange for 26-year-old UFA with 33 games of NHL experience.

More eyebrows were raised upon learning who the 26-year-old UFA was — Chris Bourque, son of Bruins legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.

Chris, who led the American League in scoring this season (27G-66A-93PTS), hasn’t played in the NHL since 2009-10 but is relishing the opportunity to play for the Bruins organization — and hopefully make the big club.

“It’s the first time I’ve been traded and to get traded to the Bruins was obviously a dream come true for me,” he told the New England Hockey Journal. “It’s where my dad spent most of his career. To be traded to the organization he played in so long, it’s an honor.”

Ray spent 21 of his 22 years in Boston and has his No. 77 hanging from The Garden rafters. He was shocked to hear his kid was joining the Bruins organization.

“I got to tell him the news,” Chris said. “He was obviously stunned. I didn’t really expect to get traded because I’m going to be a free agent soon. I didn’t know it was a possibility.

“Then, to get a call was shocking and to hear it was the Bruins was incredible. I think the whole family kind of feels that way.”

If Chris signs with the Bruins and manages to crack the lineup, the Bourques will join the likes of Harvey and Bill Bennett, Ron and John Grahame and Ken and Ken Hodge Jr. as father-son combos to play for Boston — a city Chris is extremely familiar with.

“I’m from Boston, I’ve lived here, I’ve grown up here and this is where I call home in the summers and, hopefully, in the near future,” he said. “It’s not really weird to get traded here. When I got the phone call and they told me I was going to Boston, I almost feel like it’s not really real. It feels like a dream. I’m very happy.”