A galaxy of Pittsburgh Penguins stars blinked out, just like that; the only light remaining was from black dwarves Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz. At the center of it all, the pillar upon which Claude Julien has constructed his defense and his team and his approach to the game itself, was the NHL's resident Galactus, a towering world-eater who has been the best at his job in the entire world for a period of several years.
The fact that we aren't falling down in with sheer joy at the idea of being able to watch Zdeno Chara play smothering, punishing, enveloping defense every time he climbs over the boards like a giant is a little sickening.
Men of his size have moved with grace and skill and speed in other sports, but never in the full armor of an NHL player. Others approach his size, of course. Tyler Myers and John Scott and the late Derek Boogaard, all just an inch shorter. Hal Gill and Brian Boyle check in at 6-foot-7. But none have played the game at a level even approaching that of Chara's, who now moves on to his second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
Just how unappreciated is Chara in his own time, even with the acknowledgement that he is indeed a former Norris Trophy winner and six-time All-Star? There were certain elements of the Boston media who, as recently as the Maple Leafs series, were advocating that he be stripped of the Bruins' captaincy. All that, though, has gone as silent as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Jarome Iginla, and all but five Penguins did in their terrible dud of an Eastern Conference Finals sweep.
That Chara wasn't nominated for the Norris again this season -- or indeed, in any season since about 2007 -- seems like borderline criminal oversight by the people who vote on this sort of thing, and whose ballots typically run more or less in accordance with Nos. 1-3 in scoring by defensemen for any given season.
Letang (who utterly embarrassed himself in every zone during this Eastern Conference Final), PK Subban and Ryan Suter were among the nominees who finished ahead of Chara, and there they go at Nos. 2, 1, and 3, respectively, in points this season.
Chara? Well shoot, you gotta click over to the second page to find him in a tie for 38th with Patrick Wiercioch and Marek Zidlicky, among others, at 19 points this season.
What a bum, right?
Obviously he has a little bit of help on the defensive side of things, what with another terribly underrated defenseman in Dennis Seidenberg capable of parachuting into any matchup, alongside Chara or apart from him, as well as Patrice Bergeron, the premier defensive center in the world, in front of him. All have combined to put Tuukka Rask, as with Tim Thomas before him, in line to become a very, very rich goaltender.
Maybe, too, it's the ordinariness of Chara's excellence that makes it so difficult to appreciate.
A night in which he's a minus player, as he was just 11 times in 62 games across this year's regular season and playoffs, and gets beaten for a few points from his opposition, is exceedingly rare. It's too bad, I guess, that he doesn't rush the puck with the fluidity of a Nicklas Lidstrom, widely considered the second-best defenseman of all time and, to Chara's detriment, very much of the same generation.
He doesn't rack up power play points like Subban, who had 26 this year, because the Bruins' man advantage generally stinks.
He doesn't lay anyone out in open ice like Dion Phaneuf.
If anything, the attribute for which he is most famous isn't his defensive prowess, which is going to land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame on the first ballot and maybe even win him a second Stanley Cup in the next few weeks, but rather his height, because you see he is very tall.
While the question of who should have won the Conn Smythe in 2011 was a pretty simple one, it certainly isn't quite so cut-and-dried this time around. Most would likely advocate Rask, given that he's conceded just 30 goals in 16 games this postseason. Some might say it should be David Krejci, who leads the postseason in points as he did the last time the Bruins won the Cup. Some might even say Patrice Bergeron, and that would be a very interesting argument. All three have obviously been great.
But the reason the Bruins have the fewest goals against per game in these playoffs is because Zdeno Chara is and continues to be the best defenseman alive, and he's playing minutes befitting his considerable frame. Moreover, despite the lack of production in the regular season, Chara has 11 points in 16 games this spring, putting him behind only Letang and Slava Voynov among all defensemen.
Of course, that anyone has to make a case for him at all seems crazy, so understood is his ability to dominate a game. As with the relatively league-wide undervaluing of Phil Kessel, Chara regularly makes the extraordinary seem routine, and to a greater degree than the Toronto forward who had until this postseason long suffered at the behemoth's hands.
It's fair to wonder whether, after successfully muzzling the Penguins' top players, and Rick Nash and Co. before them, Chara will be so successful if (when) matched up against a resurgent Patrick Kane, who has four goals and 11 shots in his last two games.
But if he can handle Crosby, and frustrate the best player on the planet into boo-hooing his way through his most important series since 2009, then one supposes this isn't too big an ask.
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: All true hockey experts had the Bruins sweeping the Penguins with Adam McQuaid scoring this series-clinching goal off Jarome Iginla. If you didn't think that would happen I guess you're an idiot.
Buffalo Sabres: So Sabres fans think there's 5:1 odds that Steve Ott is named team captain next season, and 15:1 that both Vanek and Miller will be traded before the season. If either thing happened it would be funny, if both happened the hockey world might never stop laughing.
Calgary Flames: The Flames plan on looking for a guy who will make an impact in the future for the No. 6 pick, not next season, so maybe they'll try draft someone who will be NHL-ready the same time as Mark Jankowski (never).
Chicago Blackhawks: Duncan Keith says he doesn't like being considered a repeat offender and a cool and great way to avoid that kind of thing in the future is to stop trying to injure your opponents for just like a few games.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs recently gave Patrick Bordeleau a three-year extension. Three years. For a 27-year-old guy whose number of fights in the NHL this season (six) was more or less in line with his TOI per game (6:13). Here's a fun hint for people making NHL personnel decisions: You can give enforcers one-year deals in perpetuity because they're replaceable and by definition bad hockey players who should be happy to have even that much.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Sergei Bobrovsky is apparently negotiating with both Columbus and SKA of the KHL simultaneously, and if he left this summer that would be really great. Not for them, but for hockey fans in general.
Dallas Stars: Jim Nill is not starting out on the right foot in Dallas: Trading assets (okay, a sixth-round pick, but still) to sign a 39-year-old not-great defenseman to a two-year deal worth $10 million? Gee whiz, if that was any other GM, and not a product of The Brilliant Red Wings System, he'd get destroyed by everyone in hockey for a deal like this, and this was a remarkably dumbassed move.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Valtteri Filppula gets a "D" grade for both the regular season and the playoffs, and at 29, you just know someone is still gonna give him a ridiculous contract this summer because he had 66 points once ever.
Edmonton Oilers: Dallas Eakins, huh? I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a great hire. But what exactly did Ralph Krueger do to deserve being fired, besides not-make the playoffs with that garbage roster, and also be the guy standing around when the GM who hired him was shown the door?
Florida Panthers: More Luongo to the Panthers talk did you know he played there once he really did and maybe just maybe they'll be willing to take on that contract this time you never know and anyway just think about it wouldn't that be nice?
Los Angeles Kings: Obviously there wasn't much of a reaction to it in the building but this is a crazy goal for a no-scoring-on-the-road team like the Kings to pick up with 10 seconds left in the third period of an elimination game against the Blackhawks. Say, who lost that draw for the hosts? Haha just kidding of course it was Jonathan Toews.
Montreal Canadiens: Habs owner Geoff Molson says he was proud of how the Habs took a big step forward this year, particularly with regard to their consistency. Which, uhh, I guess he didn't catch much of the final quarter of the season.
New Jersey Devils: Lou Lamoriello, who has gone through four head coaches since 2007-08, says he doesn't regret firing Claude Julien, who has since won a Stanley Cup and might do it again before the end of the month. But this is from a guy who also didn't give up his first-round pick when it was 29th overall so I guess what did I expect?
New York Islanders: One aspect of the new CBA that might not have gotten a lot of play the other day is that it clarified the loophole by which drafted NCAA players can become unrestricted free agents (most notably exploited by Justin Schultz and Blake Wheeler, among others). This almost impacted the Islanders and their ability to lock up Notre Dame forward Anders Lee, but now it's a little harder for college players to do that kind of thing. Now the deadline for their rights to lapse is Aug. 15 instead of June 1. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that's all.
Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 304 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. And hey gee whiz it's another summer of not being able to sign anyone long-term because they might have to move to Yellowknife tomorrow.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins might fire Dan Bylsma because … well, I don't know but like what a bad coach he is, right Mario?
San Jose Sharks: Sure, the Sharks' home rink will be called the SAP Center for the next five years and I guess there's a joke to be made there, but $3.25 million a year for naming rights is nothing to sneeze at. At the very least, it covers part of the raise they'll have to give Logan Couture before he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
Vancouver Canucks: Manny Malhotra says a good reason to institute mandatory visors is to "get away from the machismo BS. It's about protecting your investment, which is your body, and that's going to make or break your career." Meanwhile, he also wants to come back after that catastrophic eye injury. Well, there ya go.
Washington Capitals: The Caps and Matt Hendricks are no closer to an extension, as in no talks, which probably indicates he's going to be on the market July 5. Line forms to the right. Not everyone all at once n… oh, no one lined up.
Winnipeg Jets: How will the Jets stack up against their new division, with Chicago and St. Louis and Minnesota and Nashville and Dallas and Colorado? Well, they couldn't make the playoffs when they were in a division with Florida and Washington and Tampa and Carolina, so, "Not great," I think.
Play of the Weekend
Patrick Kane scored three of his team's four goals on Saturday night and this was certainly the nicest of them. What patience.
Gold Star Award
Minus of the WeekendBoston mayor Tom Menino for noting very accurately that "Steve Crosby" did "nothing" in the series sweep by the Bruins. By his having done nothing, Steve Crosby still had as many points as that Sidney guy with whom he shares a last name.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Nuke" is ready to do just that to the Oilers and Sabres.
- Jordan Eberle
- Ales Hemsky
- 7th Overall
- Ryan Miller
- Tyler Myers
- Tyler Ennis
- 16th Overall
The truth is like sunlight. People used to think it's good for you.
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• Eulogy: Remembering the 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins
• P.K. Subban wins Norris Trophy, according to NHL Awards leak
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