Countdown to Bruins camp: Zdeno Chara

Countdown to Bruins camp: Zdeno Chara

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Zdeno Chara.

Zdeno Chara, who turns 42 in March, had a strong season as one of the oldest players in the NHL and still held onto the mantle of No. 1 defenseman with the Bruins as he overcame a late-season injury to be ready for the two rounds of the playoffs. It may be that Charlie McAvoy passes Chara in terms of ice time and responsibilities as the “No. 1 guy” in the next season or two, but Chara served notice last season that he might be ready to play for another four or five years based on health.

What Happened Last Year: At 41, Chara averaged 22:54 of ice time, finished with seven goals and 23 points despite pretty much zero power-play time and formed a very strong top pairing with McAvoy once the Bruins opted to go that way. Chara had days where the schedule caught up to him a little bit, he had a shoulder injury late in the season, but the pairing with McAvoy certainly seemed to bring out the best in both players. Chara is still the best penalty killer in the league and there were times when the 6-foot-9 D-man would stay out to kill an entire two-minute power play, which is ridiculous given his age and how many minutes he still plays nightly. Still, Chara has proven to be a bit of a freak of nature at this point that can do the unthinkable and accomplish things on the ice as a shutdown D-man that others will simply never be able to do.

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The only questions with a future Hall of Fame player is how good he’ll continue to be this season and how long he’ll be able to do it? There’s no reason to think that Chara is going to drop off the table given last season’s performance and given Chara’s insane conditioning regimen, but he’s also going to turn 42 this season and at some point, he’s going to demonstrably slow down. That’s already happened to some degree, but Chara has been able to compensate for it with size, strength and smarts. Eventually, he won’t be able to do that anymore, but the Bruins are smartly scaling back his responsibilities and how much he needs to play. It’s the reason that Chara no longer plays on the power play and instead focuses on the penalty kill as a shutdown guy. With careful usage, Chara should be a top-four shutdown D-man for at least a couple more seasons, but it will be the best scenario for the Bruins when McAvoy is ready to shoulder more of a No. 1 workload and allow Big Zee to slow down properly.  

In Their Own Words: “There are certainly a lot of positives we can build on going forward and, obviously, for next year. You know, we have a great group of guys. Younger guys made huge improvements. We compensate for each other really well during the season and proved that we can be a very good team. We had a very strong regular season, and, obviously, playing Toronto in the first round was challenging. They have a really good team, and we were able to move on. In Tampa, we didn’t play our best, but it was a hard-fought series and, for sure, something we can learn from and use as a motivation for upcoming years.” –Chara, looking back at last season and what is facing the Bruins ahead as they look to keep building upward.

Overall Outlook: Chara has put together a Hall of Fame career the past 20 years, and it just keeps going, and going, and going. The time on ice is beginning to scale back ever so slightly and the Bruins are smartly managing his workload, but you still see Chara out on the ice for all the most important moments of the game. The 6-9 defensive stopper is still a great leader, a great defender and one of the toughest competitors who sets the bar for everybody else on the team. In some ways, he’s been underappreciated for how good he's truly been over the course of his career, but his ability to play into his mid-40’s is going to open a lot of eyes to just how good the big guy has been in Boston. 

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Brad Marchand

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Brad Marchand

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Brad Marchand.

Marchand, 30, is coming off another Hart Trophy-level season with the Bruins after performing as a point-per-game player and again surpassing the 30-goal plateau. There was also the requisite suspension and extracurricular activities in the playoffs that kept his notorious reputation intact, even if this time it was licking opponent’s faces in a pretty unprecedented move. Marchand was great on the ice, dangerous in all situations and continues to take on more leadership responsibilities as one of the best players on the team. The one question with Marchand is whether he’s ever going to completely clean up his act or if that’s just part of the package with him.   

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What Happened Last Year: Marchand a decent chunk of time (14 games) with suspension and injuries, but still managed to crank out 31 goals and 84 points in 68 games for a ridiculously high point-per-game output. Marchand is almost impossible to stop with the puck on his stick. He's tough, clutch and one of the most dangerous game-breakers in the NHL. He plays in all situations, including being a deadly penalty killer. Marchand was also suspended five games for throwing a head shot at New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson, and is very clearly at the end of the rope when it comes to the NHL and supplementary discipline. The Nose Face Killah rebounded well from that suspension and had a strong playoff run with four goals and 17 points in 12 games while dominating long stretches of the Toronto series with his linemates. Marchand a, unfortunately, licked the faces of Leo Komarov and Ryan Callahan, and his hijinks might have cost the Bruins a key call or two late in the Tampa Bay series that ended quickly in five games. Clearly, there were some low points, but all in all, Marchand was again one of the best players in the league and would not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Questions To Be Answered This Season: With Marchand, everybody knows that he’s going to bring his best just about every night. The offense, the two-way play, the grittiness, the energy and the special teams’ dynamics are all part of his nightly bag of tricks, It’s why he should again be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy. Still, Marchand needs to cut the crap with the suspensions and the other extracurriculars that are hurting the Bruins every time he goes over the line. It may be that both go hand-in-hand that the Bruins can’t get the all-around dynamo without the occasional walk on the wild man side, but Marchand has to see just how much of a good NHL citizen he can be while still being himself. The Bruins need him on the ice and they need to keep in the good graces of the officials. A big part of doing that remains within Marchand’s power alone.

In Their Own Words: “I think that our chemistry, and what we’ve been able to [do] the last couple of years - it’s been a lot of fun, for one. But, yeah, I feel very fortunate to be playing on a line like that. You know, I’ve been fortunate to play with some really good players in the past, but we just seem to have a really good chemistry that allows us to be good. So it’s a lot of fun playing with them.” –Brad Marchand, on playing with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak on the “Perfection Line” for the bulk of last season, when all three dominated routinely.

Overall Outlook: Marchand is one of the NHL’s best players and one of the big reasons behind the Bruins surge back into the playoff picture the past couple of seasons. His offense, combined with his longtime linemate Patrice Bergeron, powers the Bruins, his special teams play make both units NHL standouts and Marchand is still an incredibly unpredictable force that opposing defenses have to account for. With that comes a lot more defensive attention, of course, and that means staying healthy and out of trouble when the hard hits and physical targeting come his way. Marchand is used to that by now, of course, and just needs to prove he’s maturing with good discipline and playing through any attempts to goad him into doing something suspension-worthy. He’s too good of a player for that. There’s a legitimate question as to whether his perception around the league is ever going to change if he goes on the straight and narrow, but that’s something Marchand will have to find out by keeping his nose clean a little more than in previous seasons. 

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Tuukka Rask

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Tuukka Rask

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Tuukka Rask.

Rask, 31, had a solid regular season for the Bruins with the regular share of high points and low points, but he was mightily aided by a strong season from backup goalie Anton Khudobin. Rask finished 34-14-5 in 53 regular-season starts. That put him right around the preferred workload for the slender (6-foot-3, 176 pounds) Finnish goaltender. It certainly wasn’t his best season, playoffs included, in 2017-18, but It wasn’t the $7 million man’s worst either and that’s probably worth noting.

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What Happened Last Year: Rask struggled early out of the gate to the point where Khudobin needed to make four consecutive starts in November, but that mini-benching seemed to really inspire Rask for the next few months. Rask went on to a 2.36 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 54 regular-season games and was very good on most occasions with the kind of mental and physical rest that he requires to be most effective. The playoffs were a bit of a different story as his save percentage dropped to .907 for the 12-game postseason. His Game 7 performance against the Maple Leafs was dreadful. If not for a stingy B’s defense that didn’t allow a single shot on goal in the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Bruins might not have won that game. To his credit, Rask was better in the second round against Tampa Bay. Still, Game 7 vs. the Leafs was a stark reminder that despite all the gaudy career stats for Rask, he has a habit of not showing up in the biggest games.  

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The interesting question facing Rask is how much longer he’s going to hold on to the No. 1 job with the Bruins given that his game has kind of hit a plateau in recent years. Rask is a talented goalie who needs a lot of in-season rest. He has his moments where he needs to be bailed out in the regular season and hasn’t really proven himself to be a dominant big-game goaltender. Enter into the equation Jaroslav Halak, signed as Rask’s backup goalie for this season, and for the next two years. Halak has been a No. 1 for most of his long NHL career and registers as the best goalie that’s ever backed up Rask, so he’s going to challenge Boston’s No. 1 goalie in a way that he’s never been challenged before. That should set up some interesting competition where Halak could take some real playing time from Rask and it could start to open a new chapter where Rask is no longer the clear-cut No. 1.

In Their Own Words: “Boston fans are passionate — every sport. You know, I’m a fan of sports. I criticize players if I see that they suck, so it’s no different. It’s part of the job. I don’t really know what’s being said and whatnot because I don’t follow it. It’s probably better off that way, but you know, it doesn’t bother me. You know, people can say whatever they feel like, whatever they want, you know. They’re fans, so it won’t affect my job.” –Rask, on being something of a lightning rod for criticism as the No. 1 goalie for the Bruins.  

Overall Outlook: Rask is coming off a fairly solid season as the No. 1 goalie, but some of the same questions remain about his viability in being the goalie on a Stanley Cup-winning team. He’s super-talented and has proven himself with some very strong regular seasons, but he also always seems to come up short in the biggest moments for the Black and Gold. Perhaps Halak will be the guy that finally pushes Rask into that next level where he can carry the Bruins through a few playoff rounds, or win some big regular-season games while standing on his head. It may feel like it’s nit-picking with Rask, but when his strengths and weaknesses force the B’s to spend nearly $10 million in cap space on goaltending, the Bruins need to get the kind of performance that their investment would necessitate.  

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