For years now, the Boston Bruins have been anchored through the duo of Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara – from 2010-2014, with Chara and Bergeron on the ice together, the Boston Bruins scored a whopping 73.1 percent of goals scored at 5-on-5. That means for every four goals scored for both Boston and their opponents combined, nearly three of them would belong to the Bruins. That number is beyond superb. For comparison’s sake, over that same span, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar posted a GoalsFor of 61.3 percent, while Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews were at 60.6 percent. Both numbers are solid, and nowhere near the level of Chara/Bergeron.
Bergeron, and the rest of the Bruins, will be without Chara’s services for at least a month following a left knee injury suffered Thursday night against the New York Islanders. This is a huge blow for a Boston team that has started the season with a 4-5-0 mark, and find themselves with a negative goal differential. Part of this is luck, but Boston has also seen a small decrease in FenwickFor-percentage from last year. That mark is the total percentage of all unblocked shot attempts that occur during Boston’s games. It’s at 53.3 percent so far this year, down from 54.1 percent last year. That number is unlikely to improve without Chara in the lineup.
Again, the loss of Chara cannot be overstated: Over the last four years, he’s inside the top-15 for regular defensemen in fewest unblocked shot attempts allowed on a per-minute basis, he’s finished inside the top-5 in Norris Trophy voting for the NHL’s top defensemen in six of the last seven seasons, and he leads all regular defensemen in GoalsFor-percentage over the last four years. That’s all while starting in the defensive zone more often than any other regular Boston Bruins defenseman.
What compounds the problem is that Johnny Boychuk is long gone, having been traded to the Islanders before the season started. That was a hit to their defensive depth as it was, but now without Chara for 4-6 weeks, that takes two of their top three leaders in even strength ice time per game from last year. While teams would like to think they have the organizational depth to replace injured players seamlessly, these kinds of losses can rarely be sustained without some negative impact.
There will be two beneficiaries to the Chara injury on Boston’s blue line while he nurses his injury.
Of course, most people remember that Tyler Seguin was used with one of the draft picks from the Phil Kessel trade all those years ago. One of the other picks to come out of that trade was Dougie Hamilton.
There is a long pedigree here. Over his final three years in junior hockey, Dougie Hamilton was over a point per game with 171 points in 149 games. He played at the under-17 World Championships, the under-18 World Championships, and twice for Canada’s World Junior team. This all led to being a top-10 pick back in 2011.
Chara’s injury will be a coming out party of sorts for Hamilton. He’s been pretty good for at least a year now, though: Hamilton had a better CorsiFor-percentage away from Zdeno Chara than he did playing with him last year. Of course, a lot of that would be because Chara would still play the tough minutes without Hamilton, giving the young defenseman easier assignments. One thing that is fairly certain, though, is that Hamilton didn’t have to rely on Chara carrying him, which can be occur when playing with an all-world defenseman like “Big Z.”
Chara missing time should lead to more minutes for Hamilton, both at even strength and on the power play. This will be a pretty good test for Hamilton, who will have his chance to prove himself as truly one of the top all-around defensemen in the NHL.
Another defenseman who could benefit from the absence of Zdeno Chara is rookie Joe Morrow.
Morrow was one of the pieces that Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade last year. In his first season with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, Morrow posted 29 points in 56 games. A pretty good mark for a 20-year-old defenseman.
Like Hamilton, there’s a pedigree with Morrow, just not as substantial. He doesn’t have all the junior championship experience, but he is a former first round pick, and did have 113 points in his final 122 games of junior hockey. That’s a pretty stellar total.
What his role will be with Boston is still unclear. Whether he gets power play minutes or not is still to be determined. It is his first crack in the NHL, so there should be very guarded optimism here. That said, it’s an opportunity for a young kid to show he belongs. We’ll just have to see how this plays out.
As I said earlier, the loss of Chara cannot be overstated. But it does open up playing time for the kids, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Chara turns 38-years-old this hockey season, and was seeing a reduction in ice time. There will come a day when he won’t be overly reliable anymore, and the Bruins will need Hamilton and Morrow to fill part of the void. A glimpse into that future begins tomorrow night as Boston goes to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs.