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With Chara on the decline, focus turns to Hamilton and Krug

May 15, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

Boston Bruins v Anaheim Ducks Getty Images

The Detroit Red Wings haven’t been the same since Nicklas Lidstrom retired, and the Philadelphia Flyers haven’t been the same without Chris Pronger. This cannot be disputed. To do so would be to willfully ignore the greatness of those players, and their ability to impact games.

The fact is, when it comes to the makeup of championship-caliber teams, you’ll almost always find a cornerstone defenseman.

Still playing in the current NHL postseason: Duncan Keith for Chicago, Drew Doughty for Los Angeles, PK Subban for Montreal, and Ryan McDonagh for New York, even if the latter hasn’t been all that great in these playoffs.

There are exceptions to the rule, sure, like the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, who won the Stanley Cup with a blue line of good-but-far-from-great players. Similarly, there are great defensemen who never won the Cup, like Brad Park. But take a look at the list of Norris Trophy winners; most of them have rings. That is not a coincidence.

Zdeno Chara has a ring. He got it in 2011, when the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1972, which just so happened to be the year Bobby Orr won his fifth Norris. The B’s also won the Cup in 1970, the year Orr won his third Norris. Orr won the Conn Smythe Trophy in both ’70 and ’72.

Even if it was Tim Thomas that ended up winning the Conn Smythe in 2011, Chara was brilliant during that run. The big man logged 27:39 per game and finished the playoffs with nine points and a plus-16 rating. He was kryptonite for the Sedin twins in the Stanley Cup Final. Vancouver scored just eight times in the contentious seven-game series.

But Chara did not have a good series versus the Montreal Canadiens in 2014. Or, at least, he wasn’t the dominant force he’s been in the past.

Chara is also 37 years old. Despite his famous fitness regimen, his NHL career is winding down, and he knows it. No, he’s not done yet, but it’s clear the Bruins need Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton to keep progressing if they want to remain Cup contenders in the years to come.

Of the two, it’s Hamilton that screams cornerstone defenseman the loudest. He’s big. He skates well. He has good offensive instincts. There’s a reason he was drafted ninth overall in 2011. Granted, at just 20 years old, he still has a lot to learn. Consider: when Chara was Hamilton’s age, he was still a raw rookie with the Islanders. In reality, he didn’t become an impact player until he was traded to Ottawa a few years later.

That being said, young defensemen can make big impacts in today’s faster game. Subban just turned 25 and already has a Norris to his name. Erik Karlsson is only 23, and he won the Norris before Subban did. Doughty won the Stanley Cup as a 22-year-old, not to mention an Olympic gold medal at 20. Krug, 23, led the Bruins with 10 points this postseason.

As an organization, the Bruins have been blessed with great defensemen. We already mentioned Orr. They also had Ray Bourque, a five-time Norris winner. Chara won the award in 2009, and he’s a finalist again this year.

Add it up and a Boston player has been named the NHL’s top defenseman an incredible 14 times since the award was first handed out in 1954. No team — not even Montreal (12) — can say that.

Will the tradition continue?

Related: Disrespected? OK, but that’s not why the Habs won

  1. dboldave - May 15, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    I’d like to see them pick up another vet defenseman. You can’t continue to expect Chara to log 25 + minutes a game anymore. I think with Seidenberg back next season and the rest of the guys continuing to mature they’d be in good shape with another vet (barring injuries).

    I’m more concerned with what they’ll be doing up front. Kelly is hurt a lot, Iginla is a FA and Smith is a RFA. I wouldn’t mind seeing them move Kelly and get a legit sniper.

    • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 3:43 PM

      They have McQuaid returning from injury as well.

      • scottybcboy - May 15, 2014 at 8:06 PM

        I’m interested to know if there are any other teams through the years that have used four rookie dmen in the playoffs the way Boston did, as in regularly and consistently. The future looks bright along with Seids, McQuaid and Morrow.

      • dkelley1186 - May 15, 2014 at 9:29 PM

        Why is everybody so high on mcquaid? I’ve been watching him since he came up and I haven’t seen anything that impresses me. Yeah, he can fight. But he can’t compete a simple tape to tape pass. He has no touch on any of his passes. For some reason he’s extremely overrated by the Boston media. The Bruins now have Kevin Miller, who is the same player mcquaid is but with skill and costs a lot less. I think going in with big z dougie boychuk seids krug miller and bartkowski as the 7th dman they’ll be fine. Get rid of mcquaid and use his roster spot on a forward that isn’t afraid to shoot the puck on net.

      • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 10:03 PM

        I don’t know that people think he’s great but he’s a solid 4th defenseman for sure. He is a defensive, defenseman which is what this team relies upon.

        I feel Miller is vastly overrated and should have been benched in the series. He takes bad routes to pucks, turns the wrong way when teams are breaking in on the rush, gets caught puck-watching a ton, etc.

    • stepanup - May 15, 2014 at 3:54 PM

      You’re moving Chris Kelly to get a legit sniper? In separate moves I would assume…If only the Bruins could get a guy who can really fly and score, like a Kessel or a Seguin.

      • dboldave - May 15, 2014 at 3:57 PM

        I should have said a legit winger. Kelly is a center playing the wing.

      • pepper2011 - May 15, 2014 at 5:02 PM

        How many playoff goals does Seguin have in the last 3 years?
        4 in 35 Games

        Same amount as Smith!
        4 in 12 games.

        Dude (Seguin) can’t do it when it counts.

        I’d rather have Hamilton (kessel deal) Smith, Eriksson and Morrow than Kessel. Toronto has played 7 playoff games since the great Kessel arrived in Toronto

      • pepper2011 - May 15, 2014 at 5:03 PM

        The Bruins have played 78 since Kessel was sent to Toronto.

      • drewzducks - May 15, 2014 at 9:45 PM

        Well there’s no Seguin or Hamilton without dealing Kessel, but Kessel was/is the sniper, not Seguin. People quickly forget his anemic playoff run last year 1G -7A and -2 in 22 games. Kelly certainly won’t net a sniper and I don’t expect McQuaid to be back for health and $ reasons.

      • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 10:04 PM

        The Bruins have proven with two elite-offensive players now that a scoring-first type player just won’t work in their system.

      • rrsm53 - May 16, 2014 at 6:48 AM

        they had both Kessel and Seguin what did they do in Boston, your required to play defense here and both have shown they can defend a lick. Oh by the way where were their teams this year. Oh yeah Kessel golfing early. Seguin disappeared again in the playoffs after having a great season. Yeah your rational is great.

      • stepanup - May 16, 2014 at 12:14 PM

        The Seguin can’t do it when it counts talk is laughable. Kid’s what, 22, max? He just was a top 10 scorer, a plus player, and carried his team to the playoffs in a brutal Western Conference. I understand the Kessel thing, but the jury is still out on Seguin. B’s will regret that trade.

    • c9castine - May 15, 2014 at 4:00 PM

      yes..please keep getting older.

    • tougie24 - May 16, 2014 at 2:00 AM

      Defensively, unless there is a chance of stealing a solid player away from someone, I’d trust the system. While I don’t believe Trotman, Warsofsky, Joe Morrow or even Tommy Cross will end up being on the top pairing with Dougie down the road, the future bottom 2 defensive pairings should be strong.

      When it comes to Chara, had the Bruins had one more game (NOT SAYING THEY WOULD HAVE WON), they more than likely would have scratched Thornton and ran with a 7th defensemen to help ease the pressure off of Chara. That strategy would have been successful most likely with Seids or McQuaid in that role, but I can’t help but think Meszaros would have been somewhat successful as well.

      And it’s a shame that Kelly is injury-prone (of course that term is debatable itself) because he is a fantastic defensive forward. However, Soderberg fit in pretty well in that third line role, and is more skillful offensively.

      But it’s just funny to me, that this team’s biggest issue more often than not is goal scoring. What type of high powered scorer do they need? If Kessel and Seguin aren’t it? A Corey Perry? Seems like the only fit. A physical, yet offensive player. A bit too much to ask for.

  2. hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    People keep complaining about Chara and yet Bartkowski and Meszaros were the biggest problem that Claude refused to acknowledge. These guys, specifically Bartkowski, were still given regular shifts instead of shortening the bench.
    I realize they were each the sixth defenseman and it’s a good problem to have if your sixth defenseman is the big problem but how do you not shorten the bench with all their mistakes?

    I also thought it was ridiculous that they refused to shut down Subban on the point during the PP. Shut him off and play 4 on 3 in the rest of the zone.

    • dboldave - May 15, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      Not sure about you but Bartkowski’s bad play was kind of a shocker to me after he was so solid last year against the Rangers. I think with all of the youth they have on the blueline, he’s probably a goner this offseason if any trades are made.

      • thesportsjudge - May 15, 2014 at 4:06 PM

        That was my initial reaction, but then I thought his value has probably gone down due to these playoffs. They probably could have gotten a whole lot more for him at this years trade deadline. Clearly no one could know he would falter badly (in the playoffs) after playing pretty solid this (regular) season.

      • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 6:13 PM

        He’s an RFA now

      • Moop - May 15, 2014 at 8:13 PM

        Bartkowski had a solid playoff run last year. This year his weaknesses were showing by the midpoint of the season and I’ll be horrified if he’s back in a starting role next year.

      • thesportsjudge - May 16, 2014 at 12:09 AM

        @hockeyflow: I know he is RFA, but I can’t imagine they’d let him walk for nothing.

      • tougie24 - May 16, 2014 at 2:02 AM

        He was long rumored trade bait as it is. He was one of the main pieces of the Iginla trade that fell apart, and the rumored Edler trade this past deadline. I can’t help but think that perhaps he may have hurt his own value. Although I don’t feel like he played the poorly overall, for once I blame Claude for putting him in a bad situation.

      • bildomac07 - May 16, 2014 at 1:05 PM

        I think he will be gone this year with someone else giving him a deal and the bruins taking the compensation picks and letting him walk. Their top 7 still shakes out as Chara, Boychuck, Seidenberg, Hamilton, Krug, McQuaid, Miller. As far as depth they still have Warsofsky, Morrow, and Trotman who aside from Morrow have filled in at times. They may try to shop his rights to certain teams for the right package, but with them up against the cap I don’t think he’ll be back unless it’s on the Bruins terms.

    • sixchr - May 15, 2014 at 5:25 PM

      The issue with Bartkowski and Meszaros is on Chiarelli. Everyone talked their faces off for 2 months about how the Bruins needed a top 4 defenseman to be a legit Cup contender this year and Chiarelli, once again, proudly stated losing the trade deadline didn’t bother him. Go figure, that #4 defenseman was a gaping hole in this series.

      • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 6:12 PM

        I don’t remember any serious defensemen being moved at the deadline though.

      • sixchr - May 15, 2014 at 6:39 PM

        No but Andrew MacDonald was the one everyone had their eye on and they were in talks for. Then they let the Flyers take him and they took Meszaros off the Flyers’ scrap heap. There were guys moved around at the deadline that would have helped the Bruins and done a better job than Bartkowski or Meszaros did. They literally just needed to win one more game to bridge to Seidenberg and they couldn’t do it.

      • soj83 - May 15, 2014 at 6:51 PM

        Meszaros was brought in as a cheap (late draft pick and Philly kept half his salary) depth dman until McQuaid was healthy enough to play, but he kept having setbacks. MacDonald would not have helped the Bruins, they couldn’t afford another Krug/Hamilton when they needed more of a defensive d-man. Bieksa was the player the Bruins were willing to break the bank for, but the Canucks wouldn’t pull the trigger, he would have helped immensely.

      • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 10:06 PM

        I thought the Meszaros trade was decent because he played decent in the regular season and they gave up basically nothing for him.

        Because no one was moved at the deadline, (and I don’t think MacDonald was the guy for them), I would guess that the asking price was so high, it simply wasn’t worth it for anyone.

  3. JoeAvg - May 15, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be your’s to hold it high.

    Oh wait…that’s the other guys.

  4. tdrusher225 - May 15, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    The Bruins are not building their defense around Torey Krug. He’s going to be a power play specialist bottom pair defenseman for his career. Hamilton does have the potential to be a cornerstone defenseman.

    • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 10:08 PM

      I could see Krug as a higher-end Kaberle type where he’s that 3rd to 4th defenseman on a solid-defensive team. I was really surprised with how good he looked this year.

      Hamilton just exploded at the end of the year and I’m so excited to watch him grow in the next few years on the blue-line. I’ll be shocked if he’s not a Norris-type guy in the next five years.

  5. penvik - May 15, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    This is brutal. If Boston wins, this isn’t even a story. Canadiens and Rangers are lucky, SUPER LUCKY, to be where they are. It took all the better teams to slump at the right time and the refs to play along. The bounces went their way as well. You don’t get outshot like the Rangers did and win without pure luck. So here we have the media making it out like the Rangers and Habs have top caliber defense and the other teams are declining. Give me a break. This is why I was fearing both Boston and Pittsburgh losses. Most people will agree with the sports media because it’s on TV so it must be real. The masses have no brain.

    • stepanup - May 15, 2014 at 3:55 PM

      So how does that game the Rangers lost outshooting the Pens 35-15 (with three pipes) fit into this theory exactly? I must be one of the masses with no brain.

      • c9castine - May 15, 2014 at 3:59 PM

        why would you bring that up when you got outshot so bad in game 7 and won.

        really self defeating.

    • pigeonbutt - May 15, 2014 at 4:01 PM

      What’s with the delusion behind NBCs darling two franchises (Pens and Bruins)? Out of all fan bases these two undoubtedly have the hardest time crediting their opponents upon a loss. Then again it might be no wonder considering how crushed the NBC announcers sound when either of those teams loses…

      • hockeyflow33 - May 15, 2014 at 10:12 PM

        I need to disagree with you there. They had the Rangers Kenny Albert doing a few games, Pierre’s Brokeback Mountain affection for the Canadiens was painfully obvious and I get the sense that everyone except Doc despises the Bruins.

        Of course I’m used to listening to Jack Edwards so my basis for unbiased listening is severely damaged.

    • soj83 - May 15, 2014 at 7:02 PM

      The Canadiens definitely were not lucky, they had the Bruins number all year. They didn’t blow the B’s out at any point, but 3-1 in the regular season and everyone saw that Montreal got more bounces than the Bruins in the playoffs. I’m not talking about all their goals, but Montreal capitalized on turnovers and bouncing pucks. Their speed and style of play were the Bruins biggest weakness, and they were the team I wanted the Bruins to face the least in the playoffs. Montreal deserved to win and the Bruins didn’t play well enough. The only Bruin that I didn’t see make a mistake or take a shift off was Chad Johnson, and that is because he didn’t play at all.

    • mackattack29 - May 16, 2014 at 5:40 AM

      Luck has nothing to do with it… that’s why it’s best of 7. The better team always wins.

  6. westof1club - May 15, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    @Penvik, you’re the reason people hate Boston & Pittsburgh. Sore losers that can never admit their teams aren’t always the best. In a 7 game series the best team wins, except when the Bruins and Pens lose. But then, you whine as much as your team’s “best” player. Enjoy your Hart and Art Ross. Secondary assists every third game in the playoffs don’t win Stanley Cups.

  7. earpaniac - May 15, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    You could tell the end was coming in last year’s SCF. He looked old and slow against the Hawks.

    • dboldave - May 15, 2014 at 5:07 PM

      Can you tell me of a defenseman that looks great against the Hawks? Not saying he played great against them because he didn’t but honestly, who has been able to stop the Hawks?

  8. soj83 - May 15, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    This was Bartkowski’s first full year in the NHL, he seemed to get tired down the stretch and in the playoffs. His season seemed to mirror Johnny Boychuk’s first year in the NHL, started out good, then seemed to be worn out and made a lot of mistakes, mostly caused by not moving his feet. 4 years later, Boychuk is a steady top 4 dman for the Bruins. I don’t buy that his value has dropped that much when he did what virtually every mid-20 year old player seems to do in their first year. I agree that he may be expendable with Chara, Krug, Hamilton, Boychuk, Miller, and the returns of McQuaid and Seidenberg, but he should have a solid career as a bottom 3 d-man. Mezaros was a different story, he played exactly as expected and the fact that it was a lower draft pick and Philly kept half the salary makes it worth the gamble. There wasn’t a lot of d-men available at the deadline so the B’s made a decent move without giving up the farm. Trotman is an RFA, and the Bruins still have Morrow and Castro under contract for the next few years. You’re not going to stumble across another Chara, but the Bruins have some good depth and their young players definitely gained experience so I would not be worried about there D too much for years to come. Of course finding another top 2 quality dman wouldn’t hurt.

  9. papajack1259 - May 15, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    The problem with the Bs was not the D it was a lack of scoring AND losing their composure. Once the sixth game need as it did and the water spray crap took place they signed their death certificate as for the Pens they need to develop a system that is played by the entire team giving the puck to Sid ain’t working they will reload and be a good team once Shero goes I tip my hat to the Habs they truly outplayed out scored and out shot the Bs but they will be back

  10. dewzer - May 15, 2014 at 8:27 PM

    On the whole I think the Bs have to be pretty darn happy with Hamilton’s and Krug’s development. I agree with the premise of the article that a bigger concern is how fast will Chara decline. I also agree with the comments that the Bs need some top end scoring talent. Not sure if that is another kid like Khokhlachev or Spooner or someone acquired in a trade. Unfortunately a grinder like Kelly isn’t going to get you anything – it will also take sending top prospects.

  11. ducksk - May 15, 2014 at 9:05 PM

    Chara, fading fast. Lost a few steps and whatever little leadership he ever possessed.

    • joestemme - May 15, 2014 at 10:34 PM

      …and whatever team you root for would LOVE to have those few remaining steps and his “little” bit of leadership………..

  12. slysipops - May 16, 2014 at 12:21 AM

    how fast they forget , ZED, how fast they forget !

  13. mackattack29 - May 16, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    Chara was always overrated. Glad to see the truth coming out.

  14. infectorman - May 16, 2014 at 9:53 AM



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