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Chara is still ‘the best defender in the game,’ says Neely

May 20, 2014, 4:07 PM EDT

Zdeno Chara, Brendan Smith AP

We wrote last week about Zdeno Chara, and how considering the 37-year-old defenseman isn’t getting any younger, the Bruins will need youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug to carry on the tradition of great Boston blue-liners if the B’s are to remain Stanley Cup contenders for years to come.

Today, while not outright disagreeing with that notion, Bruins president Cam Neely tried to quell any talk of Chara’s decline.

“Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game,” said Neely, per CSN New England. “I still think we’re in our window. We just have to recognize what we need to do to make our team better, whether it’s guys playing better, or whether we’re adding different players.”

Certainly, Chara is far from finished, and for the record, we never suggested he was. He earned a Norris Trophy nomination this season, and he led the B’s in playoff ice time, averaging 25:20 per game. He’s got a couple of good years left, even if they’re not quite at the level they were a few years ago.

Neely is also right that the Bruins “haven’t fallen off the cliff.” There’s more than enough quality youth on their roster to remain contenders. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are only 28; Brad Marchand is 26; Milan Lucic is 25; and Reilly Smith is just 23.

The key will be to keep adding to the mix, and getting that all-important “support from the bottom” that no team can afford to ignore in the NHL. Not ever.

  1. jcmeyer10 - May 20, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    They just need a way for Z to be fresh in the playoffs. Fresh legs he is still one of the best but man, you can tell when he slows down.

    Sides coming back will be a big help but he needs to get used to fewer minutes.

  2. bildomatic - May 20, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    No… He’s not…

    • apkyletexas - May 20, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      Just to give you some idea how miserable it is being a Pens fan since 2009 – we would have to say “but what about Letang?”.

      Get it? It’s like a punch-line to a bad joke. He’s not really a defenseman at all practically – more like a mis-placed forward. Great player – no doubt about that. But we haven’t had anyone like Chara in a long time.

      • apkyletexas - May 20, 2014 at 5:00 PM

        When was the last time anyone said, “oh I hope we don’t play the Penguins. They’ve got that giant defender who just punishes everyone and completely shuts you down”??

      • c9castine - May 20, 2014 at 10:42 PM

        why so miserable?

        bunch of quitters and drama queens in pittsburgh.

      • apkyletexas - May 21, 2014 at 5:37 AM

        Because every year we go flying into the playoffs with a soft defense and amazing offensive numbers, just waiting to go “splat” onto the windshield of a team with some toughness. Can’t tell you how nice it is to have Shero shown the door. Managing a roster like a fantasy league owner is a horrible idea.

    • hockeyflow33 - May 20, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      Well he was voted one of the top 3 defenders in the league

  3. terrier92 - May 20, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    They have to live with the fact that they blew a nice opportunity to compete for cup. No disrespect to Habs but they blew it

  4. canucks30 - May 20, 2014 at 4:24 PM

    1. Duncan Keith
    2. Drew Doughty
    3. Shea Weber
    4. Alex Pietrangelo
    5. Zdeno Chara
    6. Ryan Suter
    7. P.K. Subban
    8. Marc-Édouard Vlasic
    9. Brent Seabrook
    10. Kris Letang

    • bildomatic - May 20, 2014 at 4:36 PM

      Not bad. Maybe bump Suter up a bit, but hard to argue. I’m guessing the Letang inclusion on an article boasting defensive defensemen is the reason for the thumb downs…

    • canucks30 - May 20, 2014 at 4:37 PM

      If you disagree, I’d appreciate seeing your own Top 10 list.

      • freestyle1022 - May 20, 2014 at 6:04 PM

        Good list for the most part. Letang doesn’t belong on the list though (and not worth the money). And PK is great, played awesome last series, but he’s 7th on his own team in PK minutes per game this season.

      • jkay1818 - May 20, 2014 at 9:27 PM

        that;s what you are basing it on? he sustained a shoulder injury at the end of the canucks game. at the time of AV’s comments, he probably shouldn’t even have been playing. if it was the regular season he would have been on IR still.
        For that one article, you can find about 100 on how fantastic he is, including quotes from vigneault

    • brandotho - May 20, 2014 at 5:17 PM

      McDonagh needs to be in the Top 10. Grain of salt, but ESPN’s NHL writers ranked him 10th before the season, and that was before he developed an offensive game.

    • jkay1818 - May 20, 2014 at 6:10 PM

      i like a lot of guys on your list, but no Ryan Mcdonagh?

      • canucks30 - May 20, 2014 at 6:27 PM

        http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2014/05/08/av-on-mcdonagh-obviously-he-hasnt-played-very-well/

      • lowenni - May 20, 2014 at 9:06 PM

        http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2014/05/20/welcome-back-to-avs-good-books-ryan-mcdonagh/

      • arrow43050 - May 21, 2014 at 12:17 AM

        errrr….canucks30 that comment was about how mcdonagh was playing during part of the 2nd round and 3 of the people on that list weren’t even playing during the 2nd round, so clearly that shouldn’t preclude him from the list…not to mention that he, you know, outplayed most of them during the regular season

    • broadstreetbeatdown - May 20, 2014 at 10:12 PM

      Letang lol

    • kreidsandslim - May 21, 2014 at 8:27 AM

      Letang… Even a Pens fan would disagree with you.

    • stepanup - May 21, 2014 at 8:55 AM

      1.a Kieth
      1.a Weber
      3. Doughty
      4. Suter
      5. Pietrangelo
      6. McDonagh
      7. Chara
      8. Seabrook
      9. Vlasic
      10. Karlsson

      I expect Hedman to be on this list by the end of next year.

      • bromara - May 27, 2014 at 3:52 PM

        Worst. list. Ever.

  5. dewzer - May 20, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    Of course Neely is going to say that. Chara is under contract for another 4 years I believe. Although he has slipped a little in ability Neely is correct that they are still in his window. He is still plenty good enough. If the young D can keep improving Chara will benefit from reduced minutes.

    • jcmeyer10 - May 20, 2014 at 4:39 PM

      Yah, as long as they can move him down in the pecking order according to his skill and replace that production with one or two other guys then it won’t matter.

      Everyone needs to be realistic about his skill set as he gets older. Z needs to realize he’s slowing down, and the Bruins need to be ready to replace what Z is losing.

      Not a bad position to be in considering the guy isn’t going to crap out next year or the year after that. Hell Dougie could be the Man next to Sides and with some other solid talent, it’s more than serviceable as a D group. Miller and Krug as 5-6, and Figure out 3-4.

  6. timmons94 - May 20, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    C bass has lost his mind. Great player but still gets away with about 20 slashes a game

    • titansbro - May 20, 2014 at 4:39 PM

      not counting the slash that broke his own hand?

  7. titansbro - May 20, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    He’s definitely still an elite defenseman but probably not the best. But I think it’d be hard to argue that he isn’t the most feared defenseman out there. No forward wants to do battle with that guy.

  8. bruinsfan55 - May 20, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    He may not be the ‘best in the game’ but he’s definitely one of the top. There are a few guys I would take before him but in shut down ability I believe he still is the best. He might not be on of the top offensive leaders but I’m his all around ability he’s definitely on of the best

  9. jpat2424 - May 20, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    No even in top 10

  10. r8rbhawk - May 20, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    Chara’s minus 5 rating and complete dismantling during the final three games in last year’s Cup Finals begs to differ.

    • dboldave - May 20, 2014 at 5:27 PM

      People always point to the Blackhawks series and how the Bruins couldn’t stop them. Please show me the team that can stop them and which defenseman is able to shut them down.

      • r8rbhawk - May 20, 2014 at 5:38 PM

        Good point. They just made Ryan Suter look average last series. And they were able to get by the Blues’ and their so-called best back line in the NHL. So, I probably could not show you a team/defensive pairing that can stop them. Which is ok for me. Go Hawks!

      • canucks30 - May 20, 2014 at 5:50 PM

        @dboldave

        Well, they did bow out rather meekly to Phoenix in 2012 during the first round so…

        Rostislav Klesla?

      • r8rbhawk - May 20, 2014 at 6:10 PM

        Canucks30, that series doesn’t count, Hossa was injured for most of the series and Crow was letting in softies left and right

      • canucks30 - May 20, 2014 at 6:18 PM

        I was being facetious

      • r8rbhawk - May 20, 2014 at 7:41 PM

        I mostly was too. How can the series not count? I mean it is officially in the NHL record so we can’t just throw that series away. I just hate thinking about it.

    • wjarvis - May 20, 2014 at 5:31 PM

      Early in the series he was pretty good. As you say the final 3 games they continued to go after him non-stop and he clearly got fatigued. It’s not rocket science, he’s still good, but he’s older and just can’t play as many minutes as he used to.

    • pepper2011 - May 21, 2014 at 9:38 AM

      Yeah – you keep bringing this up, but you also fail to realize that the team’s best center – a very important element to defense was hospitalized for a week after the series.

      He was still a +7 for the playoffs going up against a three teams with VERY good offense in Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.

      How can you just write off that Pittsburgh scored 2 goals in 4 games. TWO Goals. They were shut out twice – something that had not happened to them all season.

      He didn’t have the greatest series against the Hawks, but he still average 29:31 (22 games) for the playoffs.

      2 minutes more a game than Keith, and more than anyone else in the playoffs that made it out of the 1st rd. (Suter 31:31 in 5 games)

      Fun Fact:
      in 2009-2010 Jeff Shultz led the league with a +50. Alexander Ovechkin was a +45.

      where are they now?

      • r8rbhawk - May 21, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        That is a pretty crazy swing for Ovi from +45 to -35 in a matter of seasons. Nonetheless, no one can say Chara looked good those final three games last year. I agree he is good defender, a cornerstone defenseman, but Chara is not the best defender in the game.

  11. brandotho - May 20, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    To be fair, Z mostly shut down Pacioretty in the series, well before the last two games.

    • dewzer - May 20, 2014 at 7:17 PM

      And the Bs only scored 1 goal in those 2 games so defense wasn’t the only issue.

  12. montrealbbr - May 20, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    Chara is one of the most overrated players of all time. You mean to tell me that if Neely could take Subban or Chara right now, he would still take Chara? Come on! Chara was decent for a few years but he is old now and can barely move around out there. Next season he’ll be mistaken for Hal Gill!

    • wjarvis - May 20, 2014 at 5:36 PM

      Well if you say take Subban right now or Chara right now, then yes you’d be foolish not to take Subban. However, if you could take either Chara or Subban when they were 25, I’m not sure that choosing Chara wouldn’t be the better option.

      • chibimike - May 20, 2014 at 7:54 PM

        Oh yeah, ask Mike Milbury. He had Chara at 25 and dumped him. Damn, almost kept a straight face while typing that.

    • thesportsjudge - May 20, 2014 at 9:22 PM

      Welcome back from hiding under your bridge!

  13. bleedrangerblue - May 20, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    Who? Oh yeah that guy on the golf course.

    • ishippineapples - May 20, 2014 at 6:08 PM

      Easy there Blue, you have the entire Bruin Nation in your corner for this series so play nice.

  14. ducksk - May 20, 2014 at 6:21 PM

    Not quite top ten, top 15 yea.

  15. 1harrypairatesties - May 20, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    Uhh, ever heard of Duncan Keith ?

    • titansbro - May 21, 2014 at 8:49 AM

      Is he a country music singer or something?

  16. stixzidinia - May 20, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    LOL he’s never been close to being the best defenseman. Just like when it comes to him fighting (or trying to anyways) the only thing he has is size. Without that he’d be decidedly average.

  17. tlndma - May 20, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    Neely said he’s the best defender, not the best defenseman. Chiarelli has used the same term. I don’t think they would argue that he is the best all round defenseman.

  18. muckleflugga - May 20, 2014 at 6:59 PM

    perhaps it’s early, but it sounds like neely’s putting the big man and an evidently bad contract on the block …

    who’ll give me a hundred dollars, one hundred dollar bid, now two now two, will ya give me two two hundred dollar bid, now three, now three hundred, will ya give me three …. sold to the tanned gentleman in the tennis socks and sandals and florida panthers hat … yes yes and yessireeee, take the ghost that is jarome iginla and shawn the kid flinch thornton with him, they were free to any sucker errrr taker regardless

    if the season was sixty games long and bruins defence was sufficiently balanced so as to cut zdeno’s minutes to meet his fitness, his contract would smell less … at chara’s evident rate of decline, it’ll be time soon enough for neely and chiarelli to scrape their shoes clean of that mistake –read at this year’s draft

    i like chara but fallibilities attributable to wear and tear were bared against les canadiéns –if you have to fight, fight, don’t shake, fight … with speed and skill packages teams like montréal and detroit bring, shelf-life of bigger players in the east is shortening

    neely knows it

    chara’s sell-by-date insofar as post-season play has passed, and a bruins team claiming it’s not fallen off the cliff, better push the old jalopies onward before the team follows

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8m0dJXtwwiY

  19. deezenucks - May 20, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    Be a homer all you want Neely, but there is no D better then Shea Weber in the league.

    • hawksin5 - May 20, 2014 at 8:31 PM

      ummmm. what? don’t be silly.

  20. skr213 - May 20, 2014 at 7:47 PM

    Z is one of the best in the league … at getting away with borderline dirty play nearly ALL the time. He often manages to keep it right on that line where he doesn’t get called. He’s nowhere near the dirtiest dman in the league, but I think he’s the dirtiest dman of those who are considered to be “elite.”

  21. icrew29 - May 20, 2014 at 8:05 PM

    Neely is drinking Chara kool aid if he thinks Chara is the best. Cam did you mean the best in the KHL?

    • jimeejohnson - May 21, 2014 at 9:44 PM

      Best in New England.

  22. govtminion - May 20, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    I’m a diehard B’s fan, and just as big of a fan of Chara. And the guy does get Norris consideration every year for a good reason.

    And that said… best in the league? No. No, not at his age, not anymore. That little bit of speed loss was hurting him this season. That’s not to say he was bad, just not ‘best in the league’. I have trouble giving that title to someone not named ‘Weber’ at this point.

    Sorry Cam, I mean I know he can’t say “oh, yeah, he’s not the best there is”, but… not the case.

  23. blackhawks2010 - May 20, 2014 at 11:05 PM

    Cam is a homer……Chara is not a top 5 Defensemen in the NHL, top 10 definitely. His Cup play last year vs Hawks and this year’s playoffs really exposed Chara’s game. Excellent player, However he doesn’t crack the below list:

    Keith
    Subban
    Doughty
    Sutter
    Weber

  24. gallyhatch - May 20, 2014 at 11:12 PM

    I’m shocked to hear a gm refer to his team captain as the best in the game. . . . what’s next, Don Cherry swearing on TV?

    If this is the direction the NHL is headed, “I need to rethink whether I want to be a part of it.”

  25. bigdaddy44 - May 20, 2014 at 11:54 PM

    Chara’s days as a difference maker are over as long as he is on the Bruins with Julien as coach. His minutes need to be reduced significantly over the course of the season for him to be effective in the playoffs. In last years’ finals and recently vs. the Habs, Chara disappeared along with the Bruins chances. Claude was not bright enough to reduce his minutes at any point,.but especially late in the season, because he would have had to rely more on his young defensemen. Check the playing time difference during the season. What good is the President’s Trophy when you grind your most important player into the ice? Chiarelli failed at the deadline because the crop of good D-men was thin, and he chose to be tight, bad decision. Even though Seidenburg will be back and the young D-men will get more experience, Claude will wear Chara out again next year. Two years in a row Chara ran out of gas, expect Claude to do it again next year. He will never get it.

  26. arrow43050 - May 21, 2014 at 12:29 AM

    Chara is one of the most talented giant statues playing in the game today. his norris trophy nomination comes off the strength of his offensive numbers, and 10 of his 17 goals this year came on the power play, where he plays the role of a forward, in front of the net. At even strength he had 7 goals and 17 assists this year and only the 8th best +/- on his team and was essentially the same as the other 3 top defensemen on his team (+25 amongst +31 +25 +22 +22). he IS really tall though AND does have a cool name, so he’s got that.

    • jimeejohnson - May 21, 2014 at 9:43 PM

      Too bad he can’t skate.

  27. jimeejohnson - May 21, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    If he’s the best defender then the Bruins are playing for a championship. What do you mean, “no”?

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