Why Zdeno Chara Is Suddenly Vulnerable on the Boston Bruins' Blue Line

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2013

Zdeno Chara has long been the most intimidating player in the NHL.

Standing 6'9" and 255 pounds, Chara is the biggest player in the league and also has the hardest slap shot in the league.

Nicklas Lidstrom retired at the end of last season, and Erik Karlsson spent most of the 2013 season on the sidelines with an Achilles injury.

Those two events opened the door for Chara to win his second Norris Trophy and regain the title of the NHL's best defenseman.

However, it didn't play out that way on the ice. When finalists for the Norris Trophy were announced last week, you did not see Chara's name.

The finalists are Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.

There were no loud moans and complaints out of the Boston front office when Chara was not included among the finalists. General manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien were not outraged when Chara was ignored.

There's a reason for that. Chara remains an intimidating presence and still does many things right on the ice. However, there is a vulnerability to his game that surfaced in 2013 and was not seen in previous years.

When Chara has to handle a puck close to his body or he gets hit hard when he is searching for the puck, he is not always going to make a play that favors the Bruins.

In the past, if a player tried to check Chara or get physical with him in any way, the player would typically bounce off Chara and fall to the ice in some inglorious manner.

Now it seems that when Chara gets hit hard by a smaller man, he absorbs that hit and often loses possession.

Smaller players have a leverage advantage over Chara when they are moving at a high rate of speed. When they hit him at chest level, they can move him backward—and take the puck away from him.

He has also simply lost possession more this season than he has at any time in the past.

Chara's statistics indicate some drop-off as the 2013 season progressed. He finished the regular season with seven goals, but he scored just one of them in the final 24 games.

Chara finished at plus-14 during the regular season. That may seem respectable, but he was plus-33 in each of the last two regular seasons.

Chara was minus-two over the last 12 regular-season games. That's when the Bruins slumped and missed out on a chance to win the Northeast Division and take the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference away from the Montreal Canadiens.

Chara can still lead the Bruins, carry the biscuit up the ice, fire the puck like a rocket and block shots.

He is still the Bruins' best defenseman. However, when opposing teams used to try to avoid Chara at all times and send their best lines out against lesser defensemen, there doesn't seem to be as much fear of Big Z when he is on the ice and the Bruins are trying to protect a lead.

Chara tied for 73rd in blocked shots this season with 64, he ranked 21st in hits with 101 and he was also charged with 34 giveaways while taking the puck away from opponents just 12 times.

Those are numbers that indicate that he may no longer be Superman.

Chara is still a good player who is an asset to the Bruins.

But based on his play this year—particularly over the second half of the season—he is not the dominant player he was prior to 2013.