The skills that Zdeno Chara possesses are not necessarily those that end up winning the Norris Trophy. They’re the skills that make him incredibly valuable to the Bruins, the skills that have him regarded as one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL, but he doesn’t have what general manager Peter Chiarelli called “sexy stats.” He is not, for instance, Erik Karlsson, the Ottawa blue liner who had 20 goals and 54 assists this season.
Still, Chara was one of three finalists named Monday for the Norris Trophy, along with Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
“I’m very humbled,” said Chara, “and obviously it’s a huge honor to be nominated.”
Chara has won the Norris as the NHL’s best defenseman just once (2009), and has been a finalist four other times (2004, 2008, 2011, 2012).
“He doesn’t have the sexy stats, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Chiarelli said. “It’s a little disappointing, but he doesn’t have that coast-to-coast ability; it’s not a trademark of his game. So it doesn’t really surprise me.
“I mean, this guy defends. To defend is so difficult, and to love doing it, there’s very few players that love doing it, and he does. So maybe there should be a ‘best defensive defenseman.’ ”
While Chiarelli said the general managers have discussed the possibility of such an award, there isn’t one at the moment.
Chara, who finished this season at a plus-25 (seventh among defensemen), spent most of the season playing against opponents’ top lines. He scored 17 goals — fourth among defensemen, and the most he’s had since 2008-09, when he had 19 — and added 23 assists for 40 points.
“I don’t know what the solution is,” said Chiarelli. “Certainly we’re not going to change just to cater to Z, but we’ve talked about it before amongst the managers that maybe you should separate it. But that’s probably why he hasn’t won it all the time.”
It’s something that Chara acknowledges about his game. He knows what he is, and he knows what he isn’t.
“I’m not going to be a guy who’s going to put up some highlight-reel goals or plays,” Chara said. “I have once in a while, but I’m not going to try to run around the ice and chase the points, or I’m not going to be taking risks.
“Playing against top lines, I want to do it the right way and I want to play the game the right way.
“I always take a lot of pride in my defensive game. I want to be always strong defensively and take care of my zone before I jump up and help the offense. Obviously you have to be able to do both, but I’m not going to be [taking] chances just because I want to be getting more points.”
Weber, meanwhile, led NHL defensemen with 23 goals, though he finished at minus-2. He was fourth in the league in time on ice, at 26:54.
Keith, who doesn’t play against top lines (the Blackhawks use Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson in those situations), had 55 assists to lead all defensemen, and 61 points. Keith was tied for ninth among defensemen at plus-22.
One of the big differences for Chara this season was his role on the power play. Of the goals he scored, 10 came on the man advantage, as he was moved to the net-front position this season.
It was a move that significantly helped the Bruins, who had the third-best power play in the league.
“It’s a difficult job,” said Chiarelli. “We had a hard time finding a person who had that quality, and Z embraced it. So good on him, and he’s scored some goals.”
It helped his game in other ways, taking away some of the skating that he otherwise would have had to do on the power play, retrieving pucks. Standing in that position isn’t exactly easy, though.
“It was definitely something new and some new challenges for me, but I look forward to those,” Chara said. “Before every season, I always say that I want to be better.
“I want to improve, and sometimes these kind of new things bring more motivation and kind of a little spark, and I try to do my best in whatever position I’m in, whether it’s power play, PK, five-on-five.
“If I’m thrown in different scenarios, then I have to make sure that it’s my job to do my best to be good at it.”
And he was.
Not only did Chara have to learn a new power-play position, but he was relied on more than the Bruins had perhaps intended, after injuries to defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid. He and Johnny Boychuk ended up as the only veteran presences as the team integrated four inexperienced defensemen. Chara, while averaging 24:39 of ice time, had to find a balance between helping them and hurting his own game.
It appeared he did that, and now he might just be rewarded for it.
“To me, his game hasn’t really changed — he’s the best defender in the league,” Chiarelli said. “I don’t think anyone’s close defending. I thought this series, this past series, he was terrific.
“I think he deserves the nomination. I think he deserves the award and it’s no offense to the others.”