It’s officially Charlie McAvoy’s show. The 23-year-old Bruins defenseman, who played in regular-season game No. 186 Saturday afternoon in Newark, has been promoted from his standing as the club’s would-be No. 1 defenseman.
With team captain Zdeno Chara’s abrupt departure to Washington Dec. 30, McAvoy formally assumed the spot as the franchise blue liner, a role for which he has all the essential tools, including that touch of swagger in his game persona inherent in all elite NHL defensemen.
The Bruins have a long, rich history in No. 1s, dating to Eddie Shore in the 1920s and ’30s and continuing through the likes of Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Ray Bourque, and Chara.
The oft-overlooked Dit Clapper also is in that discussion, his Hall of Fame time in Boston overshadowed by the more flamboyant and popular Shore. Truth is, Clapper played nearly 300 more games for the Bruins than Shore, outscored the Edmonton Express by nearly 200 points, and didn’t spend half of Shore’s minutes (1,090 with Bruins) in the sin bin.
What we don’t know quite yet about McAvoy, in part because of his relatively small body of work, is what will define his playing style.
He won’t be Orr, just because that’s just not a fair expectation for anyone. He also won’t be another Chara. Orr was unique in how he revolutionized the game’s offense. Chara established the standard for size, reach, and presence. McAvoy has some heft (6 feet, 210 pounds), but even he looked like a sidecar when pairing up with Big Z, the 6-9, 250 Trencin Tower of Power.
It could be easier to find McAvoy’s potential trajectory in the likes of, say, Bourque and Denis Potvin, the great Islanders captain during their dynastic run (four Stanley Cup titles, 1980-83). McAvoy has many miles to go before anyone can make a legit comparison with either of those two, but he is of similar size, certainly shares their skating ability, and shows flashes of their offensive boldness.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, behind the bench for all of McAvoy’s games with Boston, sums him up as a “two-way guy who can play hard.”
Case in point: McAvoy’s thunderous hit on Carolina’s Jordan Staal in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series last summer in the Toronto bubble. Staal gained control of the puck in his own end, near the right wall, and the advancing McAvoy rocked him with a straight-on, derriere-leading smack high into Staal’s midsection. It took Staal both out of the play and out of the game.
“I mean, we’re in the game, we’re coming in the third,” said Cassidy, recalling the Bruins were charging back from a 2-1 deficit, “but boy, did that hit change the tenor of the game. So that’s more Potvin-ish than maybe [Al] MacInnis, or someone, say, on the more offensive side of it.”
The slightly taller MacInnis, armed with a devastating slapper, carved his Hall of Fame career around that shot and his stalwart defense. Scott Stevens was defined by his sheer force and punishing hits. Paul Coffey and Scott Niedermayer, both outstanding offensive contributors, were two of the finest skating No. 1 defensemen the game has ever seen.
Bourque, who owns the record for points (1,579) by a defenseman in league history, was much like Potvin, though considerably more prolific over a longer career. Potvin dressed up those four Cup wins on Long Island with 1,052 points. Both liked to shoot. Both could deliver big smacks.
Potvin, seven years Bourque’s senior, was far more ballyhooed out of junior hockey than Bourque. The Islanders made him the No. 1 pick in the 1973 draft, GM Bill Torrey fending off the aggressive advances of noted Canadiens GM Sammy Pollock to swap down to the No. 8 pick and take a couple of Habs rosters players for the No 1 pick.
Torrey held and took Potvin, while Pollock landed Bob Gainey at the No. 8 spot. Gainey, one of the game’s great defensive forwards, won the Cup five times with Montreal. In the ’79 draft, Bourque went No. 8 to the Bruins.
“I could certainly see him gravitating into how Bourque played,” said Cassidy, continuing to focus on McAvoy’s potential trajectory. “He just doesn’t have Ray’s shot mentality yet.”
In fact, no one ever had Bourque’s mind for hammering the puck. Often overlooked is that he also owns the NHL record for career shots on net (6,209). MacInnis is the runner-up for defensemen with 5,157. Ex-Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr is second to Bourque with 5,637.
McAvoy has proven to be a somewhat reluctant shooter, preferring to pass. Bourque averaged nearly four shots on net per game. Headed into Saturday’s matchup with the Devils, McAvoy had landed but 259 shots in 185 games, slightly less than 1.5 shots per game.
“Down the road, he’ll decide [if shooting more] is more valuable to him,” said Cassidy. “Or is he going to look to make plays? We’re encouraging him to make the play he sees, but certainly to grow the offensive numbers he’ll have to get more pucks to the net. He has a good shot.”
It’s indeed points that ultimately define whether a defenseman evolves as an elite talent in today’s game. McAvoy, with 92 points in his first 185 games, ultimately will have to pick up his shooting pace and boost his scoring volume to get there. It’s his show now, and for him to decide what to do with it.
READY FOR ROLE
Friend says Bergeron was always a captain
The Bruins announced this past week that the No. 22 Willie O’Ree wore during his brief run as an NHL player will be retired to the Garden rafters in a pregame ceremony Feb. 18 with the Devils in town.
O’Ree, who grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, has spent the better part of the last quarter-century leading the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative, aimed at engaging inner-city kids, especially those of color, in the sport.
Quebec City, Patrice Bergeron’s hometown, does not have a large minority population. But one of the Bruins captain’s best childhood pals, Vincent Zaore, is Black, the two frequently playing on the same teams prior to each going off to play major junior hockey (Quebec League) in the Maritimes.
“He’s played with us since I can really remember,” recalled Bergeron, a strong proponent of racial diversity in the game. “So [having a Black player on the team] wasn’t something I wasn’t used to, or whatever.”
Zaore, 34, is less than a year younger than Bergeron and was a defenseman. He and Bergeron played together at the pee wee, bantam, and midget AAA levels, and best Zaore can recall, Bergeron was the captain of all those teams.
“I can’t say that and be 100 percent sure,” said Zaore, speaking by telephone Friday from his office in Quebec City. “But honestly, I can’t remember when he didn’t have the ‘C.’ He’s always had those leadership qualities. I know that’s been true in Boston even before they made him captain, always helping younger players and everything.”
Zaore said he shared a chuckle this past week when Bergeron apprised him that a Boston reporter, a frequent visitor to Quebec City the last 40-plus years, surmised Bergeron might have reached junior hockey before having a Black teammate.
“But I get it, it’s kind of monochromatic here,” noted Zaore, who has a Black father and white mother. “So I am mixed. It’s nowhere near like the States, I know, for racial diversity. But we have a few more people of color here than you might think, and honestly, it’s probably a smaller number who play hockey.”
Zaore played five seasons in “The Q” and then two years of minor pro, retiring after fracturing a kneecap during the 2008-09 season with the CHL Laredo Bucks. Always a good student, he returned home and earned his mechanical engineering degree in 2014 at Laval University in Quebec City. He’s married, with daughter Margaux about to turn 3, and these days is a project manager for the Lambert Somec construction company. He was made partner of the firm in 2017.
He “would by lying,” said Zaore, if he said he didn’t encounter racism during his days playing in Quebec.
“But they were minor things, things said on the ice, maybe a joke or maybe not … it would be hard to know sometimes,” he recalled. “I didn’t pay much attention, to be honest.”
None of it, he said, ever triggered a confrontation, or the need for his friend and captain to step in to defend him.
“No, nothing like that,” said Zaore. “But if it had, I know Bergy would have been there, for sure.”
Zaore met O’Ree once during his junior hockey days when the onetime Bruins winger, the first Black to play in the NHL, came to Cape Breton some 15 years ago in his role as NHL ambassador for racial diversity.
“It was pretty special,” said Zaore. “He told us his amazing story of how he played in the NHL back in the day. It was very interesting to meet someone like that. The first thing that caught my attention was how friendly and open and kind he was … a really humble guy … the perfect fit for that job.”
Zaore and Bergeron for years met up each summer in Quebec City to skate and work out, but that has changed over time. Bergeron spends much of his off time now in Boston and the day job and family time keep Zaore busy. The two connect frequently by phone call and text, and Zaore tries to make it to Boston or Montreal at least once each season to see his old pal play.
“The thing with Bergy, he just improves like crazy … and he’s always been the all-around player he is now,” said Zaore. “He always had that dedication to the game, and such attention to details. I think that’s what today makes him one of, if not the best, all-around players in the NHL. He always had that, attention to detail and be the best all-around player he could be.”
Zajac, Weber, Crosby on track for 1,000 mark
New Jersey’s Travis Zajac played Saturday in his 993rd career game and is on course along with Montreal’s Shea Weber (991 entering the weekend) and Sidney Crosby (986) to be the next members of the 1,000-game club.
The new NHL season began this past week with 29 NHLers with 1,000 games or more on their résumés. The top three after Friday night’s action were: Patrick Marleau (1,724), Joe Thornton (1,638), and Zdeno Chara (1,555).
Zajac and Crosby each will reach the milestone logging their 1,000 games with the club that drafted them.
Patrice Bergeron (1,091) is among only 10 other active NHLers who also reached the mark with their original teams. The other nine, along with the clubs that selected them:
Marleau (San Jose), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles), Alex Ovechkin (Washington), Duncan Keith (Chicago), Brent Seabrook (Chicago), Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose), and Mikko Koivu (Minnesota). Other than Koivu, who signed in the offseason with Columbus, all those players this season are with their original teams, although Marleau has had stops in Toronto (two seasons) and Pittsburgh (eight games).
No telling which Bruin will be lost in the July 21 expansion draft that will stock the Seattle Kraken. In June 2017, they lost Colin Miller in expansion that stocked the Golden Knights, who then moved him to the Sabres after two seasons. Two of the more likely Boston candidates up for grabs would be defensemen Connor Clifton and John Moore. General manager Don Sweeney, similar to four years ago, will have his choice of two options when it comes time to protecting his roster. Option A: seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie; Option B: Any eight skaters and one goalie. In either scenario, Moore and Clifton look to be the most vulnerable, with Clifton’s small ticket ($1 million) perhaps making him the most likely to be plucked. Every team other than Vegas (exempt) must hand over at least one player, per terms related to the $650 million expansion fee paid by the Kraken … Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, didn’t look quite like himself during the Zoom news conference he staged with Gary Bettman on the eve of the new season. For good reason. Daly, a Dartmouth grad, has been recovering from a bout of COVID-19. “All good,” he reported in a brief e-mail exchange with the Globe … Austin Czarnik, a Bruins short-timer (59 games at forward across two seasons), caught on with the Islanders as a member of their taxi squad … The NHL’s 56-game season, cut from 82 because of the pandemic, means teams will play virtually ever other night until mid-May. If the 56 games were played over the standard October-April calendar, it would work out to two games per week, roughly the workload of most NCAA teams. Fewer injuries. A fresher, more energized work force. Never going to happen … Most every team in the league will see what it will take to pry center Pierre-Luc Dubois away from Columbus now that coach John Tortorella has been so public about the 6-3/220 righthanded pivot wanting out of there after three seasons. Dubois, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft, would be a solid fit in Boston, especially with odometers high on Bergeron and David Krejci (on target for UFA July 28). The 22-year-old signed a two-year, $10 million deal at the end of December, but it’s clear he’s had enough of Torts … Big season debut for Flyers winger Joel Farabee, who clocked in with 1-3—4 Wednesday night in Philadelphia’s 6-3 blitz of the Penguins. Farabee played just one year at Boston University (2018-19), then bolted for the pros, picked No. 14 overall in the 2018 draft. He collected only 21 points in 52 games last season, his rookie campaign, with the Broad Streeters … Willie O’Ree, though he played only 45 NHL games with the Bruins, also wore Nos. 18 and 25 during his tours on the Boston roster. No. 22 was the one he wore the majority of his time with the Black and Gold … The Bruins, who played the Flyers in an outdoor Winter Classic game at Fenway Park Jan. 1, 2010, will take them on again at an outdoor rink adjacent to Lake Tahoe Feb. 21, a date originally penciled in as a Bruins home game. Provided it’s a clear day, it will make for a dynamic setting, possibly on par with the diving competition at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, which had divers launching off boards with the breathtaking cityscape as the backdrop ... NBC made it official this past week and said it would not bring back Mike Milbury for commentary and analysis around this year’s NHL action. Milbury made a glib on-air comment about player behavior during the playoffs last summer that some, particularly in the NHL front office, interpreted as sexist. The bar of tolerance for such thing is set very low these days, so Milbury was as good as gone halfway through uttering his comment. He opted not to comment when contacted this past week by the Globe. The read here: After 40-plus years of witnessing young male professional athletes on the road, I found Milbury’s comments on target and not objectionable. Meanwhile, the broadcast is a cold cup of decaf without Milbury, particularly now with the great Doc Emrick no longer handling play-by-play.