He’s captained the team to a Stanley Cup, and he’s always in the mix for the award given to the top defenseman, but it would be hard to argue against him as the most valuable defenseman in the League (though fans in Ottawa would certainly try).
Chara’s size, and ability to skate well for that size, is an advantage no other player can replicate. He is a security blanket for coach Claude Julien, and his ability to log 30 minutes if necessary makes it nearly impossible for an opposing coach to win matchup battles.
Boston dominates at even strength when Chara is on the ice. He’s been on the ice for 23 goals scored by the Bruins and only 11 against. There are only a few other defensemen in the League who can boast about that kind of advantage at even strength.
What sets Chara apart is he’s facing the other team’s best players, and Boston is still dominating. Among defensemen who have played at least 15 games, Chara has faced the second-toughest quality of competition, according to the advanced statistics site Behind The Net.
Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf has faced the toughest, and he’s been on the ice for 14 goals by the Maple Leafs and 24 by opponents.
Chara played more than 24 minutes a night, and plays in all situations. The biggest issue some people might have with his Norris candidacy is his lack of offensive production. He has only four goals and nine points in 22 games.
No defenseman since Rod Langway has won the award with such a low points-per-game output. Chara’s value is easy to document, and he is a deserving favorite for the Norris at the season’s midpoint.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes
There are 15 defensemen currently averaging at least 25 minutes of ice time per contest. Plus-minus is an antiquated measuring stick, but Ekman-Larsson and the guy below him on this list are tied for tops among those 15 guys with a plus-7 rating.
Ekman-Larsson has been on the ice for 26 Coyotes goals at even strength, which was the most of any player in the NHL at the end of the games Friday. Phoenix’s offense was a surprise at the beginning of the season, especially after losing leading scorer Ray Whitney to free agency, but OEL’s 17 points have played a big part. He was probably the most underrated defensemen in the League last season, but that shouldn’t be the case any longer.
Kris Letang, Penguins
The guy having the best offensive season is always going to be among the leading candidates for this award. Letang leads all defensemen with 26 points, and he’s only played in 23 of Pittsburgh’s 26 games.
He’s also sixth in the League in average ice time, logging more than 26 minutes per contest. If Letang approaches 50 points in a 48-game season, he’ll be one of the finalists, and may even win.
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