There are defensemen who contribute more on the score sheet than Zdeno Chara. There are defensemen who skate with the puck better than he does. All in all, there are defensemen who are just much flashier than the Boston Bruins' towering captain.
But this season there has not been a more effective defenseman in all areas of the ice than Chara, who should win the Norris Trophy for the second time in his career. He took over as the front runner for this award in March, when he helped the Bruins go 15-1-1.
Chara previously won the Norris Trophy in 2008-09, when he had 50 points, including a career-high 19 goals, in 80 games. He won't reach 50 points this season, but he has 17 goals, including a team-high 10 on the power play, and 39 points along with a plus-24 rating through 76 games, so his offense is hardly a concern for the Bruins.
He is contributing enough, especially with how balanced the Bruins are up front and how productive fellow defensemen Torey Krug (38 points), Dougie Hamilton (25 points) and Johnny Boychuk (23 points) have been.
Bruins coach Claude Julien took his slap shot off the point to get his big body in front of the net, and Chara has remained as effective as ever on the power play.
However, what makes Chara special are the things he does that can't be measured on the score sheet. He's a possession machine despite playing the majority of his shifts against the opposition's top line on a nightly basis and starting more than half of his shifts in the defensive zone. Simply put, when Chara is on the ice, the Bruins usually have the puck.
Patrice Bergeron is the only Bruins player who starts as many shifts in the defensive zone and plays against the same quality of competition on a nightly basis. Bergeron could win the Selke Trophy this season.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: Keith was the front runner for the Norris Trophy through the three-quarter mark of the season. He didn't necessarily do anything to lose that spot; Chara simply passed him with his superior play. Keith, though, should still be right in the thick of the race as a finalist for the season he's having in Chicago paired with Brent Seabrook.
Like Chara in Boston, Keith drives possession for the Blackhawks, except he starts the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone, as do most of the Blackhawks. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville uses his second pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya to start more shifts in the defensive zone than Keith and Seabrook.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Doughty, who was a finalist for the Norris Trophy in 2010, is having arguably the best season of his six-year NHL career. He's gone from being an elite point-producer to an elite all-round defender.
Doughty has been paired for most of the season with Jake Muzzin, another puck-moving defenseman, and together they have helped the Kings be the best possession team in the NHL, and therefore have the best goals-against average in the League too (2.05 per game).
Doughty's numbers are right around his career average (37 points through 78 games), but since he isn't playing with a stay-at-home defender he has had to take fewer risks in order to make sure the Kings aren't being burned by odd-man rushes when he's on the ice. They usually don't, which is a credit to Doughty and the awareness with which he's played this season.