BostonBruins.com — Zdeno Chara takes a lot of pride in his game.
He takes pride in his work ethic. He takes pride in his commitment to improving, no matter his achievements, no matter his success. He takes pride in helping a young Bruins defensive corps grow and develop into a unit that ranked second in the league in goals against (177) last season.
But most importantly, he takes pride in prioritizing defense over offense, even if that isn’t what garners the most headlines or the most accolades.
This season, Chara was nominated as one of three Norris Trophy finalists, joining Chicago’s Duncan Keith (6g, 55a, plus-22) and Nashville’s Shea Weber (23g, 33a, minus-2). The award will be presented on June 24 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability at the position.
“It’s obviously a huge honor,” Chara said of the nomination. “It’s one of those things that you’re very proud of and it’s something that you need to have the whole team working towards the same direction and working together, and it’s a reflection of the whole season — having a steady and strong season as a team.
“That’s why we have a number of guys nominated [for league awards]. I’m very humbled, and obviously, it’s a huge honor to be nominated.”
This is the sixth Norris nomination of Chara's career and his first since 2011-12. Chara won the award in 2008-09, his third season with the Bruins.
“This guy defends,” said Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli. “To defend is so difficult, and to love doing it — there’s very few players who love doing it, and he does.”
Over his eight seasons in Boston, Chara has always demonstrated a team-first mentality, and never was the more apparent than in 2013-14, when injuries forced four first-year players into top-six roles at times. Chara charged himself with helping those young players develop, and by all accounts, he succeeded.
Throughout the regular season, the Bruins were air-tight in their own zone, and their work on the back end helped them earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference and their first Presidents’ Trophy since the 1989-90 season. Chara seemed to have achieved the perfect balance of acting as a resource for his younger teammates while constantly working to improve his own game.
“You still want to be helping younger guys with their development, or speed up the development or the experiences they might not have yet, but at the same time, you don’t want to be doing a job for them and then not doing your job,” Chara said. “So it’s kind of a balance that you want to help, but you want to make sure you focus on your game and let them, at times, figure for themselves how to play.
“They do a really good job — all the young guys we have, they really made huge strides from the time they got here, or they got called up, or trades. They made really smooth adjustments.”
Even as he took on a larger role in aiding the development of Boston’s young talent, Chara still managed to put together an impressive statistical season, finishing with 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points with a plus-25 rating in 77 games. His 17 goals were the second-highest single-season total of his career and were the fourth-most among NHL defensemen this season.
While he is certainly proud of his efficiency in the offensive zone, Chara emphasized that offense is still not his priority.
“I said it many times that I’m not going to be a guy who’s going to put up some highlight-reel goals or plays,” he 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 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 changing chances just because I want to be getting more points. I like to work really hard and I enjoy competing against top lines, top players in this league. So I want to do it the right way, and that’s the way I think it’s always been for me.”
Part of the uptick in Chara’s offensive production this season stemmed from the fact that he swtiched from the point to the front of the net on the Bruins’ first power play unit, which yielded tremendous results for the Black and Gold. After finishing the strike-shortened 2012-13 season with the league’s 26th-ranked power play, they finished with the third-best man advantage in 2013-14.
While Chara would not say that the transition was an easy one, it was one that he welcomed and one that excited him.
“His willingness to embrace it — and, you know, stand in front of some pretty good shooters, and to take a beating there — it’s a difficult job,” Chiarelli said. “We had a hard time finding a quality person who had that quality, and Zee embraced it. So good on him, and he’s scored some goals.”
Added Chara, “It was definitely something new and some new challenges for me, but I look forward to those. 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. I was willing to do a little extra after practices and whatever guys needed me to do in that position to help them be better at the power play this season.”
That was a recurring theme for Chara this season: Finding new ways to improve, new ways to reinvigorate his appreciation for the game. Even after 16 years in this league, he is still just as hungry as he was when he made his debut with the Islanders in 1997-98.
“As you get older and you’ve been in the league for a while, you don’t realize how much you’re going to maybe miss that part of the game once you’re gone,” he said. “So I’m not saying that I’m thinking about being gone or retiring, but I’m kind of realizing that the time is not going to be always there.
“I enjoy really coming to the rink every day. I enjoy competing in practices against guys, and always in the games. I love the game. I’ve said it many times — it’s a humbling game, and I love everything about it. So every little part of it, you have to obtain joy. You have to have fun and work hard at it, and if you do that, you have no regrets.”