Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has not had the help of teammate Dennis Seidenberg since he was lost to a serious knee injury in the first game after the December holiday break.
|Erik Karlsson, OTT
|Duncan Keith, CHI
|P.K. Subban, MTL
|Alex Pietrangelo, STL
|Victor Hedman, TBL
|Shea Weber, NSH
|Ryan McDonagh, NYR
|Mark Giordano, CGY
|O. Ekman-Larsson, PHX
|Zdeno Chara, BOS
|Drew Doughty, LAK
|Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJS
The Bruins, who have built a reputation as an elite goal-prevention club, wobbled for a few games as they adjusted to not having one of the NHL's best defensive defensemen. Now they are back to their stifling ways and back in the hunt for the Presidents' Trophy.
While Chara may not possess the traditional offensive numbers of some of his closest competitors, the mountainous Boston defenseman should be the frontrunner for the Norris Trophy.
First, let's identify the top candidates for the award. The included chart has 12 players who have a legitimate case for inclusion in the discussion, along with their goals, points and Corsi-for percentage.
It is a deep group this season. So deep that Minnesota Wild star Ryan Suter, considered one of the favorites each of the past two seasons because of his heavy workload, doesn't make the cut (he would be on there if the chart had 13 names).
To get a better idea of why Chara deserves the award, check out the usage chart below. Rob Vollman's player usage charts provide a great way to combine several advanced statistics and visualize the overall impact of a set of players.
For the uninitiated, the size of the bubble represents average time on ice per game at even strength. The color of the bubble represents on-ice Corsi, with blue being positive and red being negative; the darker the blue the better and the darker the red the worse.
The X-Axis represents zone starts. Further to the left means a player starts in the defensive zone more than the offensive zone and vice versa. The Y-Axis represents quality of competition. Higher up the chart means tougher competition.
This is where Chara's value is clear. Players in the top-left corner face the toughest competition while also dealing with a lot of defensive-zone faceoffs. That the Bruins are still able to dominate in shot attempts (Corsi) with Chara on the ice in these situations is a testament to his ability to control a hockey game.
Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames might not be a favorite for the Norris Trophy, but this usage chart proves he belongs in the discussion. Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber plays a ton and faces similar situations to Chara, but isn't able to tilt puck possession back in his team's favor like the Bruins captain does.
The placement of the Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith and the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty on this chart is a little skewed. The Blackhawks and Kings are so great at possessing the puck as a team that they don't have as many defensive-zone faceoffs as other teams.
Keith seems to be the Norris choice with the most momentum among national pundits. Erik Karlsson's offensive numbers will earn him plenty of votes.
The ironic thing is people who are anti-advanced stats often fall back on "watch the games" as a retort to new numbers explaining things their eyes don't see. Chara doesn't have the "traditional" statistics that show up on the back of a hockey card to win the Norris, but advanced metrics prove what lots of media members and fans already say -- that Chara remains the best all-round defenseman in the League.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series tonight, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, statistics and team records are through the games on Wednesday.
1. Boston Bruins (49-17-6) LW: 1
Furthering the point about Chara, the Bruins have been suffocating teams recently. It probably won't happen, but Chara, Patrice Bergeron (Selke Trophy) and Tuukka Rask (Vezina Trophy) could sweep the major goal-prevention awards.
Boston allowed 15 non-shootout goals in a 12-game span from March 4-24. That's wicked great. Like Jeremy Renner in "The Town" great.
2. San Jose Sharks (47-18-9) LW: 2
Joe Pavelski is going to end up on a lot of Hart Trophy ballots, probably enough for him to finish inside the top 10 of the voting. So how can an MVP candidate end up on the third line? Because coach Todd McLellan has a lot of options as the Stanley Cup Playoffs near, and deploying Pavelski in that role could give the team more balance and provide some uncomfortable decisions for the coach on the other bench.
Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Pavelski might not be the 2009 version of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, but they would form the closest 2014 model there is. The Sharks have enough depth on the wing to cover should Pavelski move back to the middle on a more permanent basis in the playoffs.
3. St. Louis Blues (49-16-7) LW: 3
The Blues still are racking up points and look like the favorites to claim the Presidents' Trophy, but their play has a slipped a little. St. Louis was a dominant possession team early in the season, but the Blues have merely been pretty good in that department for about the past two months.
The graph below, one of the staples from the wealth of information on each team page at ExtraSkater.com, shows how the Blues still are on the positive side of the ledger in Fenwick-for percentage when the score is close, but how the season total has slipped closer to 50 percent in recent weeks.
For the season the Blues still direct 53.6 percent of non-blocked shot attempts at the net while playing 5-on-5. During a stretch from Jan. 9 to March 19 the Blues posted a Fenwick-for percentage of better than 53.0 percent in 10 of 27 games. They have done so in three straight games since then, though a shorthanded Pittsburgh Penguins squad and the possession-averse Toronto Maple Leafs might not be the best proof the slightly concerning problem has been rectified.
4. Los Angeles Kings (42-25-6) LW: 4
Speaking of players who can make an impact on the third line, Kings captain Dustin Brown is settling into a role next to Jarrett Stoll and Dwight King quite nicely. The emergence of Tyler Toffoli and the addition of Marian Gaborik have allowed coach Darryl Sutter to put Brown, who has struggled to create offense despite outstanding possession numbers, further down the lineup.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (42-16-15) LW: 5
The Blackhawks have beaten the Blues, Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Penguins and Detroit Red Wings since the start of February. When faced with a big challenge this season (the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game against Pittsburgh, a weekend featuring visits from the League-leading Ducks and the Bruins, the most recent nationally televised game with the Blues), the Blackhawks have demonstrated their ability as a potential champion. Can they play at that level for an extended period like they did during the 2013 playoffs?
6. Anaheim Ducks (47-18-7) LW: 6
Ducks fans know the numbers from last season. Anaheim went 22-3-4 to start 2012-13 and limped to an 8-9-2 finish. They played well in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but losing four of seven to the Detroit Red Wings fit the narrative of a slumping finish.
Anaheim has some work to do to not let history repeat itself. The Ducks opened 2013-14 with an incredible 36-8-5 start and the Presidents' Trophy seemed like an easy call. Living off an abnormally high team shooting percentage and yielding too many shot attempts has caught up, and the Ducks are 11-10-2 since a 9-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 15.
7. Colorado Avalanche (45-21-6) LW: 8
While the Ducks have dipped, the Avalanche have continued to thrive with a similarly untrustworthy potion of great goaltending, high shooting percentage and poor possession. Colorado finished Wednesday in fifth place in the Western Conference standings with 96 points.
|*- projected for this season
|** - equivalent for 82-game season
The Avalanche are earning points at a 109-point pace, and a 6-3-1 finish would have the team arrive at that very number. Should they not pass the Chicago Blackhawks (or Ducks at this point), would the Avalanche be the best fifth-place team from a conference in League history?
They certainly could end up the most accomplished in recent history. The accompanying table displays the top teams that finished with the fifth-most points in their conference since a point for the overtime loss was added to the standings in 1999-00.
8. New York Rangers (41-29-4) LW: 11
Five straight victories have catapulted the Rangers into a solid position in the Metropolitan Division. Martin St. Louis has zero goals and three assists in 12 games since joining the team but that hasn't been an issue.
Losing Chris Kreider for a prolonged period ultimately could hurt the ceiling of this club, but the Rangers have reclaimed the mythical title of "third-best team in the East," and given the injury situation in Pittsburgh they could end up better than that.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-24-9) LW: 9
Just like the Rangers, securing a lot of points in a short timeframe is a nice way to escape from the pack of teams fighting for the final playoff spots. Just as it appears the Rangers will face the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, Tampa Bay looks destined to meet the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1.
The offense has returned with vigor. Tampa Bay has at least three goals in nine straight games, and the Lightning are unsurprisingly without a regulation loss in that span (5-0-4). Steven Stamkos has seven goals in seven games, and if he's rolling the Lightning's forward depth will make them a tough out in the postseason.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (46-21-5) LW: 7
The Penguins already had the worst luck in the League this season before Evgeni Malkin landed back on the injury report. Pittsburgh hasn't been very good at times this season when Malkin or Sidney Crosby isn't on the ice, so maybe the next couple of weeks will provide more practice? This team is going to be a wild card (in the traditional sense of the term) once the postseason begins with players returning from injuries and trying to fit together.
11. Montreal Canadiens (41-26-7) LW: 12
When the Toronto Maple Leafs fell out of the top eight in the East it left the Canadiens as the worst possession team in a playoff position. There's been some improvement in that area in the past six weeks or so, but also a lot of inconsistency. Montreal has been at 54 percent or better in Fenwick-for percentage when the score is close in nine of its past 17 games, but there’s also been six games at below 41 percent.
12. Minnesota Wild (37-24-11) LW: 10
The Wild have already had an amazing story in net with Josh Harding and a really nice story with rookie Darcy Kuemper assuming the No. 1 job. However Kuemper has allowed three goals in each of his past three starts and was pulled Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Three goals-against has been a problem for the Wild recently. Despite adding Matt Moulson and welcoming back Mikko Koivu from injury, the offense has struggled. Minnesota has two goals or less in five of the past eight games.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets (37-29-6) LW: 13
When Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was too sick to play the final two periods against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, coach Todd Richards had no choice but to turn to backup Curtis McElhinney. Bobrovsky was starting his 19th straight game, meaning other than two relief appearances, it was the most significant playing time for McElhinney since his last start, Jan. 28.
With four days between games, Bobrovsky should be feeling better by the time the Blue Jackets play again. He'll need to be fresh as Columbus plays 10 games in 16 days to finish the season, including seven in the final 10 because of a makeup game with the next team on this list.
14. Dallas Stars (34-27-11) LW: 14
The Vancouver Canucks traded Roberto Luongo. Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen was injured. The Wild are on their third and fourth goalies of the season.
It looked like a nice path to the playoffs for the Phoenix Coyotes, but now Mike Smith is hurt as well. Lehtonen is back, and paired with Tim Thomas he could give the Stars a decided advantage as they try to reel in the Coyotes and hold off the Canucks for the final spot in the West.
15. Philadelphia Flyers (38-26-7) LW: 15
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald appears to have fit in well with the Flyers. Hopefully he is being nice to the goaltenders, like say picking up a check or two on the road. According to ExtraSkater.com, Philadelphia goalies are stopping 93.1 percent of the shots at even strength when MacDonald is on the ice. That's a substantial boost from the 91.0 percent the New York Islanders goalies were stopping with him in front of them. He should savor it while it lasts.
16. Detroit Red Wings (33-25-14) LW: 16
The Red Wings just continue to draft and develop great Swedish hockey players. The latest star turn has come from Gustav Nyquist, who has 20 goals in 24 games and is a huge reason why Detroit might extend its postseason streak to 23 seasons.
It's not just Nyquist and the current group of Swedes on the roster, like captain Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Johan Franzen and Joakim Andersson. Calle Jarnkrok is off to a very nice start with the Nashville Predators after being part of the David Legwand trade. Defensemen Adam Almquist and Mattias Backman currently are matriculating in the Red Wings' system. It is quite the pipeline.