Why Zdeno Chara is still the NHL’s best defenseman

Despite entering his 17th season, Zdeno Chara will still be the NHL’s best defenseman when the 2014-15 season gets underway.  At 6-foot-9, 256 pounds Chara remains the biggest and one of the most feared players in the NHL.  Having never been blessed with great speed, the veteran defenseman uses his 65-inch stick and over 7-foot wingspan to shut down the NHL’s top offensive players.  Although he will turn 38-years-old this March, Chara still carries one of the toughest workloads in the NHL.  Chara continues to put up great numbers despite this workload, and he continues to be the best defenseman in the league.

Chara’s average time on-ice (last five seasons):

Season Average Time On-ice NHL Rank Team Rank
2013-‘14 24:39 14th 1st
2012-‘13 24:56 15th 1st
2011-‘12 25:00 11th 1st
2010-‘11 25:26 6th 1st
2009-‘10 25:22 12th 1st

Chara has averaged over 24 minutes played in each of the last five seasons.  In that time he has ranked no lower than 15th in the league among all players and has lead the Boston Bruins every season in average time on ice.  What makes these numbers even more impressive is Chara is asked to play a majority of his minutes against the opposing team’s best players.  He is also tasked with playing on every penalty kill against the opponents top power play unit.  In spite of drawing these tough assignments, Chara has still finished among the top-16 defensemen in terms of plus/minus in each of the last five seasons.

Season Plus/Minus NHL Rank (among defensemen)
2013-‘14 +25 8th
2012-‘13 +14 16th
2011-‘12 +33 1st
2010-‘11 +33 1st
2009-‘10 +19 13th

There is no arguing that the way the NHL currently tracks plus/minus stats has its flaws.  A player can be on the ice during a goal scored or goal allowed and have nothing to do with the play.  That said, having a plus rating means good things happen when that skater is out on the ice for his team and Chara has consistently been a positive for the Bruins.

If there were any concerns whether all the minutes Chara has logged over his 16 seasons has affected his overall play, the numbers do not back it up.  According to hockey-reference.com, Chara had more offensive and defensive point shares last season than his career average.  Also, Chara’s 19 goals last season is tied for the second-most he has scored in a season, and his 44 points is the seventh most in his career.  He put these numbers up in a season where he played just under 1,900 minutes, good for 23rd most in the NHL.

After 16 seasons and over 27,000 minutes played, Zdeno Chara remains the best defenseman in the NHL.  He leads a defensive core in Boston that has finished in the top-six in the league in goals against average in each of the last six seasons.  His dominating play on the ice has also helped him finish in the top-five in Norris Trophy voting each of the last four years.  While there are some who doubt Chara will be able to continue his dominance because of age, he has shown little sign of slowing down and will once again be the NHL’s best defenseman this season.