Washington Capitals Sign Zdeno Chara, How Lineup Is Impacted
|Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP|
Well, 2020 certainly gave it everything it had all the way to the end, didn’t it? In a shocking, and probably only in 2020 fashion, the Washington Capitals signed longtime Boston Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara to a one-year contract.
It was a shocker because most thought if ‘Big Z’ was going to return it would only be back to Boston, but obviously that didn’t work out.
Adding Chara is big for the Capitals Stanley Cup aspirations. Even at 43 years old, Chara got after it last season, playing over 21 minutes per game for the Bruins, second among the team’s defensemen. He also averaged more than three minutes per game on the penalty kill.
He isn’t nearly the points producer he once was, scoring just 14 points in each of the last two seasons. Part of the reason was his limited exposure on the power play, getting on the ice for just three minutes while the Bruins had the man advantage all season.
So how does Chara fit into the lineup? He certainly brings a veteran presence almost unmatched in the league right now, certainly among the players available still right now.
There are two ways at looking at the Capitals signing Chara. You can plug him in on the third pairing, in far less stressful scenarios, and rep the benefits of having a player with 1,500 career games on your roster.
Or you could have him as a mere locker room presence. Someone who has been there, and done that, with a drive to win still that he left his home of 14 seasons to try and chase a championship once more.
If an offer with Boston was still on the table, he could have certainly gotten more playing time with the makeup of their roster. So Chara took a lesser role for what he could have felt was a better chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Regardless of how he is going to be deployed when the season rolls around, the signing of Chara certainly impacts some more than others, here are a look at three players that may be the most affected.
The Capitals have been big on the Swiss-born Siegenthaler ever since the draft process back in 2015. Without a second round pick of their own, Washington traded into the round so that they can grab the big defenseman.
Letting him take his time to fully develop, the Capitals finally reaped the benefits of drafting Siegenthaler. Playing in 64 games last season, the defender recorded just nine points, but his biggest impact came in his own end.
Siegenthaler led the team in blocks per 60 minutes played among all regular blue liners (20 or more games played), and was the Capitals go-to penalty killer, logging 3:11 of ice time per game while shorthanded.
If Chara comes out and proves he can still skate well enough, it will be interesting how this plays out. Both Siegenthaler and Chara posted very similar numbers last season at 5v5.
Both did an amazing job at limiting their oppositions scoring opportunities, with Chara posting an incredible strong goal share - with his high-danger goal share among the best in the league.
For a third-pairing defenseman, there was little to complain about Siegenthaler’s season metric wise. While he may never be a big time offensive threat, at just 23-years old, Siegenthaler still is growing into his role as one of the team’s better shutdown defenseman.
Siegenthaler was also going to be thrust into the third-pairing role after Michal Kempny injuring his Achilles’ tendon and is expected to miss 6-8 months. With that time frame, that would put the earliest he’d be able to return is April.
That would put any potential return deep already into a playoff run, making a return this season not likely for Kempny.
The 21-year old from Slovakia was a second round pick back in 2018 for the Capitals, and was one of the fastest rising prospects in the system this past season.
He mastered the North American game so quickly, that not only did he push himself into a top-four role with the Hershey Bears, he earned a six game audition at the NHL level last season, as well as two more during the playoffs.
While it wasn’t likely he would break camp with the Capitals in a normal season, with the uncertainty that this season will bring, along with no AHL season until at least February, there might have been an outside chance for Fehervary to crack the taxi squad for the Capitals, maybe even seeing the ice in an emergency situation.
Now with Chara, there is less of an need to keep Fehervary around for anything outside of an opportunity to continue to practice with the NHLers until the AHL season potentially begins.
The Capitals decided to go defense heavy early in the 2018 draft, taking Fehervary in the second round after selecting Alexeyev in the first round, 31st overall.
Alexeyev, a Russian-import playing in the Western Hockey League, scored 43 points in 49 games with the Red Deer Rebels before turning pro.
His first year professional, he and Fehervary formed a 1-2 punch on the left side despite both being AHL rookies. In 58 games with Hershey last year, Alexeyev recorded 21 points (3 G, 18 A), although unlike Fehervary, didn’t get any playing time in the NHL.
Currently, Alexeyev is on loan to the Ufa Salavat Yulayev of the KHL. He has recorded nine points (4 G, 5 A) in 37 games over seas, but is expected to be back in time for training camp.
With Brendan Dillon and Dmitry Orlov both signed to multi-year deals, as well as Siegenthaler (last year of entry-level deal), all on the left side, even with a perfect training camp - neither Alexeyev or Fehervary were going to start the season on the NHL roster.
Seeing as the Capitals are in the ultimate win now mode, counting on a rookie with little to no NHL experience isn’t likely and with their depth now this puts them in position to not rush their prized prospects.
If playing had always been on the table for Chara, to the point he looked elsewhere outside of Boston, it isn’t likely he signed with Washington to sit in the press box on most nights.
In the end, the biggest asset that Chara brings to the table at this point into his career, is more experience that anyone on the active roster.
This kind of veteran leadership is hard to find, and clearly by signing with Boston and the rate he did, Chara means business and his goal is clear - to get his name on the Stanley Cup one more time before he hangs his skates up.
What do you think of the Chara signing? Is he a shoe in for the third pairing role, or did Siegenthaler make a good enough case to get playing time as well? Would you like to see Alexeyev and Fehervary part of any ‘taxi squad’ that teams may be allowed to keep around? Let us know in the comment section below, subscribe to the site at the link above, and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy and @SportBlogMurphy.