The Boston Bruins are putting their future superstar defenseman Charlie McAvoy in the best position to succeed, paired with Zdeno Chara. But here’s why they could be better separate.
Charlie McAvoy is being treated like the future superstar he is by the Boston Bruins. That includes being paired with Zdeno Chara, somebody who he can look up to and learn from. The pair plays extremely well together.
But both Chara and McAvoy have played pretty well away from each other as well. There’s a case to be made for them to be separated. As part of the unpopular opinion series, that’s the case I’ll be making. For instance, separating the two best defensemen on the Bruins roster will help the other members of the top four get even better. There’s also the rational, sane idea of keeping them together.
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McAvoy is a young, puck-moving defenseman, which is part of the reason his pairing with Chara has worked. He’s totalled 21 points this season and averaged 22:54 per game. The list of defensemen to average more playing time per game as rookies since the 2004 lockout is very small.
McAvoy has played 214 minutes without Chara. He’s taken most of his even-strength faceoffs in the offensive zone without Chara, at a rate of 66.42 percent. That’s not good for his defensive development, but it shows where he is offensively. Considering the defenseman McAvoy plays the second-most with is Kevan Miller, offensive zone shifts might not be the worst thing.
Without Chara, McAvoy has a 54.67 percent shot share. He has a 57.89 percent goal share and a 70 percent high-danger chance share. McAvoy is a really good offensive defenseman who needs to be paired with somebody who can play a modern defensive defenseman game.
Which is why I would like to see McAvoy play more minutes with Brandon Carlo. They have just six minutes at even-strength together, spending most of it in the defensive zone. I want to see what they can do during a 20-minute session as a consistent pair.
Chara is 40 years old, and with an expiring contract, may be considering retirement, though likely not. Still, he should see fewer minutes, something that isn’t happening with him on the top-pairing. Chara’s averaging 23 minutes per game, the same exact amount he averaged last season.
Which is why moving him to the second pair could work out. Chara has played 200 minutes without McAvoy and has taken most of the even-strength faceoffs without the rookie in the defensive zone.
Yet Chara has a 55.22 percent shot share without McAvoy, a 49.89 percent CorsiFor percentage, a 52.63 percent goal share, and a 53.93 percent high-danger chance share. His on-ice save percentage dips below that of when he’s playing with McAvoy, but that’s to be expected. The first pairing plays with the first line or the fourth, and both have been good defensively this season.
The defenseman he should be paired with, if not McAvoy, is the other offensive defenseman, Torey Krug. They’ve not played much together over the past three seasons, but when they have, they’ve been explosive. In 59 minutes in the 2015-16 season, they never allowed a goal against, despite 33 shots against.
That includes just 14 high-danger chances against (versus 17 for). I think they could do a lot well paired together, though the goal of the Boston Bruins might be to use them as instructors for the younger defensemen.
Still, using the two most veteran guys (I know Krug is just 26, but he’s got the second most experience on this team) as the second pairing behind two younger guys of the future for the Bruins might leave Boston satisfied with their top 4. After all, at some point, McAvoy will have to be great on his own, without the tutelage of Chara.
Why Keep Them Together
Because you don’t necessarily need to break them up. Krug and Carlo are fine as the second defensive pairing, even if they are a bit on the offensive side. Miller and Matt Grzelcyk represent a fine third-pairing as well. So Chara and McAvoy can be kept together and the defense will be fine.
More than that, although both of them have good stats on their own, they don’t hit the same marks as they do together. They have a 53.72 Corsi percentage, a 53.85 percent shot-share, and a 69.7 percent goal share. They do well in terms of high-danger differential, and Boston Bruins goaltenders have a collective even-strength save percentage of .956 when the pairing is on the ice. It’s a solid duo.
Besides, if you the Boston Bruins want McAvoy to develop into a solid all-around defenseman, there’s not many better to learn from than Chara.
Yes, the duo will be split up, likely within the next year, but while the Bruins have both of them, why not use them together. Chara’s defense covers mistakes that the rookie McAvoy will make, and he’ll be intimidating enough to make sure McAvoy doesn’t do it again.