Rumor Roundup: Stewart still available, Blues and Jets may look for deals before trade freeze

Patrik Berglund Blues featured

With the NHL holiday trade freeze slated for midnight on Dec. 19, there’s increasing focus on Buffalo Sabres right wing Chris Stewart in the rumor mill. SI.com’s Allan Muir reports Sabres GM Tim Murray is reportedly willing to move the 27-year-old winger for the right price but so far he hasn’t found any takers.

Muir claims the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators are said to have interest in Stewart. The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson adds the Pittsburgh Penguins to that list, while the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch claims the Calgary Flames are also among the interested parties. Read more

Not even serial killers faze the NHL’s most scary player

Ryan Kennedy
Chara Bruins Fear Featured

The most infamous female serial killer in history eventually met her demise in a castle located in present-day Slovakia. Countess Elizabeth Bathory was a noblewoman of Hungarian descent who has been mythologized as a sadistic murderer of hundreds of young girls and women. Some believe she was a vampire or werewolf, while the most popular story is that she bathed in the blood of her victims in a mistaken attempt to gain eternal youth. If you want to see a demonstration of her alleged methods, watch the shock-horror movie Hostel 2 – or just take my word for it that it wasn’t nice. Thanks to her noble standing, the ‘Blood Countess’ was never convicted of any crimes, but she was confined to a castle in Cachtice, where she died in 1614.

Zdeno Chara grew up in Trencin, only half an hour from Cachtice, but the ghost of Countess Bathory couldn’t haunt his dreams as a child. “The rumors and stories get bigger with every generation,” Chara said. “It’s a very small castle.”

Slovak folklore is rich with the kinds of old-school fairytales that could shake children to their tiny foundations. (One reads: “And so it goes in this world, dear children, the old die and the young come after them.”) But none of them scared Chara as kid. Only one topic did. “My only fear was not being able to play hockey,” he said. “A lot of coaches told me I was too tall, that I should stick to another sport. That fear gave me motivation to train, so maybe in the end it was good for something.”

At 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, Chara is the biggest NHLer ever. And with his incredible strength, huge reach and booming slapshot, it’s no wonder his peers believe he is the scariest defenseman in the game. “It’s not just because he’s going to put you through the wall,” said Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson. “But he’s a giant. He’s like two of me.”

Chara’s size makes him the stuff of nightmares for opposing players going into the corner. And though he’s more than polite and calm when you talk to him, there have been famous incidents in the past that illustrate just how terrifying an angry mountain of a man can be.

There was, of course, the rag-dolling of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe in 2004 when Chara was a member of the Ottawa Senators. ‘Big Z’ hoisted all 220 pounds of McCabe into the air and flung him around with ease during a one-sided fight. More recently, there was the altercation with Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith during the 2014 playoffs, when Chara simply laughed in the face of his hopped-up adversary, at one point holding Smith at arms-length like a Looney Tunes character. The officials graciously pushed Smith away before Chara could really get mad and cave in the youngster’s melon. In between those two cases, you can YouTube plenty of fights in which Chara came out unscathed. And he’s been doing that ever since he came to North America.

Although coaches back in Slovakia may have tabbed Chara as a basketball power forward instead of a linchpin defenseman, the New York Islanders saw things differently. So after drafting Chara in 1996, the Islanders tried to find him a home on this side of the Atlantic. Director of player personnel Gordie Clark (now with the rival Rangers) called up Stan Butler, who was coaching the Western League’s Prince George Cougars at the time, and gave him the lowdown. “Gordie told me he was a raw kid and a good athlete,” Butler said. “He wasn’t a big player – he was a massive player, 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds at the time. He was a raw talent but very skilled.”

So off to the wilds of central British Columbia it was for Chara, via the Canadian Hockey League import draft. And while there was an obvious language barrier to overcome, the big kid on the back end was thrilled to go to a place where they wanted him. Of course, the WHL has long been known as a rough-and-tumble circuit, and them good ol’ boys were certainly going to test the new foreign kid’s mettle on the ice. They were probably unaware boxing and wrestling had always been part of Chara’s workout regimens and that his father was a Greco-Roman wrestling Olympian. “We never fought like over here back home,” Chara said. “You were basically hitting the other guy in the mask. I made sure I was ready. Pretty much every game for the first few games I was challenged.”

Butler recalls Paul Ferone, a Tie Domi-like fighter with the Seattle Thunderbirds, welcoming Chara to ‘The Dub’ on his first shift. But Chara got the last laugh. He returned to the bench, and his coach congratulated him on holding his own. “He turned to me and said, ‘Hey Stan, that was my first fight,” Butler said. “I thought to myself, ‘Then God help other people.’ I don’t remember anyone beating him.”

Later on that season, Chara’s opponents still hadn’t learned their lesson. Once again, Seattle was on the other end of the ice, but this time it was burly 6-foot-4 left winger Tony Mohagen dropping the mitts. As Butler remembers it, Chara likely knocked out Mohagen but didn’t realize it at first because he was holding the T-Birds tough guy up. He punched him once more before Mohagen was released from his clutches. “They took him off on a stretcher,” Butler said. “ ‘Z’ got a lot of room after that.”

Chara still cherishes his time in Prince George. The Cougars made the playoffs, with fellow Slovak import Ronald Petrovicky leading the team in scoring and the whole town coming alive as a result. And thanks to his mammoth frame, Chara left his own mythology behind when he departed the small city for the Islanders after that season. For one thing, the Cougars didn’t have a sweater big enough for him, so pieces from another jersey were cut off and sewn on. A similar problem arose when it came to everyday wear. “Even in a lumber town, it was hard to find clothes,” Butler said. “There aren’t many 6-foot-9 lumberjacks.”

But Chara endeared himself in many ways. Despite his NHL draft status, he insisted on getting a part-time job in town, so the team hooked him up with a local dealership, where he washed cars – ones you would assume came out with the most sparkling rooftops possible. He was a fiend in the gym, even as a teenager, and that helped him make his NHL debut with New York the next season (he also spent time with Kentucky in the American League). While he still had to drop the gloves with noted pugilists such as Kris King and Louie DeBrusk as a rookie, eventually Chara was allowed to move beyond sideshow status. “At some point when I established myself on the Islanders, I got to focus on playing against top lines and not just rough stuff,” he said. “I really enjoyed that challenge. I knew my first priority was to defend.”

Move ahead to summer 2006 and Chara leaving Ottawa for division rival Boston. He earned the Bruins captaincy right away and has been extremely successful in Beantown. Along with leading the team to the Stanley Cup in 2011, Chara won the Norris Trophy in 2009 and has been named a league all-star five times in his eight seasons wearing the Black and Gold. “He’s so good with his reach and his strength,” said coach Claude Julien. “He breaks up plays by having his stick in the right place, he separates players from the puck and wins about 90 percent of his battles in the corners.”

Although the NHL can be an intimidating place for young players, Julien points out that Chara has done everything possible to bring the new kids into the fold. For example, the captain’s rule is that the term “rookie” is never used to describe a player in the dressing room. They’re known as “first-year players” instead.

The Bruins have been adept at easing talented young blueliners into the lineup during Chara’s tenure, and that’s no coincidence. While GM Peter Chiarelli and his scouting staff can be credited with drafting the likes of big dudes Adam McQuaid and Dougie Hamilton, part of their maturation has come by playing in a corps with Chara. “He can certainly give you extra confidence out there,” Julien said. “He’s got your back, and if you make a mistake, he’ll probably have you covered.”

Torey Krug, who came to the organization as a free agent, doesn’t fit that mold at just 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, but he’ll benefit from Chara’s presence this season on the power play, where Krug has already had success. That’s because the Bruins intend on continuing to install Chara in front of the opposition’s net when they have the man advantage. It’s a ploy that has worked well in the past (particularly when the B’s had to come back in Game 7 against Toronto in 2013). And it only makes sense when you think about it. “There is nobody better in front of the net than Zdeno,” Julien said. “You either leave him alone in front or waste your time trying to move him.”

The only reason the Bruins didn’t always plunk him down in front of enemy goalies before is that Chara also possesses a lethal slapshot from the point, but clearly the Bruins have decided it’s easier to stop a bullet than move a mountain.

If anything, the most prudent path to getting Chara out of the way would appear to be via the penalty box, but that’s not so easy, either. Chara hasn’t hit the 100-PIM mark since his second season in Boston and hasn’t fought more than four times in a year in nearly a decade, so Chara is smartly avoiding the fisticuffs, even if he is Golem-esque in his strength. How many opponents out there are worth trading five minutes in the box with that would be willing to step to him? Not that he’d admit it. “Sometimes people point that out,” Chara said. “But I’ve never felt I should be treated differently than anyone else on the team.”

Chara is smart about picking his spots. This is a man who has averaged at least 24 minutes of ice time since his first season in Ottawa, peaking at nearly 28 minutes a game for Boston when he first joined the franchise. At 37, Chara is still good for more than 24 minutes per night, even if speedy players can give him trouble in transition sometimes.

Off the ice, Chara is a quality person. He’s a family man who goes back to Slovakia in the summer to hang out with friends and relatives, and he even scaled Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro one time for charity. Sometimes his noble efforts can be comical – like the time he wore a pink bunny costume to a children’s hospital – but his efforts always come from a good place. “He’s got a good heart,” Julien said. “Whether it’s with his teammates, coaches or trainers, he’s very conscientious. He could certainly go the other way, but that’s not his personality.”

But that only applies when you’re on his side. When it comes to winning hockey games and representing the spoked ‘B’ on the front of his jersey, Chara is a man with singular vision. Sometimes, particularly if you channel Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, his resolve sounds downright chilling. “When I go in the corners, I’m ready to battle,” he said. “I want to come out with the puck, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I’m not thinking about the other guy.”

That sort of statement should produce a collective throat-lump in the rest of the league, but every season, at least a couple brave/crazy players still step up to test Chara. “I see that in the NHL these days when guys try to fight him,” Butler said. “I laugh. Pride overrules stupidity.”

This feature appears in the Nov. 3 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

Rumor Roundup: Several teams looking at moves leading up to holiday trade freeze

Buffalo's Tyler Myers (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the NHL’s holiday trade freeze beginning at midnight on Dec. 19 there’s growing speculation over possible moves leading up to the deadline.

ESPN.com’s Craig Custance reports Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray is willing to be creative after noting a recent decline in trade talks, leading Murray to acknowledge his asking prices could be too high.

Winger Chris Stewart, a recent healthy scratch against the Los Angeles Kings, is considered most likely to be dealt. The Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports the 27-year-old winger’s poor play could affect his trade value, as well as his chances for a lucrative contract via free agency in July. Vogl claims the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators could be interested in Stewart. Read more

Nolan calls out Stewart, winger responds with fight after telling media to “ask Lucic how soft” he is

Chris Stewart

Amid rumors that Chris Stewart and the Buffalo Sabres are in their last days together, it appears the big bodied forward and coach Ted Nolan aren’t seeing eye-to-eye.

On Tuesday, the 27-year-old forward was scratched for the Sabres game against the Los Angeles Kings. When asked about removing Stewart from the lineup, Nolan said the Sabres winger hasn’t been playing the way the team needs, and that, “he’s a big, powerful forward, but powerful forwards can’t be playing a soft game.”

Stewart, who avoided media on the day he was scratched, spoke on Wednesday and you could say he took exception to the comments of his coach. Read more

Dennis Seidenberg on Jonathan Toews: NHL can’t win on this one

Ken Campbell
Dennis Seidenberg and Jonathan Toews (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

You’d have to think Stephane Quintal knew there would be days like these when he agreed to replace Brendan Shanahan in the top job in the NHL’s department of player safety. Quintal is truly between a Hawk and a hard place today. Whether he and his department decide to further discipline Dennis Seidenberg for his hit on Jonathan Toews Thursday night, he’ll be criticized.

If he allows Seidenberg off the hook, which looks like it will be the case, he’ll be accused of allowing stars to risk injury by not penalizing dangerous hits on vulnerable players. If he applies further sanctions to Seidenberg, he’ll be accused of trying to remove hitting from the game and turning it into the No Hitting League. Read more

Jonathan Toews suffers apparent head injury on brutal hit – so why was he playing immediately after?

Adam Proteau
Jonathan Toews (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

You want to believe the medical officials entrusted with NHL players’ health are always erring on the side of caution. Then you see Jonathan Toews returning to play immediately after taking an absolutely brutal hit from Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg Thursday, and the doubts don’t creep in – they stampede over you.

The Blackhawks captain and NHL star was driven headfirst into the boards at an awkward angle by Seidenberg midway through the second period of Chicago’s game against the host Bruins, and the result was enough to turn your stomach regardless of whether you’re a Hawks fan:

We can sit here and argue about the cleanliness of the hit itself – and the play will be reviewed by the league – but the fact Chicago’s medical staff and coaches allowed Toews to play his next shift is even more troubling. If this wasn’t the time to have Toews – a superstar who has a history of concussions – sent to the quiet room to be evaluated, then there isn’t ever a good time to do so. But what likely happened was the Hawks trainer asked Toews if he was good enough to continue with his next shift – and, just as every NHLer has been conditioned over the course of his life to answer, Toews said yes. He eventually left the game, but the sight of a star player being left open to additional injury (and perhaps an early end to his career) because nobody had the stones to tell him to get off the ice for his own good was and is deeply disturbing.

Even if you presume Toews wasn’t in a haze and knew full well what he was saying, his word alone isn’t good enough for him to continue playing after a hit like that. Read more

How the Boston Bruins blew the Thornton, Kessel, Wheeler, Seguin trades…and lost out on T.J. Brodie, too

459854570-Seguin-Kessel

Let’s play a little hindsight gymnastics.

Quick question: would you make this trade?

Joe Thornton, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler and Tyler Seguin for Matt Bartkowski, Loui Eriksson, Alexander Fallstrom, Matt Fraser, Dougie Hamilton, Alexander Khokhlachev, Jared Knight, Joe Morrow, Dennis Seidenberg and Reilly Smith.

Because that’s what the Boston Bruins are left with after trading three future superstars and one well above average player before their primes in four separate trades.

If Thornton, Kessel, Wheeler or Seguin were still with Boston today, each would be the team’s top scorer. Seguin, of course, leads the NHL in goals and points.

One dumb deal is a mistake. Two is a coincidence. Three is a trend. Four is…WTF is going on?

Read more

Rumor Roundup: Bruins scoring woes, injuries cause for trade talk

Boston Bruins Seidenberg Marchand Smith featured

Scoring is a problem this season for the Boston Bruins. In their last dozen game stretching back to November 12, the Bruins tallied three-or-more goals in only three games and won only five games over that period.

The Bruins began this week 21st overall in goals per game (2.50). That’s a considerable decline from last season, when they finished third (3.15) in that category.

Injuries to first-line center David Krejci and top defenseman Zdeno Chara have contributed to this offensive decline. Another is management’s inability to find a suitable replacement for first-line right wing Jarome Iginla, who departed last summer via free agency. Right wings Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith have struggled to fill the void. Read more