The decision to move on from veterans Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug and simply go young on the backend ultimately came to bite the Bruins when a war of attrition left the Bruins scrambling for help in a second-round exit to the Islanders.
But if there was an undeniable positive to be found within that year of development-on-the-fly on the B’s point, it came with Charlie McAvoy’s ascension to true No. 1 defenseman status for the Black and Gold. Scratch that, I mean McAvoy’s ascension to true Norris Trophy contender status, as confirmed by the voting results for the 2021 Norris, awarded to the league’s best defenseman.
In a race ultimately won by the Rangers’ Adam Fox, McAvoy found himself with the fifth-most points among all defensemen vying for this year’s honor, with 125.
For McAvoy, who finished between fourth-place finisher Dougie Hamilton (239 points) and sixth-place finalist Shea Theodore (109 points), that 125-point total included two first-place votes, four second-place votes, eight third-place votes, 10 fourth-place votes, and seven fifth-place finishes on ballots. In other words, 31 of the 100 ballots this season featured McAvoy’s name.
It was also McAvoy doubling his 2020 finish, too, as the 23-year-old finished 10th in last year’s Norris Trophy voting.
This kind of takeoff is exactly what the Bruins hoped for when they essentially gave the keys to the defense to McAvoy entering this past season, and he delivered beyond the voter recognition.
One of 68 defensemen to log at least 900 minutes of five-on-five action in 2021, McAvoy ranked third in corsi-for percentage (58.5 percent), first in shots-for percentage (61.1 percent), ninth in goals-for percentage (61 percent), fourth in expected goals-for percentage (58.8 percent), and eighth in high-danger chances-for percentage (57.4 percent). If you’re not into the advanced metrics, just know that those numbers confirm that the Bruins dominated the puck and were consistently pushing play in the right direction with No. 73 out there at five-on-five.
The New York native also had what his most successful season from a scoring standpoint, too, with a career-best 0.59 points per game mark established with five goals and 30 points in 51 games played. (That probably needs to increase for McAvoy to go from Norris contender to Norris favorite, too, given the way the trophy is voted on in this new era of end-to-end hockey, with point-getters getting more love than your standard two-way dominator.)
“I just tried to grow and continue to build as the year went,” McAvoy said earlier this month. “I think I started to pick up some steam there at the end and just wanted to play well [and] do whatever I could to help the team.”
And the Bruins clearly know they have something special in McAvoy, who is entering the final year of a three-year deal with a $4.9 million cap hit, moving forward.
“Certainly, the amount of minutes Charlie can play is [impressive],” Cam Neely said before likening McAvoy to an old (and legendary) teammate from his playing days. “Ray [Bourque] was a horse out there. I remember watching him one time, he had a long shift and came to the bench, took two deep breaths and was ready to go. McAvoy is similar in that regard, where he can play a lot of minutes at a high level. That’s a similarity I see right now. Charlie’s developing a little bit more on the offensive blue line; Ray had that natural ability I think right from the get-go, that Charlie’s certainly come a long way.”
Now comes building his supporting cast on the backend, which seems to be at the top of the team’s offseason agenda.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.