BRIGHTON, Mass – Zdeno Chara made it clear that he’s willing to talk about his future with the Boston Bruins whenever they make it a priority. After the 40-year-old expressed a desire for a contract extension at the end of last season, there was no discussion from either side this summer leading into the final year of his deal with the Black and Gold. That’s to be expected at this point in his career with an older player like Chara operating on a year-to-year basis, but the Bruins captain said he’s ready and willing whenever his longtime employer wants to have a discussion about his future – even if those negotiations wind up taking place during the season.
“I love the game. I love everything about it. I love the sacrifice and I love the training. There are so many things that are so positive [about playing in the NHL]. At my age I look at what I can still do and just really enjoy it. I just want to keep improving and play for as long as I can,” said Chara, who made his first appearance at B’s captain’s practice on Tuesday with roughly 30 other B’s skaters. “I always felt I can play for a long time if I’m in good shape and if I can be healthy. So that’s what I wish for, that I can be healthy and play a long time while still being really effective and consistent.
“I definitely want to play beyond this season. It’s really hard to put a number on it. Some people do and some people don’t. I just obviously want to keep playing [in the NHL] beyond this season. I love this game too much. I have made no secrets about it. I want to stay here [with the Bruins] and continue to play.”
If Chara has enjoys another season like last year then it should be a no-brainer that both sides would want to keep things going. The 40-year-old veteran spent the entire year in a shutdown pairing with 20-year-old Brandon Carlo, and then skated with 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy in the playoffs once Carlo was lost to a concussion.
Chara finished with 10 goals and 29 points in 75 games with a plus-18 rating and averaged 23:30 of ice time as Boston’s de facto No. 1 defenseman. Amazingly, Chara averaged more than 28 minutes of ice time per game in the playoffs once Carlo, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid had all been lost to injury, and continued to show new energy in his game playing with the best young D-man prospects in Boston’s system.
Chara freely admitted that his time skating with Carlo and McAvoy, both young enough to be his own children, benefitted him as much as his experienced helped shepherd them along.
“I think it works both ways. I think oftentimes people only see one side of the pair, but honestly I enjoy being around the young guys. I look forward to coming to the rink every day and playing with them,” said Chara. “It’s a little bit of a teaching process and a little bit of friendship, and you’ve just got to have respect for each other no matter how many games each player has played [in the NHL]. Whether it’s on or off the ice, the key is communicating and talking things out for when you get on the ice.”
The proper play for the Bruins is to wait and see with Chara, who at 40 years old as a big-bodied, shutdown D-man is really beginning to defy the NHL odds. If the 6-foot-9 captain continues to play as well this season as he did last year – and remains healthy – there are plenty of good arguments to be made for a one or two-year contract at his current $4 million salary for the upcoming season. If Chara begins to break down or starts to really have trouble keeping pace with an NHL that gets faster and more athletic each and every season, then that’s going to speed up Boston’s plan for life after their future Hall of Fame defenseman.
Clearly it may help Chara this season if the Bruins can further reduce his role where his minutes get scaled back a tick and simultaneously place an even greater focus on his basic shutdown role. But one has also learned not to doubt the prideful, tireless workhorse of a D-man that Chara has been for the last 20 years, and could be for another five at the NHL if the hockey gods see fit to keep him healthy for all that time.