There have been times in the past when a prolonged NHL absence can prematurely push older players into retirement.
The NHL lockout following the 2003-04 ended countless careers of veteran players unable to return after a year away from the ice. There may even be a few players who never come back from the current suspension of the NHL regular season depending on how long it lasts and what’s eventually in store for this season.
Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App
Don’t count on 43-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara being one of those players, however, as he plans on rolling through no matter how things play out over the next few months. Chara was one of the first NHL players to participate in Zoom conference calls with reporters a couple of weeks ago and Don Sweeney reinforced Chara’s desire to keep playing in last week’s Zoom call with the Bruins media.
None of it is a surprise given Chara’s ability to still play at an elite level into his mid-40s and his willingness to push just how long his legendary longevity can last.
“Even Zdeno himself has reported that he would like to continue to play. It’s a really unique relationship with Zdeno [and the Bruins], and this started a bunch of years ago. But the last three or four years in particular, Zdeno has exercised the ability to show some patience and that has allowed us to plan accordingly,” said Sweeney. “He has adjusted his own contractual situations. You saw him do two consecutive one-year deals and that was important to us for planning. It’s an extension of the relationship that Zdeno and his agent Matt Keator have afforded us and his legacy with the organization’s impact with us.
“How much he wants to continue to play and how much he’s motivated to continue playing has allowed him to take the time that’s necessary. Athletes always have to do that, but you get to a certain age where you have responsibilities to your family and you want to do that. Last summer was a good example of that. The ongoing dialogue is very healthy with Zdeno. He exhibits all that passion and loyalty to us. I think it’s unique in the fact he’s able to communicate effectively with us and it puts us in a better situation to plan accordingly. Then we make decisions in mutual fashion for what’s best for us and what’s best for him.”
One thing Chara has maintained all season is that his contract will be taken care of once the Bruins take care of things with a few of his teammates, which could be read as the captain saying he wants the B’s to get something done with Torey Krug before he signs anything. Regardless, it’s expected to be a one-year, incentive-laden deal in the $2 million neighborhood he signed for the current 2019-20 NHL season.
Chara has been a great bargain this season as a premier shutdown defenseman averaging 21:01 of ice time per game along with five goals and 14 points in 68 games with a plus-26 rating. The 43-year-old has also consistently said he’d like to keep on playing, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he had a goal to keep on going in the NHL until he was 45 years old.
Playing two more seasons would allow him to become just the sixth player in NHL history to hit the 1,700 games played mark and would put him within shouting distance of the 1,767 career games that the legendary Gordie Howe played.
Maybe there’s a goal there for Chara to become the all-time games played leader in NHL history as a testament to his longevity, his lifelong dedication to conditioning and fitness and his love for the game of hockey. What we know for sure is that he wants to continue playing once the NHL regular season pause is over and that’s more than enough for now.