Bruins

Zdeno Chara is an aging, extremely important figure for Bruins

Zdeno Chara is an aging, extremely important figure for Bruins

Today’s piece on Zdeno Chara is the first in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand heading into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

BOSTON – Zdeno Chara really doesn’t have much to prove at this point at 42 years old as the NHL’s oldest player and longest tenured captain with the Boston Bruins.

The B’s captain will be a Hall of Famer as the most dominant shutdown defenseman of his generation, a Stanley Cup winner and one of the most feared players to ever lace up skates as a 6-foot-9 tower of power. Chara still added to his legacy when he played through a fractured jaw during the Stanley Cup Final just a couple of months ago, and perhaps penned one of the final great chapters to a brilliant career that’s still going next season.

How much longer can he play? What will Chara’s role look like next season after age finally seemed to catch up to him a bit last season?

Those answers will materialize over the course of the next few seasons for a player that, like Tom Brady, seems determined to play until at least 45 years old. The only certainty at this point is that when that moment does happen, the Bruins want to make sure Chara retires in Black and Gold at the end of his perpetual one-year contracts with the team.

“First and foremost, [Chara] loves to play, he loves to compete and he wants to win,” said Bruins President Cam Neely. “The broken jaw was a great example of that. I believe he was hurt on a Tuesday and I went to see him on Wednesday morning, and he was ready to get out of the hospital after surgery. 

“You see him in the lineup Thursday night. You probably see more hockey players doing it, but I just don’t know how many athletes you see doing that. It speaks to where he felt he should be, where he wanted to be and that he’s 42 years old and in the Stanley Cup Final. Who knows when he’ll be able to get there again?

“Everybody plays banged up, and if you can play then you should play. That’s always been my take. But since I’ve been back since 2007 there’s always been a lot of players that have played through a lot, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Mark] Recchi and those kinds of guys. If you’re a young player [then you need to] recognize that this is what you do if you can do it. I certainly hope someday that [Chara] retires as a Boston Bruin. He’s done so much for this organization and he really helped turn things around [for the franchise] when he got here. He’s been a great ambassador, not only for us with the Bruins and for this city but for the game itself.”

Chara still averaged 21:05 of ice time per game as a top-4 defenseman for the Black and Gold, but it was also the lowest ice time total of his 20-year career as younger players like Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy surpassed him in the ice time department. It will be interesting to see where Chara slots in if contract issues with McAvoy or Carlo spill into the regular season, and how much extra burden falls on his shoulders until things are resolved with the young D-men.

All things being equal, however, the Bruins are consciously going to manage Chara’s minutes and workload coming off a two-month playoff run, and attempt to put him in the best position to succeed as the oldest player in the NHL. The reality is that Chara may continue to miss some games due to injuries as has been the case in the last couple of seasons since getting on the wrong side of 40 years old. There may even be times when the prudent choice would be to rest a proud competitor like Chara if the Bruins have their depth fully intact once McAvoy and Carlo are fully back in the fold.

Whatever the case, the Bruins will again rely on Chara for defense, leadership and 20 minutes per night while setting the tone from a toughness standout as well.

Key Stat: 11.4 – the number of games missed per season over the last five years for Chara, who is clearly starting to show some wear and tear with his 42-year-old body still playing a key role for the Black and Gold.

Chara in his own words: “I think I’m able to tolerate pain. I was just able to focus on the game ahead of us. You have to accept that the game and sports will bring some pain, and those are sacrifices you have to be willing to accept.”

The biggest question he faces: How much can Chara sustain his game at 42 years old in a league that grows faster and more skill-oriented with each passing season? He’s still a superior penalty killer and a feared defender around the net and is extremely effective when he’s rested. But injuries are coming with higher frequency now and sustaining his performance in the playoff grind is always going to be a challenge.

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Potential Bruins trade target Ilya Kovalchuk heading to the Capitals

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File Photo

Potential Bruins trade target Ilya Kovalchuk heading to the Capitals

The Boston Bruins passed on Ilya Kovalchuk once before. And now, ahead of the 2020 NHL trade deadline, it looks like they have passed on him again.

While there were rumors in early February that the Montreal Canadiens winger was drawing interest from the Bruins, they weren't the team that ultimately ended up trading for him.

Instead, the Washington Capitals acquired Kovalchuk to help their offense for the cost of a third-round pick, according to the Canadiens official Twitter account.

It's also worth noting that the Canadiens ate 50 percent of Kovalchuk's minuscule salary to help the cap-strapped Capitals, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

So, the Kovalchuk trade will take another potential Bruins trade target off the board a day ahead of the NHL's trade deadline.

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Kovalchuk started the season with the Los Angeles Kings but fell out of favor amid struggles for both himself and the team. The Bruins were rumored to be among the initial suitors following his buyout, but they elected not to pursue him, instead sticking with Brett Ritchie and David Backes at the time. Ritchie has since been waived while Backes was waived and subsequently traded.

Kovalchuk has nine goals and 13 assists in 39 games played this season and has looked rejuvenated with the Canadiens. It's possible that he could've provided the team with a scoring jolt they need on the second line and at the very least, he would've provided cheap, veteran depth on either wing.

But it's also possible the team could be holding out in hopes of landing a bigger fish, like Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers, as they look to make another run to the Stanley Cup Final. And they did just land Ondrej Kase in a trade involving Backes, so perhaps they're hoping he can make an impact on their middle-two lines.

We'll soon see exactly what the Bruins have planned for Monday. But if Don Sweeney wants to make one last move to strengthen the Bruins core, he'll have to move fast to get it done as trade options continue to fly off the board.

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Who will be next to 700 goals now that Alex Ovechkin has done it? It sure feels like David Pastrnak

Who will be next to 700 goals now that Alex Ovechkin has done it? It sure feels like David Pastrnak

Alex Ovechkin left no doubt about his 700th career goal in the NHL when he scored it on Saturday afternoon, and good for him.

It came from the opposite face-off circle from where No. 8 does most of his damage for the Washington Capitals power play, but it was still an Ovie one-time rocket that he roofed past New Jersey goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. It’s really the way any milestone NHL goal should be for a legendary NHLer like Ovechkin.

It was one of many things to celebrate about the NHL on a jam-packed Saturday in February and it also reminded everybody the 34-year-old Capitals star is the premier goal-scorer and game-breaker of his generation. With 42 goals already on his ledger for this season while on a pace for 57 goals, it’s also clear the Russian scoring machine isn’t all that close to slowing down either.

He may pass by Mike Gartner (708 goals) on the all-time list as early as this season, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-record 894 career goals could be attainable for Ovie as well. He’d have to play until he was 40 years old and continue to average 40 goals per season, but Ovechkin has put himself in position to at least have a shot at the Great One.

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It all begs the question as to which player will be next to hit the 700 goals milestone in the NHL.

Steve Stamkos may get there with 422 career goals at 30 years old with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s probably got the best chance of any NHL player over the age of 25 years old. He’s on pace for 39 goals this season and would need to stay on that pace until he was 37 years old to reach that mark, a possibility given his work ethic, his status in Tampa Bay, and an offensive game that’s centered around his one-timer on the power play.

But the guy with perhaps the best shot to get there in the future?

It’s got to be 23-year-old Bruins superstar David Pastrnak, who leads the NHL with 45 goals after scoring two more in Saturday night’s 9-3 loss to the Canucks, and is on pace for 60 goals and 115 points in a monster season for the Black and Gold.

Pastrnak is going to finish this season close to 200 career goals at just 23 years old, and arguably has 15 good seasons in front of him based on dazzling offensive skills once again prominently reliant on a deadly one-timer from the face-off dot.

All Pastrnak has to do is average 35 goals per season until he’s 38 years old to reach the 700-goal milestone at 38 years old, and he’ll get close to 800 career goals if he can average 40 goals per season over the next decade-and-a-half. Obviously, it’s dependent on Pastrnak remaining healthy and productive for a long, long time, but the Bruins right winger is in a position to accomplish some of these things after entering the NHL as its youngest player during his 2014-15 NHL rookie season.

Certainly, Pastrnak’s coach thinks he can get there, and the winger should be in line for massive numbers as long as he’s part of the Perfection Line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I’m going to say Pasta because I love the kid, and he’s young, and he’s scoring,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked who might be the next 700-goal guy in the NHL. “I think it’s always about health, it’s always [about] are you surrounded by good players to help you? I mean, if you’re the only guy out there on your team, I think it would be hard every night for 82 games to try to push that. [Pastrnak] has got good support. Yeah, I think he’s one of those guys. I haven’t looked close enough to [Steven] Stamkos’ age to see what – because you always have to project, but in terms of the younger guys, Laine could be that guy because he has such a terrific shot; you tend not to lose that. He’s always going to be on the power play. That’s what’s helped Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] obviously to be able to maintain his sort of marks on the power play.

“But I think a lot of it has to do with health. I would have to think about that one a little bit more about which guys probably after two, three years. Is [Nikita] Kucherov in that mix? Does he score enough, or does he pass too much? Brayden Point scores a lot of goals, but he’s also a disher at times. I think it does take a certain amount of shot-first mentality if you’re going to challenge that many. Auston

Matthews probably has to be in that conversation as well, the way he shoots the puck. There are guys out there, [but] it’s probably just a little early to predict with those younger guys.”

Similar to Pastrnak, the 22-year-old Matthews would need to average 35 goals per season for the next 15 years to get to the 700-goal mark. That’s a doable thing for a former No. 1 overall pick and a player that’s on pace for 56 goals of his own this season for the Maple Leafs. The same with 24-year-old Leon Draisaitl, who will finish with around 170 career goals after this season and would need to average 35 goals per season until he was 39 years old to reach that mark as well.

Put all of it together and it feels like Pastrnak and Matthews are the two most likely candidates to be the next 700-goal guys in the league, so let’s put this article in a time capsule and release it 15 years from now to how it all actually played out.