Zdeno Chara has already expressed his desire to remain a member of the Boston Bruins after taking a couple of days to think things through after Boston’s second-round postseason loss to Tampa Bay. This flew right in the face of several media commentators practically pronouncing his time with the Black and Gold over in the moments leading up to the Game 5 elimination at the hands of Tampa Bay.
It might have been logical to think the 43-year-old B’s captain might bow out when things didn’t always look pretty for the veteran defenseman during the NHL’s Return to Play this summer, but Chara has always maintained he will keep playing for as long as he can.
Clearly it takes two to tango, however, so the B’s thoughts on the matter carried significant weight in Chara’s final decision to return for a 15th season in Boston. He’s already been on record as saying Boston is the only place he wants to be if he plays into his 44th year on the planet.
It sounds like there might be common ground for Chara to come back to Boston on another low-money, one-year deal the same as last season, but “one more year” may also may come with conditions attached to it.
“From day one since he came here, [Chara] brought a lot of stability back on the blue line, in the locker room, the leadership goes without saying. He's mentored a lot of defensemen over the years and he’s continued to do that. He has a great quality about him, his work ethic is second to none, and I think it's important for our players over the years to see what it takes to play in the National Hockey League with someone that really had to [work to] get to a point to be one of the top defensemen in the League,” said Bruins President Cam Neely.
“When he first broke in no one was thinking that. No one was thinking he's going to play until he’s 43 or 44, so that's a testament on his commitment and desire. We have to look at where we're headed, what we need, and what role Zdeno can play for us.”
Chara’s role may end up evolving in Boston with a defensemen group that needs to get faster, more involved in the 5-on-5 offense and even more adept at moving the puck. It might end up being a choice of playing in a third pairing role while also participating heavily on the penalty kill, and in greater amounts when the Bruins are protecting a lead in the third period.
Think of Chara as a third period closer, so to speak.
Those are situations where the 43-year-old is still highly effective battling in the D-zone and playing the shutdown role with less need for him to dynamically step up and step into the offensive play. The last two seasons are also the lowest amounts of ice time per game in Chara’s Hall of Fame career at a shade over 21 minutes a game while still playing a top-4 role. One would expect that number could drop below 20 minutes a game if Chara were to return next season, but he still might also be on the ice with the game on the line in the third period.
The B’s shutdown defenseman said to the Bruins media last week that’s much more important to him than individual accolades or career accomplishments.
“My emphasis and my focus is on the team. I just want to continue to play. Not because I just want to get the games in…I want to play because I believe I have a lot to offer. I have a lot to bring to the team. I believe in my abilities and I continue to go after my dreams. My dreams are not reaching stats. My dream is to compete and be on the ice in crucial situations and defend,” said Chara. “When it matters, making strong defensive plays [is what matters]. For me, it’s always being out there, being on the ice, doing my thing.
“In the offseason, [it is] being ready and being in the best possible shape. Helping my teammates, being a good leader and doing whatever I can to help the team win. Yeah, I’m more dedicated to that than just going out there and just basically being OK. Putting the uniform on and just going through the motions and not being engaged.”
Perhaps there might even be instances when Chara might serve as a healthy scratch against faster, skill-laden teams where the 6-foot-9 defenseman might not be a good match-up. These are the kinds of things that could become reality for a proud warrior like Chara were he to stay in Boston. Clearly he’s the kind of team-oriented player who will accept whatever is best for the team, as he’s done in the past when he was taken off the B’s power play units despite the blistering 108-mph slapshot.
“He’s a proud man. When he was taken off the first unit of the power play, I don’t think he was happy about it. But he understood it was probably best for the team. And then he wasn’t on the second unit, I don’t think he was happy about that. But that’s how proud he is,” said Neely. “What I do know, that he wants to be the best defender out there. He’s unbelievable on the penalty kill still. It’s something that he takes a lot of pride in. As any athlete that has all kinds of pride like Zdeno, it’s tough at times to have change.”
The bottom line with all of this: It sounds like there’s a pathway for the Bruins and Chara to add a 15th season to their long-standing, extremely successful marriage that really turned things around for the Black and Gold when he signed as a free agent ahead of the 2006-07 season. That would be a great thing for the B’s and for a city of Boston that’s gotten used to having the legendary 43-year-old captain around in the wintertime.
And it would be for Chara as well, who clearly isn’t quite ready to skate off into that good night either.