From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Zdeno Chara.
Zdeno Chara, who turns 42 in March, had a strong season as one of the oldest players in the NHL and still held onto the mantle of No. 1 defenseman with the Bruins as he overcame a late-season injury to be ready for the two rounds of the playoffs. It may be that Charlie McAvoy passes Chara in terms of ice time and responsibilities as the “No. 1 guy” in the next season or two, but Chara served notice last season that he might be ready to play for another four or five years based on health.
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What Happened Last Year: At 41, Chara averaged 22:54 of ice time, finished with seven goals and 23 points despite pretty much zero power-play time and formed a very strong top pairing with McAvoy once the Bruins opted to go that way. Chara had days where the schedule caught up to him a little bit, he had a shoulder injury late in the season, but the pairing with McAvoy certainly seemed to bring out the best in both players. Chara is still the best penalty killer in the league and there were times when the 6-foot-9 D-man would stay out to kill an entire two-minute power play, which is ridiculous given his age and how many minutes he still plays nightly. Still, Chara has proven to be a bit of a freak of nature at this point that can do the unthinkable and accomplish things on the ice as a shutdown D-man that others will simply never be able to do.
Questions To Be Answered This Season: The only questions with a future Hall of Fame player is how good he’ll continue to be this season and how long he’ll be able to do it? There’s no reason to think that Chara is going to drop off the table given last season’s performance and given Chara’s insane conditioning regimen, but he’s also going to turn 42 this season and at some point, he’s going to demonstrably slow down. That’s already happened to some degree, but Chara has been able to compensate for it with size, strength and smarts. Eventually, he won’t be able to do that anymore, but the Bruins are smartly scaling back his responsibilities and how much he needs to play. It’s the reason that Chara no longer plays on the power play and instead focuses on the penalty kill as a shutdown guy. With careful usage, Chara should be a top-four shutdown D-man for at least a couple more seasons, but it will be the best scenario for the Bruins when McAvoy is ready to shoulder more of a No. 1 workload and allow Big Zee to slow down properly.
In Their Own Words: “There are certainly a lot of positives we can build on going forward and, obviously, for next year. You know, we have a great group of guys. Younger guys made huge improvements. We compensate for each other really well during the season and proved that we can be a very good team. We had a very strong regular season, and, obviously, playing Toronto in the first round was challenging. They have a really good team, and we were able to move on. In Tampa, we didn’t play our best, but it was a hard-fought series and, for sure, something we can learn from and use as a motivation for upcoming years.” –Chara, looking back at last season and what is facing the Bruins ahead as they look to keep building upward.
Overall Outlook: Chara has put together a Hall of Fame career the past 20 years, and it just keeps going, and going, and going. The time on ice is beginning to scale back ever so slightly and the Bruins are smartly managing his workload, but you still see Chara out on the ice for all the most important moments of the game. The 6-9 defensive stopper is still a great leader, a great defender and one of the toughest competitors who sets the bar for everybody else on the team. In some ways, he’s been underappreciated for how good he's truly been over the course of his career, but his ability to play into his mid-40’s is going to open a lot of eyes to just how good the big guy has been in Boston.