At 40, Zdeno Chara ready to prove himself once again
Zdeno Chara’s place in hockey’s history is cemented.
He has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy six times in his career and has one on his shelf. He’s a six-time All-Star and, when he was going to that mid-season extravaganza regularly, he owned the hardest shot competition. The Bruins captain, at 6-foot-9 and 265 pounds, is such a unique physical specimen that he will and should get Hall of Fame consideration when he retires.
But as much as he’s proven in this game, Chara still has something else to prove — that he can still be a formidable player as a 40-year-old in this new go-go NHL of today.
He’s not concerned about that.
“You always have to prove yourself, no matter your age, no matter what kind of season you had. You can have an MVP season, but you still have to come back and prove it again,” said Chara on Tuesday after captain’s practice in Brighton. “I can talk about my Norris Trophy years and all that stuff, but every year I came back and wanted to prove that I belonged as a top defenseman. Now it’s the same thing. All the (Norris) nominations are probably past, but I still want to contribute to the game just like I did before.
“The game’s changed a little bit and the way they look at the defensemen and how they’re judged sometimes, but it doesn’t really affect me. I always want to come back and be motivated, do whatever I can and play the best for the team. I always felt that I can play for a long time and that I’m in shape. I’m healthy. That’s just what I wish for me — to be healthy so I can play for a long time and still be very effective.”
Chara is embarking on the final season of a seven-year, $45 million deal. He’s no longer at the top of the pay pole for Bruins defensemen as his salary and cap hit drop to $4 million this year (Torey Krug tops the list at $5.25 million a year). His appearances on the power play are of the cameo variety.
There is no guarantee that he will finish his career in Black and Gold. The B’s have a bevy of left shot defensemen in their system — Jakub Zboril, Robbie O’Gara, Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen — that could be knocking on the door this year or next.
But he proved last year he can be a very valuable player at the age of 39. He doesn’t think 40 will be much different.
Chara said there have been no contract extension talks so far, but he’d be open to talking during the season.
“I would be. There’s no secrets about that. I want to stay here and continue to play,” said Chara.
Just how long he wants to play could be a sticking point. And right now, Chara does not know the answer to that question.
“I definitely want to play beyond this season,” said Chara. “It’s really hard to put a number on it. Some people do, some people don’t. I just obviously want to play longer than this season.”
While the B’s youth movement may one day end Chara’s run in Boston, he has taken to the role of mentor. He played most of last season with rookie Brandon Carlo and he helped the Colorado native have a very good debut season. Then in the playoffs, he played some with rookie Charlie McAvoy and the Boston University product also benefited from his time with the captain.
It is a good bet that Chara, who was a plus-16 from the time Bruce Cassidy took over as coach, will start the season with either Carlo or McAvoy on his right side.
He’d be happy with that.
“I really enjoy being around the young guys,” said Chara. “I enjoy coming to the rink every day and enjoy playing with them. It’s a little bit of a teaching process, a little friendship and kind of the bonding. You’ve got have respect for each other and treat each other equally no matter how many games you’ve played. I always treated the guy next to me as an equal.”