What Zdeno Chara thinks of starting Bruins season as NHL’s oldest player

Matt Kalman
October 03, 2019 - 9:15 am

When Pittsburgh forward Matt Cullen retired on July 10, it made news in Boston because Cullen’s departure from the NHL left Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara as the oldest active player in the league.

Now that he' recovered from the fractured jaw he suffered in the Stanley Cup Final and offseason elbow surgery, and made it through training camp, Chara will take the ice Thursday in Dallas for the Bruins’ season opener as the league’s eldest statesman.

“It’s definitely something that you are aware of,” Chara, who will be 42 years and 199 days old when he faces the Stars, told WEEI.com. “You know as soon as that news came out that Matt would be retiring then I was next one on the list to get that oldest player tag. But at the same time you know, I’m proud that I’m still playing and competing and being part of the league and the team and still working hard and still enjoying. So yeah, it’s fun.”

Chara’s often reticent about talking about his height (6-foot-9) and his age because he doesn’t want to be singled out as special for anything other than his play, which has made him one of the most feared defensemen in the league for two decades and a Norris Trophy winner in 2009.

But in the relaxed atmosphere of the dressing room during training camp, Chara took a couple minutes to reflect on the time since he cracked the NHL in 1997-98 with the New York Islanders.

“You can probably look back at say you know like, not as much as it’s been so long, but more like ‘wow it went by so fast,’” he said. “You know I still remember when I was in my second year on Long Island and Butch Goring came to me and Eric Brewer, at that time I was 20, 21, Eric was I think a year younger, and he told us to enjoy it, it’s going to go by so fast. Before we knew it, it was going to be the end of our careers. And we looked at each other obviously with a smirk and we were like, ‘yeah right.’ And now sure enough, it’s easy to kind of forget. But it goes fast, even of course, 23 years it’s not a short period of time.”

Chara will play this season on his second straight one-year, incentive-laden deal, which allows the Bruins salary cap flexibility while he continues to pursue a second career Stanley Cup title. It’s up to the Bruins to use that cap space to put the best players they can around him, including recently re-signed restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

The McAvoy and Carlo negotiations dragged into training camp, and had they continued into the regular season could’ve cost the Bruins crucial points and hampered their drive for the best possible position before making that next Cup run.

Chara, though, didn’t worry that those talks were going to go so long that they would mess up the Bruins’ plans. He’s seen the player-management relationship change a lot over the past 20 years.

“No, no I don’t believe that would happen. I really believe that teams think differently these days,” he said. “I think that, I have to tell you, back in my kind of old days, it was different. You know teams would really make you sit out. You would be close and almost like to the point where, ‘OK, let’s get it done.’ And they’d be like ‘OK, we’ll get back to you.’ And purposely they would be going another week or two or three. And then you’d be like ‘OK, what’s happening, why isn’t it happening?’ And purposely they would kind of put the pressure.

“But I think that it didn’t go well. I think that eventually you kind of interfered with the chemistry or the relationship between player and team. So I think both sides realized ‘let’s get it done before.’ And now in these days, it’s even sooner because players also want to be at the camp and the teams want to have them in the camp so they can get really ready for the season. Because if you sign a player two days before the season, then it’s like ‘OK, is he in shape?’ You’ve got to put him in the lineup. So I think they want to do good for each other as well.”

Chara may have more years on this Earth than anyone else in the NHL, but he also has a high-caliber supporting cast around him and a great chance to be one of the older Cup winners.