Zdeno Chara determined to make sure 42 isn’t last birthday in NHL

Matt Kalman
March 18, 2019 - 5:16 pm

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Zdenek Chara, the prominent Greco-Roman wrestler, enjoyed a longer career than most.

“At 47, he was beating up guys that were like 30 years old, wrestling. So he was really good,” his son, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara told WEEI.com on Monday.

The younger Chara is proving that longevity runs in the family. He celebrated birthday No. 42 on Monday, and he’s quite sure it won’t be his last birthday as an active NHL player. Chara’s finishing up the one-year contract he signed last March 28 and he says he’s open to signing another one whenever the Bruins want to get a deal done.

Chara’s averaging 21:02 of ice time per game, almost two full minutes less than last season. But he’s still the Bruins’ go-to defenseman as a penalty killer that sometimes plays the entire shorthanded stretch, and as the shutdown defender asked to stop opponents’ top lines. He still loves to play, and three months since his return from an MCL tear his body is cooperating.

With 10 games to go this season, he has played 1,476 NHL games in his career. He’s currently 25th on the NHL all-time games played list and should be 24th when the season ends. Within reach next season will be 1,000 games with the Bruins and 1,500 career games. A couple seasons down the road he could move into the top 10 and pass Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Larry Murphy and Scott Stevens for second place among defensemen. He would need a third season to pass Chris Chelios for most games played ever by a defenseman.

“Those aren’t too far off but I want to, like I said last year, take it day by day and year by year. Obviously if those get closer, I would obviously think about those things and want to accomplish them,” Chara said.

By the end of his career, Chelios was hanging on. He played seven games for the Atlanta Thrashers and averaged just 11:10 of ice time. That’s not a role Chara envisions he’ll fill in order to just keep his career going and add to his stats.

“I want to contribute. I don’t want to sit on the bench and watch,” he said.

And there are no signs that Chara will have to become a bit player for the Bruins. Based on his defensive prowess alone, Chara looks like he could be a top-four defenseman for at least two more years. If Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk continue to blossom, and prospects like Urho Vaakanainen meet their potential, Chara’s workload can continue to be slightly reduced but he’ll never have to become a penalty-kill specialist or third-pair defenseman.

The only things that could stop Chara’s plans of plowing ahead with his career are health, which he can’t control, and desire, which still burns inside of him. As far back as training camp 2017, Chara told this reporter he’d been seeking advice from players who lasted long in the NHL. On his list were Bourque, Brian Leetch and Nicklas Lidstrom. From Bourque’s triumphant finale as a Stanley Cup winner with Colorado to Leetch’s frustrating injury-hastened end with the Bruins, there was no definite answer Chara could get about when to know it’s time to quit.

“Everybody has a different kind of ending or story. Every story had something,” Chara said back then.

A reason to quit continues to elude Chara.

Looks like we’ll get to ask to revisit this topic with him at 43. And if he follows in his father’s footsteps, we could be talking about it all the way up to 47.

 

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