BRIGHTON, Mass – At 40 years old and entering the final year of his contract with the Bruins, one might expect that Zdeno Chara was hoping to finish things up strong next season and ride off into the Boston sunset as a future Hall of Fame shutdown defenseman.
One would be totally wrong, however.
Chara finished off a very strong season for the Bruins as their de facto No. 1 defenseman and averaged a whopping 28:46 of ice time during Boston’s six games of playoff hockey. It wasn’t by design, obviously, as Chara was pushed into some games where he went over 30 minutes of ice time due to the blue line injuries and overtimes, and it wasn’t always perfect as evidenced by Chara’s minus-3 rating in the series and his disastrous delay of game penalty at the end of a Game 2 loss in Ottawa.
But by and large it was an excellent season for Chara as a shutdown D-man paired with Brandon Carlo where his leadership benefited the 20-year-old rookie, and Carlo’s mobility and puck-moving helped bring out the best in Chara’s game as well. The 10 goals and 29 points and plus-18 in 75 games while averaging 23:20 of ice time was a strong showing for the Bruins captain, and undoubtedly encouraged Chara that the end is not near for his career.
With that in mind, Chara said during Tuesday’s breakup day that he welcomed a discussion about a contract extension with the Bruins following July 1 as he hopes to continue playing beyond next season.
“Of course I would,” said Chara, when asked if he’d be interested in an extension this summer. “It’s something where I want to continue to play, and I take a lot of pride in my offseason training and being ready for every season. It’s probably something that management has to think about and make a decision about, but I’ve said many times that I would like to play beyond this contract.
“I want to still be very effective and still get better and improving while maintaining my game, and adding to my game. It’s a game that’s going extremely fast as we go forward with a lot of skill assets. You have to be able to make those adjustments, and that’s a focus for me going into every season so I can be an effective player.”
Clearly it would need to be under optimal conditions for the Bruins to extend Chara at this point in his career, but a short term contract that pays the aging D-man something in the neighborhood of next season’s cap hit ($4 million) would be palatable for a player that’s easily still a top-4 defenseman in the twilight of his career.
There just shouldn’t be any expectation he’s going to get additional term or be anywhere close to his salary total for this season that was in the $7 million range, and instead it will be a potential contract extension that reflects Chara’s value to the Bruins even if Mother Nature is starting to slow him down a little bit.
Chara’s skating game certainly has slowed for a 6-foot-9 defenseman that never counted skating as a real strength, and you don’t ever see him wind up and blast away full strength with that 108-mph slap shot that was featured in so many All-Star Game Skills Competitions over the years. But he can also still be a shutdown guy, a dominant penalty killer and an intimidating presence in the defensive zone that causes every offensive player to take pause when he’s out there.
Even if Chara eventually becomes a middle-pairing defenseman over the course of the next couple of seasons, the Bruins could still use his presence on and off-the-ice as a defensive stopper and a mentor to all the young D-men in the organization. So it may be that the Bruins are just as interested as their 40-year-old captain in extending things another year or two with so much roster turnover toward youth expected on the B’s back end over the next few seasons.