Among the oldest active players in the NHL is Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who will turn 42 next March and is on just a one-year contract for 2018-19. While many have pointed to his dwindling point totals in recent years as a signal that Chara’s game is declining, many in Boston will tell you that there is still quite a bit of hockey left in the Bruins captain. Head coach Bruce Cassidy is one of those who thinks there may be more to Chara than just this season, and he told WEEI radio that directly:
[Chara]’s got a lot of hockey left in him. I know that for a fact. He trains harder than anyone I know, his conditioning is through the roof. He’s trying to stay current with the game and the way it is played, working on his puck skills and getting back on pucks. Those little things that maybe the average person doesn’t see every night, that he’s working on maybe three or four games after we lost out [of the playoffs]. He wants to have his legacy run a lot longer than just one more year, and I wouldn’t put it past him to play four or five more years in this league.
Chara is projected to come into the season only behind Matt Cullen of the Pittsburgh Penguins in age, but still logged nearly 23 minutes a night for the Bruins in 2017-18. The ageless defenseman even received Norris Trophy votes, something he hadn’t done since finishing as the runner-up in 2013-14. That’s because of his incredible penalty killing ability and support for the new wave of Bruins defensemen led by Charlie McAvoy. Chara no longer gets the powerplay opportunities for Boston, but kills almost four minutes of short-handed time every night and is still extremely tough to play against in his own end.
With over 1,400 games played already, another four or five seasons would certainly be an incredible accomplishment. Chris Chelios currently ranks first all-time in games played by a defenseman with 1,651, a number that Chara could potentially eclipse in just three seasons. If he can continue to play at such a high level—and his infamous fitness and health regime gives him a good chance at that—there’s no reason to think he couldn’t take over the all-time lead. The Bruins will have to decide whether that will be in Boston though, as the team will have lots of contracts to worry about in the near future. McAvoy is a restricted free agent for the first time next season, as are Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato and Brandon Carlo. There’s little chance that Chara would test free agency if Boston wanted him back though, especially if he’s still making a positive impact on the ice.