A question that has Bruins fans split, should the team bring back their 43-year-old captain? The Bruins already watched Krug walk, a key part of their defense. Can they afford to add a 6’9” hole to an already weakened defense? The recent extension for Grzelcyk confirms he will slot into Krug’s role. The question now is who plays on the top pair with McAvoy? Another question only Zdeno Chara can answer is does he even want to return? While this article can't speak for Chara it can look at the pros and cons of bringing back the Bruins captain.
A Brief History Of Big Z
New York Islanders
Zdeno Chara was drafted 56th overall by the New York Islanders in the 1996 entry draft. Chara instantly entered the record books as the tallest player in NHL history. The 97-98 season would see Chara make his NHL debut at 20 years old. The first four years of Chara’s career were spent playing for the Islanders. During that time he played in 231 games scored 6 goals and 29 points with a -61. On June 23rd, 2001 Chara was moved as part of an infamous trade.
The Islanders acquired Alexei Yashin from the Senators sending back Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and the second overall pick in the 2001 draft. That pick became just some guy named Jason Spezza. During the next four seasons, Chara developed into a dominant force in the NHL. In 299 games for the Senators Chara scored 51 goals 146 points and was a +109. It only took one season for Chara to score more goals in Ottawa 10 than he scored his whole time with the Islanders 6. Also during his four years in Ottawa Chara finished in the top 5 in Norris voting two times.
This brings us to the summer of 2008. The notoriously cheap Senators allowed their star defenseman to hit unrestricted free agency. As a result, Chara signed a five year 37.5 million dollar contract with the Bruins. Zdeno Chara was the foundation this current Bruins team was built on and 14 years later he's still at it. Since day one Chara has been the captain of the Bruins he has also twice been a first-team all-star and three times was named to the second team. Chara also won the Norris trophy in 08-09 and the Messier award in 10-11. Since arriving in Boston Chara has also finished in the top 5 in Norris voting another five times. He has played in 1023 games scored 148 goals and 481 points with a +240. For his career that's 1553 games 205 goals 656 points and a +288.
Why The Bruins Should Let Chara Walk
At age 43 and turning 44 this coming March Chara really showed his age in these playoffs. He has been slowing down for a few years now but it was all too apparent in the playoffs he doesn't have the speed to continue being the player he was. With more speedy and skilled forwards than ever in the league having a slower defenseman like Chara could put even more pressure on a young defensive group. Another argument in favor of not bringing Zdeno Chara back is he would-be taking up a roster spot a younger developing players could use. With guys like Vaakanainen and Zboril due for a shot at making the NHL Chara takes up a potential open spot.
Why The Bruins Keep Chara
Let's start this off with he played 21 minutes a game on a President’s Trophy-winning team. That's right Chara was still an effective top pair option last season. In fact, he played the second-most among Bruins defensemen only trailing McAvoy. While he might not have the speed he once did his stick work and positioning are still at elite levels. He frequently breaks up opposing zone entries and pushes opposing forwards away from the middle of the ice. Yes, he gets beat on occasion but when you play against the other teams best forwards that's going to happen. Chara even led all Bruins skaters in plus-minus last year with a +26 and was second in defensive point shares again only trailing McAvoy by 0.1. That's a pretty surprising number considering how glowingly fans talk about Charlie yet are ready to have Chara hang up his skates.
Even more important than his play, is the leadership he brings in that locker room. With the Bruins roster looking a little younger than it has the last few years having a leader like Chara helps the youth understand what it takes to play in the NHL. Ask the Oilers what it's like having a super talented but young team. Ask the Leafs why they went out and added Simmonds and Thornton. Leadership matters in the NHL and Zdeno Chara is one of the best leaders in the league. Finally, he's also coming pretty cheap. Last season he made two million dollars and probably makes less this season bonuses not included. Even if he plays in a reduced role 2 million dollars is a steal for his level of play and intangibles.
It's pretty clear that Chara still adds value to this Bruins team. It's also pretty clear which side I'm on in the debate. Let's also talk about the role Zdeno Chara needs to play. He can't play over 20 minutes a game next season. If the means moving him down the lineup or even having him in a rotation on the top pair he needs to play fewer minutes. 18 minutes a game would probably be where he fits best. Still playing on the PK and playing most when protecting a lead late.
Like the numbers show he's still effective Cassidy just needs to lighten the workload a bit. He also still brings the toughness and grit we have all come to appreciate. Here is a video of him and Tom Wilson dropping the gloves earlier this year. A fresher Chara in the playoffs is a problem for the league. While I don't expect any news soon, as the Bruins try to finalize their roster, I expect Chara back in Black and Gold next season. With that stay safe out there and until next time LET’S GO BRUINS!!
Featured image courtesy of Jonathan Hayward/AP Photo/The Canadian Press.