BOSTON — When Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy came into this world in December of 1997, Boston captain Zdeno Chara already was a month into his NHL career.
On Tuesday, a thankful McAvoy spoke with excitement about next season after making his NHL debut in the Bruins’ first-round Stanley Cup playoffs loss to the Ottawa Senators.
So, too, did the 40-year-old Chara.
Chara just wrapped up his 19th NHL season, and is already looking forward to getting back out there for No. 20. He spoke Tuesday at the team’s breakup day about how he’s not sure when his career finally will conclude, but he’s still focused on playing.
The Bruins captain has one more year on a seven-year contract extension he signed with the club just prior to Boston’s 2010-11 Stanley Cup season and is eligible to sign another extension this summer. That’s ultimately a two-way decision between the player and organization, but Chara — who carries a reduced $4 million salary cap hit in 2017-18 — hopes to find common ground.
“It’s something that probably management has to think about and make a decision on that,” Chara said Tuesday. “I’ve said many times I want to play and would like to play beyond this contract. I want to still be very effective and still want to get better and improve and maintain my game and keep adding to my game. It’s a game that’s going extremely fast forward with a lot of improvements and skill assets and you have to be able to make those adjustments. That’s my focus before every season to be able to make adjustments, make those things that make me (an) effective player.”
Invariably, a player of Chara’s age and experience must answer questions about how long he’ll play. Chara doesn’t sound interested in having that conversation anytime soon.
“I can’t really say the number (when I’m going to retire),” he said. “People would say (they’ll play until they’re) 45, Jaromir (Jagr) said 50. … I can’t really put a number on that. I just wanna play, and have fun and compete, work hard. I love everything about it. I love the sacrifice, I love the pains that go with it. I love playing with young guys, I love playing with older guys, I love being around my teammates. I’m getting so much support from family. This is what I want to do and I want to do it as long as I can and as long as I’m effective. My job is to be ready and effective.”
Is Chara the same player he was when he signed that contract extension in 2010, two years removed from a Norris Trophy and about to play the best hockey of his life on the way to Boston winning the Cup in 2011? Of course not. But 75 regular-season games and then six playoff games, he proved he’s still capable of handling a top pairing workload. The 23:20 of ice time per night was his lowest in 15 years, but he kicked it into high gear in the playoffs when the banged-up B’s needed him most. Chara averaged 28:46 (nearly two minutes more than his career postseason average) of ice time per night in the six-game series.
“I think that maybe for some others, it’s some sign they shouldn’t be worrying too much about managing my minutes, but again it’s something that’s out of my control,” Chara said. “I can only control what I can control, and that’s being in shape and when they give me those minutes, I’m handling them. I love it. I enjoy it. I want to be on the ice all the time and I want to be on the ice in all the situations.”
In addition to the big minutes in the playoffs, he also was instrumental in helping along McAvoy, who on Tuesday credited Chara for his impressive debut. Even as Chara sees a decrease in ice time, he still brings plenty of intangible value to the dressing room.
“The thing that struck me the most,” McAvoy said, “was the kind of guy he was off the ice as far as taking me under his wing and talking hockey, and even non-hockey related stuff. It was just — it’s unbelievable to have someone like that talking to you. …. He’s an unbelievable hockey player, and it was just very special be with that guy and learn as much as I can from him, and I hope in the future I can continue to grow through him.”
Whether Chara is around to guide McAvoy and the rest of a promising young Bruins core remains to be seen. There’s the contract matter, yes, but some have even suggested the Bruins be open to the possibility of trading him in the right situation. If the big blueliner had it his way, though, he’d remain in the Hub for the rest of his career — however long that may be.
“There’s a vision. I do have a vision,” Chara said. “But as we all know, anything can happen in hockey. As much as it’s sports, it’s so beautiful to have players staying with one team and retiring in that team. It’s possible, but it’s something you can’t always rely on. It’s something that could happen and it might not happen.”
For now, Chara’s immediate focus is on getting a little rest. He’s a few days into a break from workouts and is enjoying adding a few more calories to his diet while indulging a sweet tooth, but the time to get back to work isn’t far away. Talk about the end of his Hall of Fame career can wait.
“You think about it, but it’s not the major or main thing I think about,” he said. “Right now, I’m thinking about the (offseason) and being in good shape and making myself better. … I kind of keep it shorter term, not looking too much ahead. That’s the way I look at it.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images