The Future of Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara

Zdeno Chara

As Boston Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, his future in hockey comes into question. The 43-year-old has expressed his desire to continue playing in Boston but the organization will have to make a tough decision on the future of their captain.

The Zdeno Chara Effect

After his 14th season in Boston, Zdeno Chara expressed his interest in staying with the Bruins. “I want to stay in Boston. I want to be a Boston Bruin, and I want to continue to lead by example and share my experiences and my games skills with the younger players and my teammates,” Chara said.

Those qualities are the main reasons why he deserves to stay in the city he now calls home. As the Bruins captain and oldest player in the league, Chara brings a veteran presence that can’t be disputed. He has played in 1553 games and an additional 195 postseason games. As far as on the ice, Chara has seen it all.

His experience alone greatly benefits the team and especially the defencemen in Boston. With Torey Krug likely leaving in free agency, the future of the Bruins defence lies in the young hands of Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk.

Chara’s experience and leadership have helped groom the younger defenders for an increased role. McAvoy spoke about how much Chara has taught him over the previous three seasons. “He’s as good as anyone in the league to learn under. I’ve learned so many lessons on the ice, off the ice.” McAvoy said. “Like I said, it’s something I don’t take for granted. I’m extremely blessed and fortunate to learn under this guy and have him as a friend and a teammate.”

Chara has been instrumental in getting younger players up to speed. His experience’s over 22 years are invaluable to the Bruins organization. Not only does his leadership help the players in the locker room, but he also represents the Bruins organization and the city of Boston with class. As one of the most well-respected players in the league, his presence and leadership alone are worth bringing back for another year in Boston.

Zdeno Chara On the Ice

Zdeno Chara may not be the player he once was, but he’s still useful in the right role. According to Natural Stat Trick, in 1198 minutes on ice at even strength this season, Chara was on the ice for just 38 goals against. This was less than both McAvoy and Krug. Additionally, Boston’s save percentage while Chara was on the ice at even strength was 92.3, his highest since 2013-14.

Chara is still effective on the penalty kill as Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, trusted him more than any other defensemen on that unit. Chara’s 217 minutes on the penalty kill was the fourth most of any defencemen in the league this season. He was just one of 12 defencemen to see more than 200 minutes of ice time on the PK for any given team.

Among those 12 defencemen, he was on the ice for the fifth-lowest number of scoring chances against and was the fourth-lowest number of high danger scoring chances against. With Chara on the ice for a penalty kill, Boston’s save percentage was 88.24 percent, the best among any of the twelve defenders.

Chara’s numbers prove that he’s still effective on the penalty kill. He makes smart decisions with the puck and can extinguish an opposing team’s chances. While his offensive numbers and his skating have declined, there’ still a role for him to be effective.

Not A Sure Thing He’ll Return to Boston

Although Chara’s numbers suggest he’s effective on the penalty kill, it’s clear he can’t handle the workload he once did. In this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chara oftentimes looked slow and out of position. His age is making it a challenge to keep up with most players in the league.

The previous two Bruins seasons have ended at the hands of teams with a combination of size and speed. Boston was physically dominated by the St. Louis Blues during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. In the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning proved to be too much to handle with their physicality and depth.

The Bruins have been ousted by physical teams who can give the Bruins all they can handle. At 43-years-old, it should no longer be Chara’s job to match the physicality. The Bruins need to get more physical and their 43-year-old captain should not have to be the first one to answer the bell.

If Zdeno Chara were to return to Boston, it would be much different than what he’s accustomed to. His role would likely be demoted to second or third-line pairing, giving way to players like McAvoy, Carlo and Grzelcyk. His role on the penalty kill may remain the same but his overall minutes must come down to remain effective.

With a reduced role in Boston’s lineup, it is safe to assume Chara must be comfortable with taking a reduced salary on a new contract. Coming off a deal with a $3.75 average-annual-value, a new contract will have to be a decent pay cut. To return for another season, Chara may be looking at an offer of around $1.5 million annually.

Final Verdict

Zdeno Chara has been Boston’s captain since he arrived in 2006. He’s won a James Norris Memorial Trophy, a Stanley Cup Championship, a Mark Messier Leadership Award and nominated to six All-Star teams during his tenure in Boston.

While his overall play has dropped off during the past few seasons, he’s still effective in a reduced role. As a penalty kill specialist and a second or third pairing on defence, it would be smart for Boston to bring him back. Chara’s leadership is second to few and his presence to the team and city of Boston is immense. He will need to accept a smaller role and salary as his options outside of Boston will be limited.

Moving on from Chara would create a large hole in the entire organization. The Bruins don’t have any players vying for top defensive pair minutes other than Carlo and McAvoy. Additionally, moving on from Chara would not change Boston’s offseason’s plans dramatically. Even if Krug walks, the Bruins won’t have enough cap space to sign a marquee defenceman in free agency.

Bringing Chara back for another year at a cheap price seems like the logical, and likely, option for both sides.

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