It is hard to quantify exactly what Chara has meant to the Boston Bruins.
In his 14 seasons as Bruins captain, he has put together quite the resume. Over his 1,023 regular season games, Chara has racked up 148 goals and 333 assists. His plus/minus in Boston is a staggering plus 240.
However, regular season statistics certainly fail at telling his full story.
Chara has suited up for a monumental amount of postseason games in a Bruins jersey — 150, to be exact. Big Z has helped the Bruins to the National Hockey League postseason on 11 occasions.
After the Bruins shut out the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, Chara had the honor of being the first Bruin since 1972 to raise the Stanley Cup in victory. As he was skating over to hockey’s Holy Grail, he whirled around to give one last victory screech and pointed back to the Boston scrum.
Even when he had the honor of receiving the greatest trophy in sports, Chara had his teammates in mind.
Once he grabbed Stanley, it was clear Chara’s brand new championship hat was not coming along for the ride. He was so full of ecstasy he knocked his cap clean off his head. That image will forever be ingrained in Bruins fans’ hearts.
Unfortunately, that was almost a decade ago. The Chara that can dominate play and skate for more than 27 minutes a night as a No. 1 defenseman is gone.
As was the case for many Bruins skaters during their recent playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chara was not effective. He was constantly getting beat to loose pucks and struggling to dictate the pace of play. He was a far cry from the Zdeno Chara Boston fans had spent nearly a decade and a half enjoying.
With his contract set to expire at the end of the 2020 postseason, Bruins fans are questioning whether or not Big Z should hang up the skates.
That line of thinking is questionable to say the least. First off, many of these problems are not new for Chara. He has certainly lost a step, or three, in the last few seasons. Every sane person can recognize that.
However, Chara’s game is not based on acceleration. He is an incredibly smart and savvy veteran who knows how to stop great players from scoring.
Yes, he will get burned for bad goals. Yes, he often struggles making plays with the puck. But his size, strength and smarts are still very valuable. He makes several plays away from the puck that do not jump off the screen.
Bruins fans will certainly notice the gargantuan hole left behind when Chara does eventually retire.
Not to mention, Chara makes an incredible impact throughout the Bruins organization. He wants everyone who puts on a Bruins sweater to feel like they are a key part of the team. Chara has said that he does not like the word “rookie” because it is a dividing term. He sees everyone, no matter their experience, as a teammate.
Also not to be brushed over is Chara’s insane workout regimen. Even at 43, with a hall-of-fame body of work, he is always looking to get in even better shape. He sets an example of professionalism every hockey captain should aspire to obtain.
The days of Chara being a top Boston defenseman appear to be over. But he can absolutely still help the Bruins win hockey games.
Next year, Boston would be smart to bring him back and lower his minutes. He should also be paired with younger defensemen to help ease them into the NHL.
In certain defensive situations, such as on the penalty kill, the Bruins would want Chara on the ice. Teaching youthful players what it takes to be a defenseman at hockey’s highest level, while stymieing opponents from scoring, sounds like a perfect role for Chara at this stage of his career.
Chara has given Boston too much to be pushed out the door into retirement. He has been a terrific captain who helped lead the Bruins to their most successful 10-year stretch since a guy named Bobby Orr was flying around the Boston Garden.
Chara’s larger-than-life persona helped reignite the Bruins’ fire when the organization was experiencing hard times. If the 43-year-old feels he can help Boston and wants to come back, then the Bruins’ front office and fan base should respect that. He has earned the right to be back in Boston for the 2021 campaign if he believes he can contribute.