By Court Lalonde (follow @courtlalonde)
It was July 1st, 2006 and the Boston Bruins went all in on defenseman Zdeno Chara. The Ottawa Senators chose Wade Redden over Chara, and the rest is Bruins history. In his first season, he was named Bruins captain after the previous season saw the departure of then captain Joe Thornton, a trade that sent shock waves through the Bruins faithful. The Bruins failed to make the playoffs in his first season but he was able to match his career-high point totals from the previous season, and the team showed signs of improvement.
The following year the Bruins made the playoffs, and he started to cement himself as the dominate force on the backend in the NHL. The Bruins would make the playoffs the next seven seasons and a lot of that had to do with the play of one Zdeno Chara. He would play in five all-star games and win the Norris in 2009 as the NHL’s best defenseman. He was the new face of the Boston Bruins and was leading by example.
In 2011 it all came together for him and the Boston Bruins by leading his team to the Stanley Cup finals. The Bruins would win the Cup in game seven on the back of Tim Thomas, but it was Chara’s defensive physical presence that really set the tone for those playoffs opposing players dreaded stepping on the ice with Chara. He was the first Slovak to captain a team and win a Stanley Cup. He became a hero in Boston and was able to bring the team back to the finals in 2013 only to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. The Bruins would make the playoffs the next year after winning the Presidents Trophy but would be knocked out in the second round to their hated rivals the Montreal Canadians. Media and fans would say that he had lost a step in those playoffs and didn’t look like the dominant player he once was.
The Bruins haven’t made the playoffs since, and the knock on him now is that he is too slow and can’t keep up. For a guy that is 39 years old, he looks like he is doing just fine. The problem is when your one of the best in the league for so long it’s hard to not being able to do the things you once could. This year he has a new role, the one of a teacher to a young Brandon Carlo. Chara is averaging 23:13 minutes a night and Carlo is getting 21:00 minutes a night, the majority with Chara by his side. Carlo seems to be soaking up this experience like a sponge it doesn’t hurt that he has one of the best teachers in the game. In 54 games with the Bruins this year, Carlo has four goals, eight assists for 12 points and a -3 rating. In Chara’s second season in the league, he played 59 games with two goals, six assists for eights points and a -8 rating. If we were to compare the two, I would say Carlo is having a great rookie campaign with the usual rookie mistakes, but he will learn.
Bruins’ faithful should be optimistic about the play of their young rookie this year and realize the team has something special in this kid. He has looked vulnerable and overwhelmed on the ice at times, but this is part of the learning curve of a rookie NHL defenseman. Recently he has put together a string of poor performances on the ice. Some fans and media have been calling for the management to trade him while his value is high. That would be the wrong decision in my opinion. The kid has the confidence of Claude Julien, that is a rare occurrence for a young player in the Bruins organization. In a season of ups and downs, he has been that glimmer of hope that things are going to get better down the road.
(Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
Zdeno Chara is on pace to have one of his worst statistically speaking year as a Boston Bruin. The average age in the NHL this year is 27.3, and he is 39 and playing like a 27-year-old. Defenseman in this league should wish they will be able to play in this league as long as he has and still be competitive. The compressed schedule that the Bruins have had in the first half of the season has been hard on the whole team. With less four games in seven nights on the horizon, we should see a recharged, more impactful player on the ice.
I feel that he was the biggest omission from the NHL’s top 100 list that just came out at the All-Star break this year. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer and has had a career to back that up. I don’t know who we would remove from the list to put him on, but I’m sure he came close to making it. Like most fans when it came out I was going through it and wondering why this name and not this name. From what I read in the media the top three names not on the list seem to be former Bruins in Joe Thornton, Cam Neely, and Zdeno Chara. I live in Canada, and my media sources aren’t pro-Bruins, so that is saying a lot for those three careers.
Zdeno has one year left after this year under contract with the Boston Bruins. I’m sure if you asked him, he would say that he will play until he is 50. In ten seasons with the Bruins, he has had nine seasons with 100+ hits, seven seasons with 40+ points, and six seasons with 10+ goals. If I were Brandon Carlo, I would feel like the luckiest rookie in the league because he’s taught by one of the most dominant defensemen ever to play the game.