Signing Chara an EaZee decision for Don Sweeney
In the pregame hoopla before Tom Brady led his team to the AFC championship over Jacksonville, he unveiled his Facebook Watch series, “Tom vs. Time:” “When I see myself out there, I feel like, ‘Man, I still do this and I do it better than I’ve ever done it. So why should I stop?’”
Brady is one of the bookends in the current pantheon of Boston sports taking Father Time head on with Rolex precision; Zdeno Chara is the other. Graybeards at age 40 and unsurpassed in contribution to their respective teams when the overwhelming majority of all professional athletes are long since retired.
While Brady preps for Super Bowl LII, Chara gets a breather during the NHL All-Star weekend after playing his 47th game of the season Thursday night – the entire Bruins season thus far.
Before that first game against Nashville in early October, B’s general manager Don Sweeney was asked about Chara’s playing future after his 41st birthday in March.
“I think he’s earned the right to determine [his future here] and when his career will end,” Sweeney said back on Bruins Media Day. “As long as his game aligns with his pride and preparations that he wants to put forth to keep it at the level he’s accustomed to having it to then we are going to explore having him as part of our group. He’s an impactful player. ”
Listen to Bill Belichick or Bruce Cassidy talk about Brady or Chara, and the keys are synonymous: conditioning, leadership, passion, endurance, mentor, character, productive.
Despite management dictum about in-season contract extensions, there’s no better time to send a good message to the Hub of Hockey than re-signing Chara to a two-year deal between the All-Star Game and the trade deadline. While the next Black and Gold number to be hoisted to the TD Garden rafters is likely Patrice Bergeron’s No. 37, another No. 33 alongside Celtics great Larry Bird is a plausible argument; a second Stanley Cup seals that decision.
Now into his 12th season on Causeway Street and wearing the ‘C’ each year, Chara is on a second one-year deal at $4 million after last year’s $5 million deal. A two-year extension in the $9 million range is more than fair, given another banner season in the making for the Bruins No. 1 defenseman.
Chara is on pace to equal or surpass his last two seasons of 75 and 80 games. He again averages a typical team-high 23-24 minutes a game and 10 times this season exceeded 26 while chipping in with 13 points (four goals, nine assists).
Chara’s trips to the penalty box are on pace for lowest in his career. His lights-out stat thus far is being atop the NHL in the plus-minus category with a plus-24, all while putting up big minutes on the penalty kill. To put that in perspective, the NHL average is minus-.03.
While he may have lost a mile per hour or two in his skating speed and slapshot, Chara more than makes up for in a 6-foot-9 wingspan, intellect for the game, positioning and physicality. It all adds up to one integral reason for Boston’s 18-game-point streak — third-best in franchise history.
“It starts with Zee tonight. He wants to make a difference,” Cassidy said about Chara in a recent Bruins win. “Zee deserves a lot of credit for the win.”
“He’s been around for a long, long time,” Tuukka Rask said about Chara, “and shows no signs of slowing down.”
How many TB12-related echoes in those two summaries?
“I love everything about the game,” Chara said 47 games ago, “and still have a lot of passion, so hopefully I’ll stay.”
Two older guys just playing and contributing and having fun at elite levels.