By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
A funny thing happened at Bruins’ breakup day at their swanky modern facility in Brighton yesterday. B’s captain – and recent new member to the 40 plus club – was asked by one of the reporters in the scrum surrounding the towering defenseman, if he would consider signing an extension to his contract over the summer if one was offered to him.
His answer, of course, was what you would expect from a player entering the final year of his deal. “It’s something that I want to continue to play [in Boston],” said the dignified D-man. “I take a lot of pride in my off season training and being ready for every season. But again, it’s something that probably management has to think about and make a decision on that.
“But I said it many times, I want to play, I would like to play beyond this contract; I want to still be very effective and still wanting to get better and improve and maintain my game and keep adding to my game.”
Say what you will about the steady decline in his play over the past several seasons, in many ways the 2016/17 campaign was a bounce back for the big man across the board.
What began in an exhibition game for Team Europe in September against a Team North America – that was full of burners who were 23 and under – prior to the World Cup of Hockey last fall, Chara looked like a broken old man that was being targeted by the mosquito-like quick kids. He was turned like a windmill on a number of occasions; so much so, it spurned articles like this one in the Toronto Sun, that questioned his ability to play the game at even an adequate level.
Nevertheless, despite the disses, Chara rebounded; and was one of the key reasons the group of castaways and has-beens on the European squad made it to the tournament finals, only to lose to the home-country Canadians.
The captain also was a driving force behind the emergence of rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo, who unexpectedly made the Bruins roster out of camp. Carlo almost immediately was bumped to the first paring with Chara, and – although he hit a wall during the midway point of the season – exceeded expectations during his initial NHL season.
With reduced power play minutes, his role changed, and that proved to be a change for the better. Put in the position to be simply a shutdown defender, his overall minutes played was still a hefty 23:20 a game on average. And while he certainly didn’t play to his Norris Trophy winning level of 2009, he still was the Bruins best defender by far.
That being said, what’s the rush? Chara is under contract for a very affordable $4 million for next season; a season in which he will turn 41 before it ends. Unless your name happens to be Tom Brady, athletes entering that age bracket are often prone to falling off of a cliff performance-wise, regularly.
Chara most likely will be asked to play at least top two pairing minutes next season, and who knows what he will look like a year from now. There is simply no need to put the cart before the horse here, and with the affinity he has publicly professed to the Bruins and the city of Boston, odds are pretty high that he would be just as willing to talk contract in 12 months, as he is right now.
The Bruins started the off-season on the right foot, naming Bruce Cassidy their head coach on Wednesday morning. And while there is much heavy lifting left for general manager Don Sweeney between now and the start of camp this September, getting Zdeno Chara extended should not be his list of priorities any time soon.