NEWPORT, R.I. — Zdeno Chara is not sure what happened. A switch flipped somewhere, and he went from being regarded as one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League to an also-ran with too many years on his birth certificate and too many miles on his skates.
“That’s what struck me — what’s different?” the Bruins captain said Saturday. “One season I’m a Norris Trophy runner-up and the next season I’m too old. One year, all of a sudden you’re too old. It wasn’t fair.”
Injuries had intervened — a torn ligament in his left knee in October cost him 19 games — and he had struggled to return to form in the months following. He was injured again, this time a nondisplaced fracture of his left fibula, at the end of the regular season.
Chara, relaxed and ebullient moments before, had just described in glowing terms his afternoon aboard a racing yacht, a guest of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at the Volvo Ocean Race. But asked about how people perceive him, about his age, his future, and next season, the big defenseman became frustrated.
“I don’t understand why all of a sudden my age is an issue just because I got hurt and I missed a lot of games, a big chunk of the season,” said Chara, 38. “I don’t like it. I don’t like when people start to judge you based on age or the amount of games you played.
“I still feel very motivated, very confident that I’m going to be healthy and strong next season. I don’t know. Obviously I am planning to play beyond what maybe people are guessing or expecting. My plans have always been to play in this league at a high level for a long time.
“Age is obviously a number, but some players or some people are meant to play for way beyond that.”
The defenseman remains under contract for three more seasons, with the final one coming at a reduced cap hit of $4 million. First up, though, is 2015-16, with Chara coming back from the fibula fracture that was only revealed a week after the season ended.
Chara, who shed his walking boot Thursday, took slap shots off concrete Saturday — hitting just 51 miles per hour on the radar gun — and rode along on the yacht, filling one afternoon of an offseason that began far earlier than the Bruins had imagined.
It was a few days into that offseason that Chara realized his leg wasn’t getting any better after blocking a David Booth shot April 4 against the Maple Leafs. Chara took one practice day off but played the final three games of the season.
“After the season I gave a good week to see how my leg would be and obviously after the week it wasn’t getting better,” Chara said. “We took another examination and we found out it was a fracture. So I had no choice, got that boot on.”
“So I’m still kind of limping a little bit from the boot, but it’s feeling much better.”
Chara said that the four-week timetable — which he hits on Monday — remains accurate.
“As soon as it happened, I knew it was a pretty sharp pain,” Chara said. “But yeah, you kept playing. We took the X-ray and because of the swelling, you couldn’t really find exactly that place where it was fractured. You just kept playing and hoping it will go away.
“It’s something that I think everybody will be playing with. Even in the playoffs — I spoke to the doctors — like to be in a skate it wouldn’t probably hurt it. But being off the skate, I would have to be in the boot pretty much the whole time. It did hurt playing with it, but once I got going it didn’t hurt as much.’’
Chara said he would have tried to play with the fracture had the Bruins earned a playoff berth. Boston already was down two defensemen, Kevan Miller and Dougie Hamilton, so they would not have been able afford the loss of Chara, too.
The Bruins captain said he did not believe the injury would affect his training as he prepares for his 10th season in a Bruins uniform.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fine. Hopefully not. It’s been only two, three days I’ve been able to walk in shoes now. But feels pretty good. I don’t have completely 100 percent full range-of-motion back, but I’m hoping that it’s going to be fine.”
The knee injury limited Chara to 63 games, his fewest in a non-lockout-shortened season since 1998-99 with the Islanders.
“I’m really looking forward to next year,” Chara said. “It’s been a tough season. I spent such quality time in the offseason to be in the best possible shape, which I was, and really before the season even started it almost ended for me.’’
“So missing [almost] 20 games due to the knee injury then slowing coming back and it took me another – I don’t know – month before I even got close to where I was before. That’s right there three month of the season just really slow progress, struggle. Then fighting for the playoffs and toward the end this happens. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.