He is 40 years old, still directs play at the line, rarely fumbles, remains in exceptional physical shape, and has his sights on playing this year, next year, and forever and a day.
No, we’re not talking about Tom Brady and his age-defying, seemingly endless string of successes as QB of the Patriots. The other 40-year-old icon in town is Zdeno Chara, who next month will begin his 12th training camp as the Bruins captain (veterans report Sept. 14).
Chara, who turned 40 on March 18, is Brady-like in his near-maniacal adherence to training and conditioning. However, ZC33 hasn’t followed TB12 into shaping his diet-and-exercise regimen into a sidecar cottage industry. He has kept ironman fit-and-fiddle since entering the NHL with the Islanders in 1997-98, and things aren’t about to change as the 6-foot-9-inch Trencin Tower of Power steps boldly into his twilight years.
“I just want to have fun, play, and compete and work hard,” said Chara, who again will anchor the club’s top shutdown pairing — partner TBA — for 2017-18. “I love everything about it. I love the sacrifice. I love the pain that goes with it. Love playing with young guys. Love playing with older guys.”
Also like Brady, it can be easy to overlook the mere volume of Chara’s work. In the playoffs, with fellow blue liners Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid hors de combat, Chara took on a humongous workload, averaging a Herculean 28:45 time on ice over the six games vs. Ottawa last spring.
For the postseason, only Minnesota’s Ryan Suter, eight years Chara’s junior, averaged more time (29:06 over five games). Chara’s workload topped the likes of St. Louis’s Alex Pietrangelo (28:16 over 11 games) and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (28:07 over 19 games).
By the end of the upcoming season, Chara will have equaled Ray Bourque’s tenure as Bruins captain. Bourque also had 12 seasons as the lone owner of the C, following three seasons as cocaptain with Rick Middleton.
How much longer here for Big Z?
“Good question,” said Chara. “I can’t really say the number. People would say, you know, 45 [years old] . . . Jaromir [Jagr] said 50. I can’t really put a number on that. I just want to play.”
Much has changed on the Boston blue line since the first-round knockout at the hands of the Senators. John-Michael Liles and Joe Morrow were not asked to return. Colin Miller was conscripted by the Knights in the expansion draft. Free agent Paul Postma, ex- of the Jets, was signed as a free agent July 1.
Chara’s most likely running mate on shutdown patrol will be Carlo, who filled the role admirably last year, stepping in seamlessly as a rookie. Another rookie with a righthanded shot, Charlie McAvoy, could be a candidate, although his game skews more to offense, which could have him riding with Krug (8-43—51 last season as the club’s top point-producer on the blue line).
Blue line spots 5-6 look as though they’ll be divvied up by Kevan Miller, McQuaid, and Postma, with AHLers Matt Grzelcyk and Rob O’Gara eager to challenge for varsity work.
Following the playoff loss to Ottawa, Chara opted not to play for Slovakia in the World Championships, in part because he suited up last September for Team Europe in the World Cup. He didn’t want his season to stretch possibly to some 10 months. Not an easy decision for him, particularly because Slovakia, a nation of less than 6 million people, doesn’t have a deep talent pool.
“A lot of times, people say, ‘Well, the Canadian guys always go, the America guys always go, or the Russian guys always go,’ ” said Chara. “Yeah, they do, but it’s not always the same guys. It’s a bigger stock to pick from. If someone decides not to go, then OK, ‘It’s not [Pavel] Datsyuk, it’s [Nikita] Kucherov.’ They are just deeper.
“But with us, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, if it’s not [Marian] Hossa then it’s . . . Hossa . . . or it’s . . . Hossa.’ We only have so many names. People have a hard time understanding that, but we can’t always be there for everything.”
Back in April, when considering his options, and overall workload, for 2017-18, Chara remained hopeful that NHL players would be released to play in the Olympics next February. However, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his Lords of the Boards have remained adamant that none of the rank-and-file will play anywhere but in the Original 31. Even NHL players assigned to minor league affiliates will remain here until it’s over over there (PyeonChang, South Korea).
“It’s numbers, a business, I understand that,” said Chara, a fixture on Slovakia’s Olympic squad each time it has qualified for the Games. “But if you were missing the top 10 100-meter sprinters in the Summer Olympics because, say, Jamaica or the US team had a strike, there would be no one running. Everyone there would be like, ‘What are we watching?’
“For the Winter Olympics, hockey is the sport.”
Chara has only the upcoming season remaining on his Bruins contract. With no end in sight, at least not in his sight, he’d like to sign on for more.
“Of course I would,” he said. “Like I’ve said many times, I take a lot of pride in my offseason training and being ready for every season. I would like to play beyond this contract. I want to still be very effective, get better, improve, maintain my game, and keep adding to my game.”
His “vision,” said Chara, would be to remain in a Boston uniform until he feels it’s time to retire.
“But as we all know,” he said, “anything can happen in hockey. As much as it’s sport, it’s still beautiful to have players staying with one team and retiring with that team.
“It’s possible, but it’s also something you can’t always be relying on. It is something that could happen, but also it might not happen.”