BOSTON – Zdeno Chara played in his 1,400th NHL game in Saturday night's 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the 40-year-old is nowhere close to adding to that big, round career number if he has anything to say about it.
The Bruins captain played 24 minutes and was a team-best plus-2 in the victory, and even better he also teamed with Patrice Bergeron's line to completely shut down heralded young Leafs star Auston Matthews. Chara was a penalty killing beast in the third period while logging a whopping five plus minutes of ice time shorthanded during the game, and he was a welcoming partner with 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy returning to his right side after missing four games with a heart procedure.
There were many roles for Chara during the game, and he executed perfectly at all of them as he's done so much throughout his Hall of Fame NHL career.
So it was a vintage Chara performance in a season where he's tied with Vegas forward William Karlsson for the NHL lead in plus/minus with a plus-27 mark, and hit the pause button after a big divisional win to reflect on his 1,400 career NHL games over 20 NHL seasons, including 870 games with the Black and Gold.
"It's a special, special moment…special night. There are so many people I should be thanking and it obviously starts with my family – my parents, my wife, my kids – for all their support over the course of the years," said Chara. "I said it in the room too, that in our business, you are obviously measured by wins and losses, but those moments when you have those highs and lows, that's when you really rely on your teammates to support you and give you the special, special push and energy.
"Over the course of 20-plus years, I've been very lucky that I had really good teammates that I could always rely on, and this group is very special. We have many players with so many great personalities that I feel very fortunate to have the teammates that I have. So, it's a special team."
The question now for Chara naturally becomes how many more games will the 6-foot-9 D-man add to the massive 1,400 number that ranks fourth among active NHL players behind only Jaromir Jagr (1733), Patrick Marleau (1547), Joe Thornton (1493) and Matt Cullen (1416), and is now up to 39th all-time in NHL history.
As he's said on numerous occasions, there's no end in sight for his playing career and he continues to learn and try different things like the Instagram account Chara has created to give others his TB12-style tips on how he's been able to play in the NHL for so long. The 40-year-old reiterated he wants to keep playing for the foreseeable future and the Bruins keep evaluating just much that's going to cost them in terms of salary and contract terms for a shutdown D-man and leader still so vital to Black and Gold success.
"I enjoy playing the game. I said it many times – anytime you guys ask me – I can't put a number on [how many games played], but I want to continue to play. I feel great, I enjoy working hard, I want to get better continuously, and so I want to play until I can and be effective," said Chara. "Like I said, it's fun. It's fun being around guys and to see how they're growing as players, as people. So, yeah, those are the days I'm really looking forward to. I don't want to be finishing [up] playing yet."
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Clearly there will be challenges ahead in the next few months, and a heavy second-half schedule could be very difficult for a player carrying a heavy load that's going to turn 41 years old toward the end of the regular season.
The hope is certainly that the Bruins can re-sign him to a 1 or 2-year deal for something in the neighborhood of $4 million per season, which would be the prudent thing to do with an aging player that's still so effective. But if Chara keeps playing so effectively at 40 years old then it's difficult to avoid the price going up for a player that's still so intrinsically connected to the rise of the Bruins back into an NHL super power this season.