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How long can Zdeno Chara keep this up?

Aug 6, 2013, 8:13 PM EDT

zdenocharacloseupgetty Getty Images

While he’s only taken one Norris Trophy in his already distinguished career, Zdeno Chara might just be the best defenseman in the NHL. He’s the common denominator in a Boston Bruins defense that helped Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask and even backups like Anton Khudobin put up big numbers.*

Even so, the Bruins made a bold gamble by signing him to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal in 2010: they bet that he could be effective into his early 40’s. So far, at 36, he’s shown few signs of slowing down, but the question is: how long can he really keep this up?

Rather than focus on the negatives, let’s get them out of the way really quick: injury risks increase with age, and with a player at Chara’s unprecedented size, mobility and other assets can fall off rapidly.

With that out of the way, here are a few reasons why he could remain dominant for years.

Treating his body right

Chara isn’t just riding his history-making frame; he’s a fitness fanatic who’s made waves for his devotion to cycling.

The benefits of such habits are obvious, as we’ve previously seen with age-defying Detroit Red Wings defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios.

Cue awkward but requisite ESPN “The Body Issue” photo:


Of course, being in prime condition doesn’t mean that injuries cannot strike.

While many wine-like-aging blueliners have leaned toward the “finesse” side – barring the occasional outlier such as Scott Stevens – Chara isn’t throwing around his body as much as one might expect.

Sure, he’s not shy, with 101 hits in 48 games played last season. Still, that ranks him third on his own team last season; his regular partner Dennis Seidenberg had 115 hits in two fewer contests. Fifty-nine NHL players delivered more hits than Big Z last season.


Chara uses positioning and his otherworldly reach in ways that seem heartening for his future. Even so, the worry is that the Bruins will run him into the ground with heavy minutes.

After studying the workloads of players like LidstromRay Bourque, and Al MacInnis, it was clear that elite blueliners received heavy minutes until their last season or two. Chara has been clocking about 25 minutes per contest for the last four seasons, which is a significant haul, but not outrageous for a top defenseman.

His 24:56 minutes per game ranked 15th in the NHL last season … five seconds fewer than Dennis Wideman. (Pauses for Bruins fans to snicker.)

All things considered, the Bruins could probably hand him the same basic workload for two or three more seasons without too many worries.

(Even if Chara’s struggles in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final weren’t just overblown, he’s consistently been a dominant force in his own zone. Overreacting to one series would probably be foolish.)


Father Time is a daunting opponent, but Chara could join that select group of defensemen who played at an all-world level deep into their careers. Perhaps that record-breaking slapper will slip a few miles per hour, but if he maintains his fitness level and is selective about throwing hits, the Big Z might gracefully become the Big Old Z.

Of course, a freak injury could just as easily scuttle those hopes.

* – Remember Manny Fernandez?

  1. sjsharks66 - Aug 6, 2013 at 8:34 PM

    Was the photo necessary? Haha

    • isithockeyseasonyet - Aug 6, 2013 at 9:15 PM

      Was thinking the same thing

  2. jacketsfan7 - Aug 6, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    I call thirds on that

  3. razorbyrd - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:17 PM

    he’s showing no signs of slowing down?!

    did you not watch the Bruins at all this past season?! even in a shortened year, he looked sloooow at times, got beat quite often, and he can’t handle the puck to save himself…

    • sabatimus - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:41 PM

      Or the season before that. As you say, he is very very slow, cannot puck handle his way out of a wet paper bag, and also has been increasing his disturbing trend of holding onto the puck for FOREVER and then trying to pass at the last second…which often results in a turnover.

      • tdrusher225 - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:56 PM

        But that’s always been true about Chara, puck handling has never been an asset of his. That hasn’t really changed, nor has it affected his overall game.

    • beantownfanatic2012 - Aug 8, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      I guess YOU didn’t see the fact that he and every other team played a game every other night! While other guys got nights off, Chara didn’t and he didn’t complain about it once. Yeah he didn’t look himself but playing a grueling schedule that consisted of a game every other night, of course that’s gonna catch up to him! Haters gonna hate!

      • razorbyrd - Aug 8, 2013 at 9:42 PM

        call it “hate”, call it whatever you want, I was merely pointing out that the guy was a liability at times…

  4. blackhawks2010 - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:22 PM

    Chara had no answer for the Hawks, looked slow and sluggish. Top player, but struggled against Toews and Hossa.

    Bruins will be tough again next year, good luck Bruins. Great series, you took 2 from the best. Keep your chin up.

  5. hockeyflow33 - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:26 PM

    That picture will keep me up for a long time

    • bigblackzaranek - Aug 7, 2013 at 8:18 AM


  6. modellforprez - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:27 PM

    No doubt the best. Who would’nt love to have big Z

  7. canuckswino - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    Hey Blackhawks10, Chara was playing with a hip injury, FYI.

    In this Canucks’ fan opinion, if it’s all about what your team/players do in the playoffs, then Chara may not be just be the best defenseman in the NHL, he might be the best player. When healthy, no player in my opinion affects the outcome of a playoff game more than Chara.

  8. zeechball - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    Did anyone watch the playoffs? Chara was hurting the bruins more then helping. He looked like a lil kid out there vs the hawks especially. He was on the ice for 75% of goals given up

    • hockeyflow33 - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:20 PM

      You mean he was out there on PK and against the Hawks best players?


      • zeechball - Aug 7, 2013 at 11:23 AM

        Yea he was going against the hawks top players and look what happened… he was schooled. Dude was a really good D man but now he’s just old slow and dirty. Almost everyone was playing hurr.

    • mobojangles - Aug 7, 2013 at 5:12 PM

      Please! Did you watch the playoffs, or just the last few SC contests. If you’re going to say he sucks b/c they lost to the Hawks… no mention of how they swept the Pens, and completely shut down the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Tanger, Neal, Kunitz…. He may not be Karlsson, but he’s the best defensive defenseman in the league bar none!

  9. LampyB - Aug 6, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    Yeah chara had a hip injury in playoffs, it definitely played its toll. The shortened season was still grueling, not many days to rest, lot of travel, many back to back games.

    He wasnt at a normal level as playoffs went on, it was obvious something was wrong. Hes so freaking huge, he could be half as fast and still kill it on D.

  10. blomfeld - Aug 7, 2013 at 12:18 AM

    KAZAKHSTAN # 1 !

    It seems like a long time ago now, however I’ll never forget that ‘upsetting’ evening back in June of this year when I flicked on game 5 of the SC final, only to witness some radioactive ‘human freak’ from some former Soviet republic flinging Canadian & American hockey heroes around like ‘lifeless’ rag dolls. The sight of it made me ‘positively’ sick to my stomach and I switched my TV off immediately. Of course the Black Hawk’s did go on to prevail over ‘Frankenstein & friends’ in the end and so praise be for that. Nonetheless, this weirdo will now ‘apparently’ be with us for another 7 years ? Rather disappointing and yet perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing? For like many of you too I’m sure (sorry Bobby Orr), I now simply can’t wait for our glorious LA Kings to have a go at this ‘drug-fueled’ beanstalk and his ‘heathen’ Bruin compatriots !

    “Invite the infidel to a feast and there offer him a generous fare, laced with poisons … as he succumbs to God’s will, you may hurl stones and cedar logs upon him” … Jobs 19:6

    • jernster21 - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:11 AM

      Are you normally an idiot or did you just fail reading comprehension? It said he signed a 7 year extension in 2010. So no, he won’t ‘apparently’ be around for another 7 years since he has 5 left on his contract.

      • amerika1313 - Aug 7, 2013 at 7:15 AM

        No, he’s always an idiot.

      • hockeyflow33 - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:05 PM

        It’s best just to ignore

  11. stakex - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:25 AM

    Perhaps its just me, but I always felt Chara was over rated. He’s a good player, but best defensemen in the NHL? That’s quite a stretch. He’s far more a solid pillar on defense then he is a super star.

    • flydommo - Aug 7, 2013 at 4:33 AM

      I agree with your assessment. He is very solid defensively with his long reach, physical power and positioning, but on the offensive side of things he is only a decent contributor and no more than a passable skater. His booming shot alleviates his lack of passing skills to some extent and he certainly is good at opening plays in the Bruins’ own zone. Doughty and Weber, however, are better alround players in my view. That notwithstanding, Chara is certainly one of the finest defensemen in the league right now, but not the best.

      • dropthepuckeh - Aug 7, 2013 at 11:58 AM

        So wait let me understand, you think he is “one of the finest defensemen in the league right now but not the best”? Me thinks you like that photo a little too much.

        Chara has to be in the top three of shut down defensemen in the league, I’d argue the top. If you believe that defense wins championships than it would follow that the top defensive defenseman would be the most valuable. I’d venture he is the player that opposing forwards like to play against the least….

      • mobojangles - Aug 7, 2013 at 5:14 PM


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