There are some things in Boston Bruins life that are unthinkable. Jack Edwards calling Montreal goals with joy in his voice. Tim Hortons being given the TD Garden concession ahead of Dunkin' Donuts.
And someone saying this sentence:
Maybe it's time for Boston to think about trading Zdeno Chara.
*ducks...awaits lightning bolt*....
Those eleven words are ones that even look slightly wrong to this day written out. After all, the Slovak giant has been like the Hancock Tower of Boston's blueline. He's become part of the skyline of the Boston Bruins over the past ten years in exactly the same way as the Hancock is over the city...unchanging, reassuring, and solid.
In those seasons he's also won the Norris Trophy, become only the second European NHL captain to win a Stanley Cup, and probably entered the conversation for a place in the Hall Of Fame as one of the best defensemen of the modern era.
Not bad for a player the NY Islanders deemed worthy only of being a thrown-in piece of a trade for Alexei Yashin and who Ottawa decided wasn't as valuable as Wade Redden when it came to FA.
However, right now Chara presides over a Boston team in a transitional phase. At 38, he's the grand old man of a defense that is still trying to find its way and a forward group evolving once again as 2011's young-guns become the wily veterans for a new generation.
He's looking at a Boston team that still isn't quite sure what the "new" Bruins want to be. One that's not quite let go of the heroics of the early 2010s but isn't quite good enough to repeat them for a little while yet.
And, as we discussed earlier this season, Father Time is remorselessly pursuing. And unlike a player who has now played the equivalent of over three solid weeks of non-stop NHL hockey without a break...that old assassin of dreams and ability never gets tired.
From now on, the only way for Chara is downhill.
When a player reaches a certain age, hockey fandom tends to lionise them...react far more sentimentally than they might on the same player with the same performance when five years younger. They talk about "rolling back the clock" and "getting better with age".
Some might say that it might be the fact I have a cold, unfeeling soul or it's simply because I lack the ability to get emotionally attached even to players who practically demand it, but I go the other way. I hear the clock ticking louder and louder, and start wondering when their career might have to take that last skate out behind the woodshed In short, in my head, the countdown starts.
There are only a few players who have bucked this trend (excluding those forced to retire early by injury). Chris Drury. Teemu Selanne. Jaromir Jagr.
He's seemed like a Slovak cyborg built to play defense in some sort of future war against a vastly superior alien race for so many years that even this article seems to fly in the face of logic as I write it.
But it doesn't. Time is running out for the big Slovak - and he will only decline in value and play.
Dion Phaneuf was captain in Toronto, and he's now been cut loose with all the emotional attachment of crushing a bug. Pure pragmatism has seen the Leafs discard their C and supposedly stud D like waste paper at an age 8 years younger than Chara and still with time to improve - after all, it's a known fact defencemen don't peak until their early 30's.
Granted - comparing Phaneuf to Chara is like comparing a bag of dung to a bag of gold-they're both the same type of vessel, but the contents are so much more valuable in one in the other.
However, the fact that Toronto have indeed discarded their captain - a thought unthinkable last season, shows that it can be done.
It would take ruthlessness so far beyond anything Don Sweeney and the Bruins have shown to go the same route as Brendan Shanahan has done, but there are similar factors that might force thinking that way...with rumours the cap is going to drop by as much as $4 million next year and players like Brad Marchand coming closer and closer to FA, the Bruins need every dollar of cap space they can get. Trade Chara and Loui Eriksson and write off 2015/16 and suddenly there's around $14 million of cap space (at current amounts and including Chris Kelly's contract ending) to play with in FA. That's a big chunk of rebuilding money.
Combine that with the fact that Chara is winding down his career and has 3 contract years left, and suddenly the gamble is at least there to consider.
But realistically, even now, the pros of having Chara on the team far outweigh anything the Bruins could gain in the short term in cap space. His mentorship for players like Brandon Carlo and Colin Miller will be invaluable over the next few years as they develop. Even at age 38 he is still the best defenseman on the Bruins, and it isn't even close.
He may be getting older, he may be getting slower. But right now Zdeno Chara is still the rock on which the rest of the B's blue-line is built. And with the team in a transitional phase, they need something solid to hold on to.
And while that rock may be looking a little more weathered each year as it's battered by the storms of aging and 82-game NHL seasons, it's still strong enough to build the foundations of the new Bruins defence on.
Father Time may be catching up with Big Z. But as long as he can keep going, Chara can help the Bruins far more by staying than leaving.