NHL Statline: 9 goals, 28 assists, 37 points
Aggregate Grade: C+
As my photoshop implies, there's a lot that Zdeno Chara has in common with some of the larger foes in Dark Souls.
He's certainly imposing, debateably humanoid, hits like a freight train, has a distressing amount of finesse you absolutely weren't expecting from a guy that size, has been guarding ancient, unknowable secrets...
...and he's not that agile. And in spite of all of the above, he is still a mortal.
That's not to say he did badly. Oh no, by points alone he was very much playing pretty well, nearly doubling his point total from the previous year. (20, by the by) His uncanny skill and that howitzer shot he bears still has quite a bit of juice left in it:
Yep, still got it. And that's not even counting the smart play he would make to gain assists. Yes, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was good at being the shutdown guy the Bruins needed. Most of the time.
Other times, he really would look 39. It's incredible to think that him and Jagr are starting to comprise a weird old guard that can still go even at what in hockey terms must be ancient. But Jagr had friends. Young, smart, strong, all could help him prop himself up if he needed it. From the players the Bruins had, all he had was one person who had to help him carry an impossible load. And more often than not it meant having to go it alone. And a 39 year old man coming off of surgery isn't always going to be in the best shape. Especially if his partners aren't going to be playing their best either. And so his play suffered. A lot. He'd be slow on chasing forwards back, would be caught chasing the puck, and in general was much less agile than he was when he was younger.
But there is still one thing Chara excels at as a player, and it's one thing he's been doing for the better part the last half-decade without fail.
The Bruins captain plays, has played, and continued to play insane minutes nearly every year and this one was no different, playing 24 minutes a night on average. The only two players who had more were the goaltenders. All others weren't even close, and really, how could they be? With so many players not living up to expectations, some being typecast into individual roles, and others just being plain terrible, only a few other players on the team could possibly hope to play those kinds of minutes and not collapse from exhaustion or just flat out fail at what they were doing. And even then, those that could didn't play nearly as many minutes as he did this year. Or last year. Or the year before that.
Only the Captain could. And did. Even if he wasn't 100%, he still managed to take the brunt of the time on the ice for the Boston Bruins.
Even in a bad couple of years, Zdeno Chara remains the possession god that he is, just not quite to the transcendent levels he was some time ago. He still will drag his teammates up from the depths that they sometimes were in and will still bring the thunderous defensive acumen that he's known for...just older, and a little slower.
But for many, that's too much. The game is getting faster and younger around Zdeno Chara. Little somersaulting guys who can pepper you with shots and bombs will eventually bring you down, and it started happening more often than not during this struggle of a season. For some, it's time to let the captain of almost a decade to step down and let another take his place. And this is an alright opinion to have, but my question is this:
With how much of a solid rock he is on defense, even if his age is showing, to move him is to ask a very important question:
How do you replace him?
Thankfully, Chara's contract is at least two more years longer, with a price drop in the final year. Big Z will be here, and he will be weathering the NHL's storm for as long as the Bruins need him.