Matt Cullen, the oldest player in the NHL, retired on July 10th of this year.
With his retirement, Zdeno Chara is at long last the oldest player left in the NHL. The photo I chose for this article is now old enough to see the new Spider-Man movie without parental supervision. His career is a year older than the Slovakian government we know today.
Did that matter at all to Chara? Of course it didn’t. Why would it? He survived the late 90’s dead puck era and well through it’s dregs in the early to mid 2000’s on teams run by Gibbons. One could make a convincing argument that the game has changed three different times as a result of trends and of improving sports science and a desperate need to prove Hockey is in fact a great sport, and he’s survived all of that. He’s been captain of the Boston Bruins for so long that there are children right now who have never seen a Boston Bruins team without him as the captain.
Zdeno Chara is Zdeno Chara at this point in time. It would be impossible to talk about his ups and downs because they’ve been part of the Boston Bruins experience for over a decade at this point. He is an almost literal tower of muscle and conditioning the likes of which should probably prompt EU investigations into super soldier experiments conducted in the 70’s-80’s in former soviet bloc countries. His reach and blocking ability is what makes him so infuriating in the corner due to how quickly he can get to the puck in spite of not being close to it at all. His shot is still capable of being terrifyingly fast due to how much power is behind it to begin with. His leadership and commitment to the team could not be questioned whatsoever.
His celebration looks like he’s praising the sun:
The Jolly cooperation of the team for getting him these golden opportunities must be a huge plus.
But of course, the problems people have with Big Z are still very much part of him as well. He is pretty old and his body has hundreds of thousands of tough miles on it, with his 2018-19 being one of his worst offensively, as well as for injury luck, as he last played under 70 games back in 2013-14. His size and speed were also things that were becoming mutually exclusive issues, though they were always sort of apart. He simply doesn’t have the same step that he once did, and that wasn’t really a feature to begin with.
But that’s fine. Big Z managed to overcome most of that to have a positive season and remain a shepard of the young, hungry talent the B’s have been fostering so far.
In the Playoffs:
I have a theory about playoff hockey in that it is not a place where “anything can happen” as we are taught to believe about it, but that instead with noted exception, the playoffs are the truth. What you are, what your team actually is, without the 82 game buffer. You can mess around in the regular season all you want so long as you make the playoffs. Then whatever you are comes to light. If you live and die by your power play and the calls don’t come? You flame out. If you’re bouyed by a goaltender? They need to have the performance of the century every night or you’re hosed. That sort of thing.
And if you’re over 40, enormous, and looking kinda slow? Brother, you’re gonna look really behind. And that unfortunately did reflect rather poorly on Chara’s performance during the playoffs, especially when facing top talent, he was starting to look a bit lost.
But as it’s been shown over and over again, Chara’s willingness to tough it out for the team was unparallelled; having his jaw broken and yet still being on the bench to show his commitment.
And then playing with a bubble to keep up the illusion that things were fine...but they really weren’t. It became abundantly clear that he was subconsciously trying not to make the injury worse and it negatively affected his play...again.
The price of leadership, y’all. It’s nuts.
Aggregated Player Rating: 6.2
Nobody can take away that Zdeno Chara’s size and strength is going anywhere but up. But speed, more than anything else, is starting to matter a lot more than you might think. It’s incredible that Chara has managed to be such a pillar of the team, but with how banged up he’s been and how much of an arms race the Atlantic has been under, one can’t help but wonder what the next year or two will look like for the big man.
Because if next season’s it?...Man, that’ll be a weird feeling.