It was a subtle subplot during the normal times, but the whispers grew louder during the Return to Play: “Is this Zdeno Chara’s last ride?”
While the speculation was never fueled by comments from Chara himself, it’s certainly not unfair to wonder. After all, Chara is 43 years old, and while he’s arguably one of the most fit NHLers of all time, those miles start to add up.
After last night’s game ended, many people noticed the very obvious highlighting of Chara’s situation by Doc Emerick during the handshake line:
It prompted many people on Twitter to ask if it had been confirmed somewhere that Chara was, indeed, retiring (or leaving the Bruins); the answer to both of those questions is “no,” at least publicly.
After the game, Chara was asked whether or not he’s coming back.
“I haven’t made that decision,” he said. “Obviously just finished the game, and I’m going to be open minded.”
No references to retirement, but no references to coming back to Boston either. In his defense, the team’s season had ended minutes earlier, so it’s understandable for him to be a little vague.
However, it’s fair to wonder if this is a case of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” as it sure seems like a whole bunch of “hockey people” got the feeling this was it for the Bruins captain.
Rumors have circulated that Chara has talked to former NHLers about retirement, but who knows when those conversations took place?
For my money, I remain convinced Chara would have retired after last season had the Bruins won the Cup. Going out on top, much like Mark Recchi in 2011, would have suited Chara well, especially after that brutal jaw injury.
It’s easy to see why he would have wanted to come back for this season, given the way the 2019 season ended.
But now? Given the uncertainty surrounding what the 2020-2021 season will even look like, is this something Chara wants to sign up for?
Still, I have a hard time believing this is how Chara would like his career to end, filing out of an empty arena during a pandemic.
If I’m Don Sweeney and Chara wants to play another season, I make it happen, within reason. His $3.75 million AAV from this season would be a little too rich for next season, so any deal would hinge on Chara wanting to do something team friendly.
He’s certainly not the Norris Trophy winner he was a decade or so ago, but Chara is certainly still a serviceable NHLer.
If he’s back next season, it may be time to be back in a reduced role: maybe off of that top pairing, maybe off in some back-to-backs. Still, a 43-year-old Chara is likely going to give you better minutes than many other players in that price range.
Chara will likely take some time to weigh his options, as will the Bruins. Hopefully, those options settle on Chara taking one more lap.