BOSTON (CBS) — In the summer of 2018, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
Assuming the Bruins allow the 2009 Norris Trophy winner’s seven-year contract to run out, Chara’s market will be determined by how effectively he can play at 41 years old. He’s often said that he’ll keep playing as long as he can contribute up to his standards.
But his play with the Bruins this season prompts one question: Will Chara be a defenseman or a forward when free agency beckons?
Chara has scored three goals this season, all on the power play, and all positioned in front of the net. The power play, such a sore spot for the Bruins the past three years or so, has crept into the top half of the league in terms of success rate. Just as importantly, the power play hasn’t become a deflating experience and has often put the heat on the opposition and allowed the Bruins to take advantage of their foes to score later.
As the season’s gone on, and the Chara-in-front experience has unfolded, Chara has shown a knack not just for screening the goaltender and winning physical battles, but for working with the puck behind the opposing goal after even doing some dangling around the slots and in the circles.
When asked the above question about his future position on the ice, Chara laughed and said “I don’t know.” He then pointed out that he was a forward as a kid, until his team ran out of defensemen. He was put back on the blue line and the rest, as they say all too often, is history. If at the start of the season Chara wasn’t completely sold on the idea of playing in front, he now sounds more accepting of the role. Perhaps he’s even enjoying it.
“You know, sometimes you wonder,” Chara said when asked if he imagines his career if he’d stayed at forward. “But really, I don’t know. Maybe it would be, maybe it wouldn’t be.
“I’m just trying to work really hard. And maybe it helps. At times I know what the defensemen are thinking and how they want to make plays. And maybe it helps a bit. But really I’m just trying to use my size and my stick and be there for loose pucks and battles and obviously doing my job in front of the net.”
Obviously Claude Julien, his staff and the Bruins’ management thought Chara could handle the new position. His teammates, including 500-goal scorer Jarome Iginla, aren’t surprised at how adept Chara’s been around the net.
“Everybody knew about his ruggedness and how hard he is to play against. But for a while now, you know being able to score 15 goals, or 15-plus goals, and all that as a big shutdown D-man, I mean it’s no secret he has [offensive skill], and 50-plus points and stuff, he’s got good hands to go with his strength and size,” Iginla said. “And so, no, I was already impressed before I got here, playing against him and watching how he can have that patience or pull the odd toe-drag out or whatever. I mean you don’t get that many points and that many goals like he has over the years as a shutdown D-man without having that offensive ability.”
So perhaps now Chara and his agent have another selling point for the All-Star. Maybe the move to forward doesn’t come until the contract after his next one. He could play defense for a couple of more years, last longer on the blue line than one of his idols Nicklas Lidstrom did, and then shift up front. From there, he could play until he’s 50, especially if he gets cast as a power-play specialist.
Chara’s so dominant in 25 minutes per game, playing almost all of his time as a defenseman, imagine what he could do with 12, 14 minutes of time as a forward. Maybe we won’t have to imagine it, because it’ll become reality later this decade.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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