PHILADELPHIA - Zdeno Chara does not know how much longer he will play in the National Hockey League. At 42 and in his 22nd season, the longtime Bruins captain is taking things one day at a time.
But there was one thing the blue liner was sure of as he stood outside the B's dressing room on Monday morning. "Boston will always be our home and in our hearts."
That response was in reference to whether or not he will continue to live in Boston once his playing days are over. But it really could have been an answer to any question referencing his 14-season run in Black & Gold.
Since signing with the Bruins in 2006, Chara - the 18th captain in team history - has become an integral part of the franchise and its history, helping to change the culture and return the team to glory with its 2011 Stanley Cup championship and subsequent trips to the Final in 2013 and 2019.
And on Monday night against the Flyers, Chara will check another accolade off the list when he becomes the sixth player in Bruins history to play 1,000 games in Black & Gold, joining Ray Bourque, Johnny Bucyk, Don Sweeney, Wayne Cashman, and longtime teammate Patrice Bergeron. He is the first player in Bruins history to play 1,000 games as captain.
"It's a huge privilege and obviously a tremendous honor," said Chara, who earlier this year became the sixth defenseman in league history to play in 1,500 NHL games. "I've been very lucky to play with many great players and have great coaches. This is obviously something I will always remember and cherish. [There are] so many people I'm very, very thankful to.
"Obviously, you don't see that very often, players staying with one organization for that long so they are able to play that many games. [I'm] very fortunate that I have been able to stay with this franchise."
Video: Chara takes 1000th game as a Bruin
Chara signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with Boston on July 1, 2006, as the Bruins made a huge splash on the opening day of free agency - they also inked center Marc Savard to a seven-year deal - in the hopes of putting the team in position to be contenders for the long term. And after four seasons each with the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators, it was the exact kind of vision that Chara wanted to be a part of.
"I think that the style of the game, the culture, the identity - that's what I stand for, too, and I'm very comfortable to follow that," said Chara, who has since signed a seven-year extension (2011) and two one-year deals (2018 and 2019) to remain in Boston. "I was trying to obviously do my best, doing the homework before that and Boston was one of those teams that I always wanted to play for.
"It all made sense for me to go to the team that had opportunity for growth and improvements. I don't regret that decision at all and I'm very happy that I'm a Bruin and I will be a Bruin."
Throughout his tenure with the Black & Gold, Chara has been considered, perhaps, the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL. And even at age 42, the five-time All-Star and 2009 Norris Trophy winner continues to draw the toughest assignments on a nightly basis, teaming up with Charlie McAvoy on Boston's top defense pairing and Brandon Carlo as the B's top penalty killing duo.
With both players' careers in their infancy and expected to be crucial to the Bruins' success for years to come, Chara's mentorship of the young blue liners has been immense as Boston has remained a top contender while incorporating more youth to surround its veteran core.
"It's hard to put in a nutshell," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked to summarize Chara's importance. "He's like a second coach on the ice. He sends the same message we're sending in terms of how to play the right way… he loves the game, he loves to practice. Was out on the ice [on Sunday despite it being an optional practice].
"In the gym, I think guys realize how hard he works to stay in peak condition for a guy that's accomplished so much. He's never satisfied with that part of it. He always wants to remain at the top of his game in terms of that physical conditioning."
Those off-ice workouts - both in-season and during the summer - have become the stuff of legend as the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder continues to keep his body in peak physical shape, while also altering and tweaking his game to keep up with the league's ever-increasing speed and skill.
"I wouldn't call them sacrifices, you just have got to accept some changes," said Chara. "You've got to change a few things in your game, in preparation and training and all of those other things. I think just the nature of the game in these days, if you play for that long, you can't be always stuck in the same lane. Sometimes you have to reach and make those changes for your benefit. I was able to, obviously. I'm working on those improvements and always try to improve and get better."
It is that mindset, combined with his leadership and veteran presence that has been of such benefit to Boston's young crop of blue liners, as well as so many of the 195 different teammates he's had during his Bruins tenure.
"A ton," Matt Grzelcyk said when asked to describe how much Chara has meant to his development. "He treats his body so well on and off the ice, kind of showing the road for the D, no matter how big or small you are. He's always very vocal with us, on the bench pointing things out that we can do better and just watching him lead by example. It's been an honor to call him my teammate."
And while staying in shape has certainly helped Chara extend his already Hall of Fame-worthy career, there is another, perhaps far more important, reason for his sustained level of success - an unmatched passion and affection for the game that has given him so much.
"I think there's a number of things involved," said Chara. "You've got to be, obviously, lucky, too, but I think it really comes down to loving what you do. Having passion for it and you've got to have the will, whether it's sometimes going above and beyond and sacrificing and doing all of these things that will eventually pay off.
"And believing. I think you've just got to kind of accept that it's not always going to be great, you're going to hit some adversity and challenges. But that's just the nature of our lives, no matter what you do. Once you hit those you, you kind of have that mindset that you never give up and always go after it.
"You've got to love what you do."
And, clearly, where you play.