After Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz recently announced the 2016 season would be his last, the revelation was met with celebratory commentary about his career, which included three World Series championships.
Someday before the end of this decade Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara might make a similar declaration and most likely will do it in a Bruins jersey. We know Chara will have at least one Stanley Cup championship and one Norris Trophy on his resume when his career concludes. But will his stint in Boston inspire the same adulation as Ortiz's?
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara enters the twilight of his career still hoping to add another Stanley Cup title to his resume. (Photo: Getty Images)
"The city's been great. I've been really honored and humbled to be playing in this town and giving it my all," said Chara, who's in his 10th season with the Bruins and has two more after this one on his contract, according to war-on-ice.com. "These are hardworking people and it's a pleasure to be playing for these kinds of people. So if I'm going to be celebrated, I don't know. Certainly everybody would want to be. When you play that many years and games and you win championships, hopefully people will remember and have good memories. But that's not what I'm looking right now at."
Chara, 38, is focused on on-ice matters. One season ago a ligament tear in his left knee cost him 19 games and made him look like a shell of the dominant defenseman who had been one of the most feared players to face for a decade. This season has been a comeback tour for Chara, who will be in the thick of the battle Friday when the Bruins host the New York Rangers at TD Garden in the Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown (1 p.m. ET, NBC, SN).
In 19 games, Chara has three goals and eight assists. His offensive production is down mostly because the Bruins' top-ranked power play often scores before Chara's unit gets on the ice. But when grading Chara, it's most important to look at defensive statistics. He had an even plus/minus rating last season after he was plus-105 the prior four seasons. His current plus-6 rating hints at his return to form after a season when he was never fully healthy. Chara had to adjust to wearing a knee brace and admitted his leg never was at full strength. His play took a step back and people began to wonder if there were more reasons for it than the injury.
Like most Bruins players, the longer offseason that came after they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight seasons allowed for recovery and extra hard work. Chara was driven by the desire to get the Bruins back into the playoffs and prove his critics from last season wrong.
"I took it as a motivation after the season and really worked getting my full strength and mobility back," he said. "I feel really good. I've been working really hard, just like every summer. I can feel, and I'm noticing the difference. I've been moving my feet the way I used to. Jumping up in the play, being on the puck, winning the battles."
While Chara was working his way back to full strength, the Bruins were going through a reshaping. General manager Peter Chiarelli, who lured Chara to Boston in 2006 and re-signed him before the Cup championship season, was fired and replaced by assistant GM Don Sweeney. Popular forward Milan Lucic and defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who was considered the heir apparent to Chara as the Bruins' No. 1 defenseman, were traded for pieces that won't help for at least a few seasons.
This season, the Bruins have a younger, less experienced team than they've had since Chara's first couple seasons. The Bruins especially have been green on defense, with rookies Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow rotating into the lineup on a nightly basis. Chara, the Bruins captain since his arrival, often has been paired with one of the younger players. Chara tries to leave the coaching to the coaches, but he speaks up when necessary.
"For me, it's just little things," Miller said. "Kind of in our own zone and stuff like that, just talking. I mean, that really helps for a player that's just getting his feet wet. I think that's something that can always help, communication and stuff like that."
Throughout the years Chara has remained an inspiration to those who share the dressing room with him.
"I know I'm not going to specify, but I've seen him play through some injuries no one else would think about," said Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid, who has been Chara's teammate since the 2009-10 season. "It just shows he's a guy who goes to great lengths to win."
Based on the Bruins' recent reworking of their roster, it would seem winning in Chara's later seasons might be more difficult than when he was in his prime and the Bruins were among a handful of Cup contenders. Chara, though, still counts centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, left wing Brad Marchand, goaltender Tuukka Rask and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and McQuaid as his teammates from the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and 2013 trip to the Cup Final. Plus the younger players are gaining valuable experience and there's help from a deep prospect pool coming in the seasons ahead.
Chara's not writing off the Bruins' chances of adding more championships to his resume.
"I don't think it's written on the wall that we won't win the Stanley Cup or we will," Chara said. "There's always a chance. And we know that the team is going through some changes, but I don't think they are completely wiping out the team that we had and now we're starting all over from scratch with a completely new team and everything new. We just changed some pieces. But I think that with really hard work and focus we're going to still be a good team. And good teams do have a chance.
"So I'm 38 years young and that's how I'm looking at it. Not the other way."