By Rob Simpson
The Hockey News Yearbook picked the Boston Bruins to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division for the upcoming season. That’s assuming one of three teams, the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, or Buffalo Sabres, passes them for fifth, where the Bruins finished last year, two points and a tiebreaker behind Pittsburgh Penguins for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Now someone just needs to step up and explain that to rejuvenated B’s Captain Zdeno Chara.
“If the predictions are not going to empower you, don’t listen to them,” said ‘Big Z’. “Obviously I can’t control what people are saying, they have their predictions, but I just choose to be strong, not feeling sorry for myself because I’m 38, just to be a leader. I’m very motivated, dedicated and focused on the process of reaching my goals.”
He references the team and his own play, so often tied together because of his physical dominance in leading the way to one Stanley Cup in 2011 and a runner-up two years later. While his performance and numbers slipped last season, many commentators felt compelled to say his career was winding down. Chara says its short-term memory loss.
“When I was 36 and I was a runner-up for the Norris Trophy,” Chara points out. “No one said I was too old. Then I got hurt when I was 37, then I’m old. How do you get from Norris Trophy runner-up to ‘hey, he’s too old’, in six months? Kind of crazy isn’t it?”
Nine games into last season, after finishing second to Duncan Keith for the 2014 Norris, Chara tore a knee ligament that kept him out of the line-up for a month and a half.
“I came back Game 30 or so, pretty much when everybody was on top of their season, and I was getting back into it,” he said. The misfortune returned in the spring when he played the final half dozen games of the season with a fractured ankle, hobbled just as the Bruins were trying to jump into the final playoff spot. Falling short was a stark adjustment for this perennial Eastern power.
“We still have the same players if you want to call it the core,” said Chara. “Very good leaders, very good strong core of players, same coach, and even with changes upstairs, (GM) Don Sweeney has been there ten years, he was there when we won, Cam Neely when we won, Charlie Jacobs when we won. So yeah, there have been some changes … it’s been five years since we won, so that’s going to happen no matter what.”
From the 2011 and 2013 teams, Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, Chris Kelly and goalie Tuukka Rask remain. The other moving parts need to find form quickly.
An upper-body ailment has held Chara out of the pre-season lineup, but he’s listed only as day-to-day, meaning the towering blueliner could be back for the Bruins’ season-opener. Talking about the 2015-16 campaign before his injury, Chara was ready to prove he still has some good years in him.
“I’m looking forward to this season coming up,” adds Chara, who has a total of three seasons left on his deal. “I’m going to honor my contract and play as hard as I can, and I’d like to play as long as I can. I’m feeling healthy and strong again, and motivated.”
Hockey author Rob Simpson is the coordinating producer for Sports Access on AMI TV, and has covered the NHL as a writer and broadcast journalist for three decades.