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Days after his 41st birthday, Bruins give Chara raise on one-year extension

Zdeno Chara is putting a bow on his 12th campaign in Boston, but his 20th season in the NHL won’t be his last. The Bruins announced Wednesday they have signed Chara to a one-year, $5-million extension that carries up to $1.75 million in bonuses.

Just 10 days after Zdeno Chara celebrated his 41st birthday, Bruins GM Don Sweeney has handed the 20-year NHL veteran a belated birthday gift: a one-year contract extension that will see the Bruins captain return for his 13th campaign in Boston.

As the current season winds down, Chara was heading towards the final weeks of the seven-year, $45.5-million deal he signed back in October 2010. And given that this season saw Chara’s salary drop to $4 million from the $8.5 million it was at the start of the seven-year pact, his new extension with the Bruins will actually see Chara earn himself a tidy pay raise. In a release, Boston noted the contract will pay Chara a base salary of $5 million next season, but added the deal carries the potential for up to $1.75 million in incentives. According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Chara will earn a $1.25 million bonus when he plays 10 games with an additional $250,000 tied to a playoff berth and $250,000 tied to winning the Stanley Cup. 

In most cases, bringing back a 41-year-old rearguard — one that will turn 42 before next season is over, no less — and then giving said defenseman a raise is a move that would be a head-scratcher at best. In fact, such a contract for Chara may have been questioned had it been handed out as few as three seasons back when whispers of his potential decline grew during a 2014-15 campaign in which he fell injured, playing just 63 games and registering only eight goals and 20 points the season following a second-place finish in Norris Trophy voting. A trio of resurgent seasons, however, have all but ensured that there will be nary an eyebrow raised by the Bruins’ decision to get Chara locked up for the 2018-19 campaign.

Age be damned, the towering blueliner hasn’t appeared to have lost a step this season and he’s being relied on as heavily as ever in Boston. His average ice time this season, 23 minutes per night, leads all Bruins rearguards, his seven goals are second-most among his fellow blueliners and the only Boston defenders with more points than Chara (23) are Torey Krug and rookie Charlie McAvoy. 

More than his offensive contributions, though, Chara has stood out for his play on the Bruins’ penalty kill. Though he’s already missed seven games this season, Chara ranks second among all players with more than 251 shorthanded minutes this season and Boston has benefitted in a big way from his presence on the penalty kill. This season, there are 71 defensemen who have played at least 150 minutes shorthanded, and Chara ranks 23rd in limiting shot attempts (103.6 against), 33rd in limiting shots (57.4), 14th in limiting scoring chances (54.1) against per 60 minutes on the penalty kill. Pairing his play with that of the Bruins’ forward group, including Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, has helped Boston operate at 82.7 percent on the penalty kill, the fifth-best mark in the league.

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It’s not just shorthanded minutes where Chara’s underlying numbers have been impressive, however. Among the 205 defensemen who have played at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Chara rates remarkably well, particularly given his age. His Corsi for percentage of 53.4 ranks 26th among that group of rearguards, his shots for percentage of 54.2 ranks 20th and scoring chances for percentage of 55.1 ranks 16th. That’s not to mention his 55 percent goals for percentage, which ranks 33rd among that group of 500-minute rearguards. Based on those numbers alone, Chara was due a new contract. That it came along with a raise isn’t exactly surprising, either.

Of course, Chara return to the Bruins has to do with more than his offensive totals, defensive contributions or underlying numbers. There’s an intangible aspect to bringing him back, which is to say Boston has put value on his ability to mentor younger players and provide leadership to the group as a whole. 

One need look no further than his pairing with McAvoy for proof that the Bruins see the merit in placing up-and-comers alongside Chara. The duo has skated more than 800 minutes together this season at even strength and have been dynamite with one another. They boast a 55 percent shot attempts for percentage and have been on ice for 38 goals for and just 20 against at five-a-side with a fairly even split of offensive and defensive zone starts. But beyond two styles that mesh together well — McAvoy the more puck-moving, offensively capable rearguard with Chara the stay-at-home heady defender — the presence of the veteran captain with the much-heralded future No. 1 defenseman has allowed McAvoy to get his feet wet without having to do all the heavy lifting. Chara is shepherding him along, and allowing a sophomore McAvoy to get further tutelage from Chara certainly won’t hurt.

Chances are, too, that the one-year deal Chara inked Wednesday sets the stage for this to be a pattern for he and the Bruins. If he continues to perform at a high level, and continues to have the desire and willingness to continue his career, Boston will likely keep him in town on a series of one-year extensions until one, either or both decide the time has come for him to skate into the sunset. And given Chara’s fitness-freak attitude and clearly stated desire to play until the time comes that he doesn’t want to anymore, there’s no reason to believe next season will be his last.

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