Zdeno Chara’s numbers are declining. A case can be made that the Bruins aren’t as good a team when he’s out there on the ice. Chara always had Corsi numbers in the mid-50s in his prime years, but they’ve been under 50 in the last four seasons.
All that said, the potential return of Chara to the Boston Bruins makes them a better bet to win their first Stanley Cup in eight years.
Chara, at 42 the second-oldest player in the NHL behind only Matt Cullen, returned to practice on Monday with the Bruins, who will play the winner of the St. Louis-San Jose Western final. He missed Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals because of an undisclosed injury but is on track to play in Game 1.
For Chara, having to sit out a playoff game was akin to having root canal without novocaine, as he told reporters this week.
“It was, I’m not gonna lie,” he said. “Watching games are not fun. You want to play them, you want to be involved in them. It was that feeling of an anxiousness to play. But the guys did a great job.”
The Bruins are the current favorites of the bookmakers to win the Stanley Cup, no matter who the opponent. Boston is -152 to win in Stanley Cup betting odds at 888Sport, with St. Louis at +195 and San Jose at +680. You can check out the latest NHL futures odds here.
Some NHL betting fans might look at Chara’s age, his declining offensive production and his puck-possession statistics and wonder how his return makes the Bruins a better bet. Here’s why:
Because in Stanley Cup Final, Experience Matters
Take a look at the winners of the Stanley Cup since 2010. Despite this being the age of parity in the NHL, only five teams have won in those years: Pittsburgh (three times), Chicago (three times), Los Angeles (twice), Washington (once) and Boston (once).
All those teams had great players, of course, most of them young and in their prime. But on every one, there were one or two old guys who made real differences.
Mark Recchi was 42 when he played for Boston in the 2011 Final against Vancouver, his best days way behind him. But he scored 14 points in the playoffs that spring and made a lot of smart, big plays in Boston’s seven-game series win over the Canucks.
Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell were two old-guy defensemen for the 2014 Los Angeles Kings, but they helped steady things in some scary playoff moments and L.A. won a second Cup in three years.
Cullen was 39 when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16. The Penguins to that point had the one Stanley Cup in the Sidney Crosby era (2009), but had several disappointing years in the postseason after that.
Cullen was just a role player, but his smarts and experience were often credited by coaches and teammates as part of the reason why the Penguins won back-to-back Cups that season and the next.
The 2013 Blackhawks team that won it all had several old guys (Jamal Mayers, Michal Roszival, Michal Handzus) who had some good moments in the playoffs.
Chara’s Intangibles – and Sheer Size – Matter
Chara’s numbers might not seem that great; five goals, 14 points in 62 regular-season games, a 40.3 Corsi for percentage at even strength through 16 playoff games this year.
But he’s the captain of the team, a locker-room leader. And, in a seven-game series, in what might be his swan song as a player, he’s going to give it all he has.
He’s still 6-foot-9 and still 250 pounds. He may not skate as fast as he once did, but if he catches up to you in the corner, his hits are still going to hurt.
Paired with the young, fast and exciting Charlie McAvoy, Chara’s sheer size frees McAvoy up more to skate the puck out of the zone, knowing he’s back there.
In what could be his last series as a player (he does have a contract for next season, at $2 million), I say Chara turns back the clock and will make the Bruins that much tougher to beat for Lord Stanley’s silver punchbowl.