Outrageous rumours surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs are nothing new, including ones that involve acquiring the captain of a hated rival.
There is no denying that Zdeno Chara has had a tremendous career and deserves respect for his accomplishments from all fans of the game. However, as he looks to enter his 23rd year in the league, now’s not the time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to leverage his talents.
Let’s be clear. Just because it was a good idea to sign 41-year-old Joe Thornton doesn’t automatically rationalize acquiring 43-year-old Chara. Simply stated, the only commonality here is the decade they were born.
Toronto’s young offense will benefit from playing alongside a veteran producer who is known for impacting important plays. Whereas, although their defense needed upgrading, slowing it down isn’t the route to take.
Chara’s decline in performance would be felt more dramatically in his position as a hindrance to the Maple Leafs. Whereas Thornton will still bring a desirable skillset to complement those around him, even amidst an expected decrease in production.
When it comes to the reasons Kyle Dubas should avoid making this costly mistake, even if it’s a seemingly financially friendly risk, he just needs to do a quick review of Chara’s recent career trends. He’s played on a top tier team, yet his stats don’t indicate that. And they should.
Since 2015-16, Chara has downgraded in the areas most impactful for his role. Interesting, in that span, Boston made it into the playoffs four times including a Stanley Cup Final appearance. They also captured the Presidents’ Trophy after having the best regular season through 2019-20.
This all aligns with the team cushioning and compensating for his downturn as opposed to Chara being a vital ingredient in their success. As the Bruins and many of their players experienced peaks, Chara’s trajectory was headed the other way.
It’s been thrown around as a claim towards illustrating his effectiveness, that Chara achieved a team-best plus-26 last season. However, there are a few flaws in that thinking.
First off, this stat is highly skewed to begin with. There are countless examples of how it doesn’t always properly illustrate a player’s impact in their role. Second, and more notably, Boston was one of the highest-scoring teams in the league with the best goal differential.
Yes, there is a claim to be made that strong defense helped them achieve that and Chara should be credited. However, he was far from the only factor as Rocket Richard Trophy winner David Pastrnak and his goal-scoring prowess certainly helped keep Chara on the plus side of things.
Plunge in Production
Throughout his career, Chara has been praised for his offensive abilities given his defensively structured physical presence. He’s adapted in effective ways, knowing when to be a force in his zone or how to shift gears and do so in the other.
However, that’s just not the case as of late. To kickstart this current five-year decline, Chara recorded a respectable 37 points in 2015-16. Through 2019-20, that total dropped to 14.
Even though production isn’t his primary function, given the other attributes he brings to the ice, that’s still been an important contribution of his. Toronto already added age and depth on defense this offseason and infusing more just for the sake of it would only confuse their strategy.
Less Time, Less Impact
21:01 of average ice time through the 2019-20 season is Chara’s lowest of this millennium and second from the bottom throughout his career. For his physical presence to be one, he needs to be out and involved in the play to provide it.
With less ice time comes fewer opportunities to be impactful. In this case, it could directly justify Chara’s lack of production as well as his trend in declining hits and blocks.
A drop in playing time is normal as athletes continue through the latter half of their careers and it doesn’t mean they can’t be effective. Toronto, though, needs bodies that can log increased minutes to alleviate the workload of their core as opposed to giving them more to manage.
The Realistic Reality
It would seem most likely that Chara will either remain a Bruin or potentially call it a career. On this continent, anyway.
At his peak, Chara was earning $7.5 million per season. At the end of 2019-20, he’d just completed a one-year deal that was worth $2 million. Chara has earned every penny throughout his career, but he’ll have to prepare for another pay cut if he plans to play much longer.
Whether he’s willing to accept that reality is yet to be seen, but it would make the most sense that he lobbies for the Bruins to take that chance on him. While the Toronto Maple Leafs should simply steer clear and continue to build on their progress.
The Toronto Maple Leafs has successfully addressed their needs this offseason, with Dubas taking a more adaptive approach than many assumed he’d be able to. After adding veteran leadership in other areas, and having directly filled their defensive holes, no room remains to fit a 6-foot-9 Chara.