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How long can Zdeno Chara keep this up?

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While he’s only taken one Norris Trophy in his already distinguished career, Zdeno Chara might just be the best defenseman in the NHL. He’s the common denominator in a Boston Bruins defense that helped Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask and even backups like Anton Khudobin put up big numbers.*

Even so, the Bruins made a bold gamble by signing him to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal in 2010: they bet that he could be effective into his early 40’s. So far, at 36, he’s shown few signs of slowing down, but the question is: how long can he really keep this up?

Rather than focus on the negatives, let’s get them out of the way really quick: injury risks increase with age, and with a player at Chara’s unprecedented size, mobility and other assets can fall off rapidly.

With that out of the way, here are a few reasons why he could remain dominant for years.

Treating his body right

Chara isn’t just riding his history-making frame; he’s a fitness fanatic who’s made waves for his devotion to cycling.

The benefits of such habits are obvious, as we’ve previously seen with age-defying Detroit Red Wings defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios.

Cue awkward but requisite ESPN “The Body Issue” photo:

source:

Of course, being in prime condition doesn’t mean that injuries cannot strike.

While many wine-like-aging blueliners have leaned toward the “finesse” side – barring the occasional outlier such as Scott Stevens – Chara isn’t throwing around his body as much as one might expect.

Sure, he’s not shy, with 101 hits in 48 games played last season. Still, that ranks him third on his own team last season; his regular partner Dennis Seidenberg had 115 hits in two fewer contests. Fifty-nine NHL players delivered more hits than Big Z last season.

Usage

Chara uses positioning and his otherworldly reach in ways that seem heartening for his future. Even so, the worry is that the Bruins will run him into the ground with heavy minutes.

After studying the workloads of players like LidstromRay Bourque, and Al MacInnis, it was clear that elite blueliners received heavy minutes until their last season or two. Chara has been clocking about 25 minutes per contest for the last four seasons, which is a significant haul, but not outrageous for a top defenseman.

His 24:56 minutes per game ranked 15th in the NHL last season … five seconds fewer than Dennis Wideman. (Pauses for Bruins fans to snicker.)

All things considered, the Bruins could probably hand him the same basic workload for two or three more seasons without too many worries.

(Even if Chara’s struggles in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final weren’t just overblown, he’s consistently been a dominant force in his own zone. Overreacting to one series would probably be foolish.)

***

Father Time is a daunting opponent, but Chara could join that select group of defensemen who played at an all-world level deep into their careers. Perhaps that record-breaking slapper will slip a few miles per hour, but if he maintains his fitness level and is selective about throwing hits, the Big Z might gracefully become the Big Old Z.

Of course, a freak injury could just as easily scuttle those hopes.

* – Remember Manny Fernandez?

WATCH LIVE: Penguins at Capitals, Game 2, plus NHL Draft Lottery

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, right, goes up against Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, left, during the second period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to even up their second-round series with the Washington Capitals with a win on the road Saturday at Verizon Center. You can catch Game 2 between these rivals on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links for both Game 2 between the Penguins and Capitals, and the draft lottery:

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Wilson fined for kneeing Sheary

Everything you need to know about the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery

Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight

Burke: Once a team picks first overall, no more drafting first overall (for a few years at least)

Lightning strikes: Bolts even series with Islanders

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Tyler Johnson began the playoffs as a game-time decision for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their series with the Detroit Red Wings. He’s now among the top point producers this post-season.

Needing a win to even the series before it shifts north to Brooklyn, the Lightning earned a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon. Series tied, 1-1. As for Johnson, the diminutive but skilled forward, he led the Bolts with a three-point night and is up to 10 points in the playoffs.

He opened the scoring versus the Islanders and finished it with an empty-netter to negate any late comeback attempt.

Still without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning got another strong game from Jonathan Drouin, who entered this series without a goal. But he changed that, giving the host team a two-goal lead in the opening period of Game 2. That goal would be the eventual winner.

Corey Perry: ‘I take a lot of blame for what happened’ after Ducks bounced in first round

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks watch from the bench during the first period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 11, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After a first-round playoff loss that resulted in the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, players were forced to answer for such a disappointing end to the Anaheim Ducks’ season.

The Ducks were last in the West at the holiday break but went flying up the standings in the second half of the season, claiming the Pacific Division. But they couldn’t close out the Nashville Predators in the opening round, despite a 3-2 series lead, and Boudreau was sent packing.

Ducks GM Bob Murray then let the players have it, blasting the core group and their performance, especially in the first two games of the series, and strongly suggesting there would be some big changes in Anaheim leading up to next season.

“I take a lot of blame for what happened,” said Corey Perry, as per the Ducks’ website. “I didn’t score a goal. I take a lot of responsibility. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.”

In seven games, the 30-year-old Perry, who just concluded the third year of an eight-year contract with a cap hit of $8.625 million, had four assists. But, as he said, no goals.

On Boudreau’s dismissal, Perry added: “He did a lot for my game. It’s tough when you know the reason somebody got fired is because we as a team and as individuals didn’t perform to where we needed to perform, and that’s the hardest thing. You lose four Game 7s at home, and he has nothing really do with what we did on the ice. We’re performing, we’re playing and we have to hold ourselves accountable. And I think a lot of guys are doing that.”

 

Marquette, Michigan is your Kraft Hockeyville 2016 winner

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Huge congrats to the community of Marquette, MI and the Lakeview Arena — after an exciting voting process, Marquette has been named the winner of the Kraft Hockeyville 2016 competition.

As a result, Lakeview will receive $150,000 in arena upgrades, and will host an Oct. 4 preseason game broadcast on NBCSN between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.

More, from the NHL:

Marquette is rich in hockey heritage and Lakeview Arena stands as a pillar of the community, stimulating the local economy since it opened in 1973. Lakeview Arena’s semi-pro Marquette Iron Rangers signed the first female professional hockey player in North American history, Karen Koch.

Lakeview Arena will prioritize energy efficiency updates with the grand prize money in addition to other arena upgrades to ensure future generations of Marquette players are able to enjoy skating at Lakeview Arena for years to come.

“We’ve seen amazing participation across the country in Kraft Hockeyville USA’s second year,” said Nina Barton, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Kraft Heinz. “This year’s contest led to millions of votes from passionate hockey fans, and we’re so proud America has chosen the spirited, well-deserving community of Marquette as Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016.”

Marquette was just one of more than a thousand communities across the country that submitted stories showing their hockey spirit and passion.

The runner-up, Rushmore Thunderdome of Rapid City, S.D., will receive $75,000 to use toward arena upgrades.

For more on this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition, click here.