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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:

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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?

Sharks prospect Meier out four weeks with mononucleosis

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Timo Meier poses for a portrait after being selected ninth overall by the San Jose Sharks during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks have revealed the illness that prospect forward Timo Meier has been dealing with during training camp.

A statement from Sharks general manager Doug Wilson:

Timo Meier is expected to be unable to play in any NHL or AHL games for approximately four weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. He will remain in the Bay Area where he can skate and train as his recovery allows.

It was reported yesterday that Meier, selected ninth overall in 2015, had been held off the ice for five straight days due to the illness. It was also noted that his time away could open the door for other prospects to perhaps crack the roster.

The fact he’s expected to be out for up to four weeks means that, unless something changes, he won’t be ready for the start of the regular season.

On Friday, prior to the Sharks providing an update on his illness, the San Jose Mercury News reported that Meier skated with his teammates earlier in the day.

“I’m trying to stay positive,” said Meier. “I’ve only missed preseason games and obviously, still trying to make the team. But I still have some time and I’ll try to make the most of it once I’m back.”

Byfuglien leaves Jets preseason game with lower-body injury

WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 11: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets prepares for the faceoff in second period action in an NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre on February 11, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets will be without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien for the remainder of Friday’s exhibition game versus the Edmonton Oilers.

The Jets announced that Byfuglien will not return for the third period due to a lower-body injury.

Byfuglien was involved in a scuffle with Matt Hendricks earlier in the game. Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reported on Twitter that Byfuglien went to the dressing room during the off-setting penalties.

Stay tuned for later updates.

NHL’s participation in 2018 Olympics still undecided, but World Cup expected to return in 2020

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada carries the World Cup of Hockey Trophy after Canada defeated Europe 2-1 during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) The World Cup of Hockey will return, without a doubt, and avoid another 12-year break.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr both confirmed for The Associated Press on Friday that they expect the next World Cup of Hockey to be in 2020.

It is much less certain whether the best players will go to South Korea to participate in the 2018 Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel told the AP on Tuesday the odds of NHL players going to the Pyeongchang Games were 50-50, a slight upgrade from his forecast in May.

Later the same day, Daly said he felt more “negative,” about the chances the league’s players will be in a sixth straight Olympics due to the International Olympic Committee’s decision to not pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

Fehr, who represents players who have made it clear they want to be in the Olympics, said he’s more optimistic than pessimistic a deal will get done.

Related:

Daly: NHL could skip 2018 Olympics and return in 2022

Alex Ovechkin again says he plans to play in 2018 Olympics even if NHL doesn’t participate

The union head insisted he isn’t concerned about the IOC’s stance.

“Everybody understands that nobody’s going to risk their career and future earnings and all the rest of it in return for no compensation and no coverage,” Fehr told the AP. “No one will do that. They understand that. That’s been a given for a long, long time. If it plays out that way, which I do not expect it to play out that way, we’ll deal with it.”

The IOC isn’t buying the banter.

“I think both sides are playing poker,” president of the International Ski federation Gian Franco Kasper, who represents winter sports on the IOC executive board, said Friday in an interview with the AP.

The IOC does not want to continue its past practice of paying for NHL players’ travel and insurance because it doesn’t want to have to do the same for athletes in other sports.

Fasel said it is his job to raise the money needed, which he estimates to be about $10 million. Fasel said he plans to “beg,” for the funds from national Olympic committees and hockey federations. He acknowledged using some of the $40 million the IOC gives the IIHF to fund its programs, including development opportunities for boys and girls, could be used to bring the best hockey players to South Korea.

Daly said the NHL would like a final decision to be made by the end of the year so that it can set the 2017-18 schedule with or without a break midway through the slate for the Olympics.

The World Cup of Hockey, which the NHL and NHLPA teamed up to bring back for the first time since 2004, does not conflict with the league’s schedule because the games were played during training camp and early preseason games.

Playing hockey in late September, however, is not an ideal time to draw TV viewers in the U.S. in part because of interest in the NFL, college football and baseball.

Game 1 with Canada and Team Europe in the World Cup finals on Tuesday night – without direct competition from football – drew just 494,000 viewers on ESPN. A mere 297,000 people tuned in to watch Sweden face Europe in the semifinals on Sunday afternoon on the cable network. With a potentially interesting matchup with Canada and Russia, just 353,000 were watching hockey on ESPN.

Daly acknowledged it was a “challenge,” to engage Americans enough to watch the event. It did not help that the U.S. and North American Under 23-teams didn’t make it to the semifinals of the eight-team tournament.

It was also, surprisingly, difficult to fill seats at the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs despite being in hockey hotbed even though the league said ticket sales went very well. It seemed many more people were interested in attending Toronto Blue Jays games when world-class hockey matchups and playoff-push baseball games were played at the same time.

The level of hockey, at times, was impressive. And, the atmosphere was electric when Canada rallied from a one-goal deficit in the final few minutes Thursday night to beat Europe 2-1.

During many stretches of play, however, the World Cup of Hockey didn’t do enough to fire up fans in attendance.

Days before Canada beat Europe 2-0 in the best-of-three series to win the World Cup, Canadian coach Mike Babcock seemed to sum up the situation best.

“The World Cup is great. It’s not the Olympics,” Babcock said in an unsolicited comparison of the two events. “Let’s not get confused.”

Report: Ehrhoff headed to Bruins on a PTO

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The Boston Bruins were under some serious pressure this summer to improve their group of defensemen.

That didn’t happen.

With training camp and the preseason now in full swing, it appears the Bruins are bringing in a veteran blue liner — at least on a professional tryout.

On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that unrestricted free agent blue liner Christian Ehrhoff is about to join Boston on a PTO following his showing at the World Cup of Hockey.

In six games with Team Europe, Ehrhoff had three assists — all at even strength — and nine shots on goal.

Ehrhoff is now 34 years old, and the Bruins already have a pair of seasoned defenders in Zdeno Chara (39 years old) and John-Michael Liles (35 years old) on their roster. Adam McQuaid turns 30 years old in October.

Ehrhoff played last season on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, and was placed on waivers in February while with the L.A. Kings, before he was traded to Chicago. Age and injuries have caught up to him, and he never did fit with the Kings’ style under Darryl Sutter.

He was most productive during two seasons in Vancouver, a puck-moving defenseman that could effectively skate the puck out of trouble and move the attack that way if need be. But that was from 2009 to 2011. His production has dipped, especially over the last three years.

He was also pivotal to Vancouver’s power play, especially in 2011 when the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy and made it to the Stanley Cup Final — against Boston.

Again, that was five years ago.