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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?

Ryan Carter is back with Wild after signing one-year deal

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 29: Ryan Carter #18 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 29, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Ryan Carter’s comeback attempt with the Minnesota Wild is just about complete.

After skating with the team in practices this month and getting a tryout contract with their AHL team, the Wild announced on Sunday morning that Carter has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the team for the remainder of the season.

According to Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune, Carter contract carries a prorated salary of $525,000 if he plays in the NHL and $250,000 when he is with Iowa.

He had been recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. An unrestricted free agent, Carter really had no interest in signing with any other team outside of the Wild. He spent the past two seasons with the team, including 60 games during the 2015-16 season where he scored seven goals and added five assists while also playing a role on the team’s penalty killing unit.

Minnesota is currently the top team in the Western Conference with 84 points.

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to slow down Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24: Jori Lehtera #12 of the St. Louis Blues controls the puck between Artem Anisimov #15 (L) and Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The second game on the NBC Networks today features a Central Division rivalry when the St. Louis Blues pay a visit to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, or on our Live Stream.

It will also be the second Star Sunday broadcast of the day, with this one featuring Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko and Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews.

From the minute he arrived in the NHL Tarasenko has been one of the league’s most electrifying players and is currently on pace for what would be his third consecutive season with at least 37 goals with an outside shot at his second consecutive 40-goal season.

Toews, meanwhile, is doing his part to erase a miserable first half of the season offensively by completely taking over for the Blackhawks in recent weeks. Entering Sunday’s game Toews is on a scoring surge that has seen him record 23 points in the past 15 games. That is more offense than he created in his first 37 games of the season.

As a team, the Blackhawks are simply crushing any opponent that gets in their way right now with wins in eight of their past nine games thanks to an offense that is scoring at least four goals every game during that stretch.

It’s a big game for both teams when it comes to the playoff picture.

For the Blues, winners of seven out of 10 under new coach Mike Yeo, they have a chance to put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in Western Conference wild card race if they can pick up a win. They enter the game three points up on the Los Angeles Kings.

The Blackhawks are still trying to keep pace with the Minnesota Wild for the top spot in the Central Division, entering the day three points back.

Chicago will be without a pretty significant member of its defense on Sunday night when Niklas Hjalmarsson misses the game due to an upper body injury. He had to exit their game against Arizona on Thursday night in the first period. He is currently listed as day-to-day. With Hjalmarsson out Michal Rozsival will draw back in to the lineup after scoring his first goal of the season on Thursday.

Flyers’ Brandon Manning has discipline hearing for Jake Guentzel hit

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The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-2 Stadium Series win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night turned into a pretty physical game. Things really started to escalate in the second period when Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning rocked Penguins rookie forward Jake Guentzel with the huge open ice hit shown in the video above.

The biggest problem with the hit, of course, is that Guentzel not only did not have the puck when he was hit, but he never really had possession of the puck at all and was not eligible to be hit on the play.

That is interference.

Even though no interference penalty was called on the play, Manning is probably not going to escape discipline for the play. The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Sunday morning that Manning will have a hearing on Monday for the hit.

Guentzel was not injured on the play and remained in the game, picking up an assist a few minutes later on a Nick Bonino power play goal. Guentzel finished the game with two assists and already has 14 points in his first 23 games in the NHL.

NHL On NBC: Bruins look to stay hot against desperate Stars

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 10: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars prepares to face off against Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins during the second period at TD Garden on February 10, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Stars defeat the Bruins 5-3. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBC networks are airing two games on Sunday, with the first one being a big matchup in Dallas featuring two teams desperately fighting for a playoff spot when the Stars host the Boston Bruins.

It’s another Star Sunday on NBC with the focus for this game falling on Stars forward (and former Bruins) Tyler Seguin and Bruins forward David Pastrnak.

Seguin has been one of the NHL’s elite offensive players since arriving in Dallas in a trade four years ago, while Pastrnak is having a breakout season in Boston that has already seen him score 26 goals in 54 games.

Faceoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET, and all of the action can be seen on NBC or via our Live Stream.

As for the game itself, it’s a pretty huge — as they all will be from now on — for both teams. The Bruins enter the game having won four of their first five games under new coach Bruce Cassidy as their offense continues its second half resurgence. They have already scored 23 goals in the five games under Cassidy, and have averaged more than 3.18 goals per game in their past 22 under both him and former coach Claude Julien. Now that Tuukka Rask has started to get back on track, wins are starting to come a little more frequently.

The Bruins enter play on Sunday barely holding on to the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 68 points, currently owning a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders and sitting two points ahead of the Florida Panthers. A win on Sunday would move them into a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators.

For the Stars, meanwhile, things are a little more dire.

Even with wins in back-to-back games entering Sunday their playoff chances should probably be described as a complete long shot at this point, sitting nine points back of the St. Louis Blues for a wild card spot.

They are looking to win three games in a row for just the third time this season.

They get a little bit of help on the blue line on Sunday with the likely return of defenseman Johnny Oduya as he was activated from injured reserve Sunday morning.

On Friday, they already started selling assets by trading Patrick Eaves to the Anaheim Ducks for a draft pick.