2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

21 years might separate Zdeno Chara & Charlie McAvoy, but mutual respect takes precedence for top D pairing

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

There’s one major rule for anyone sandwiched into a media scrum with Zdeno Chara.

Don’t use the term “rookie.”

Through an NHL career that has spanned 21 years, the future Hall of Famer has refrained from using such a term — and will be quick to offer a polite correction if the expression is tossed out during a line of questioning, preferring the term, “first-year player” instead.

Now 42 years old, Chara is one of the elder statesmen in the NHL, with Pittsburgh’s Matt Cullen standing as the lone player in the league that eclipses the Bruins' defenseman in age.

The veteran has spent much of the later parts of his illustrious career ushering in the next wave of B's blueliners, most of the time paired up with one of these “first-year players.”

Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy can speak from experience. A pair of defensemen in the midst of their third and second full seasons in the NHL, respectively, both Carlo and McAvoy both found themselves as regulars on Boston’s top defensive pair alongside Chara during their first NHL campaigns in 2016 and 2017.  

Over the last three full seasons, no players have slotted in next to Chara on the blue line more than Carlo (1,672 5v5 minutes played with Chara) and McAvoy (1,449 5v5 min.). Quite the combination, to say the least, given the fact that a 20-year gap separates Boston’s captain from his two regular D-pairing partners.

It’s by design from the Bruins’ coaching staff, with future cornerstones of the franchise getting a crash course up in the NHL ranks alongside a future Hall of Famer.

"I think Z is a mentor, saw it with Carlo the year before and Charlie is receptive to that,” Bruce Cassidy said. "If you play to your strength but take what the veteran players tell you and still play your game, and that's what happened to Carlo. He deferred a little more, but he still played his shutdown game. Different player than Charlie, but it worked out well the year before and that's why, at the start of the year, well, do we go back to Zee and Carlo? Maybe Charlie, we'll move him somewhere else. But I think it's worked out really well for us."

It doesn’t look like the pairing of McAvoy-Chara is going to be split up anytime soon.

So far this postseason, Boston’s top pairing