The late Ted Williams would surely take delight in any zealous New England sports fans who, on his behalf, continue to proclaim him the greatest baseball hitter who ever lived. Even if the only scrap of concrete evidence is one solid, single-season .406 batting average, the legendary Red Sox’ left fielder and his descendant supporters would not yield in that argument then, now or in the future.
Whether he desires it or not, the comparatively humble Zdeno Chara is bound to have the same regional fanbase bent on granting him the eternal title of “hardest shooter” who ever played hockey. The prime differences from the Williams―otherwise known as “Splendid Splinter”―debate are a less keen emotional investment on Chara’s part and a paradoxically easier victory for his buffs.
Certainly, at the rate he continues to refresh the record book while still in his prime, the notion of bearing history’s most formidable slap shot will grow proportionately tougher to escape. Especially since the worldly and otherworldly Boston Bruins’ captain, born and raised in Slovakia and variously employed in two North American nations, has a handle on at least seven different languages.
In Saturday night’s NHL All-Star skills competition at Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place, his previous place of employment before a free-agent transfer to Boston in 2006, Chara twice elevated the hardest-shot bar.
His first bid exceeded 106 miles per hour, thus supplanting the 105.9 he had chalked up in last year’s contest at Carolina’s RBC Center. That already marked the second time he had scrubbed out his own record, originally set in 2009, when his 105.4 mile-per-hour slapper squeaked past Al Iafrate’s high mark of 105.2 from 1993.
Chara then pole-vaulted over an entire whole number with a mind-freezing 108.8 tally, thus cementing a fourth new record in the same category on the same individual transcript.
Once the dumbfounding data surfaced amidst his post-shot twirl back to the neutral zone of the Scotiabank Place ice surface, even the soft-spoken tower of power had to take a bow. With his physical stature and name recognition, especially in a city where he logged 299 games-played in four NHL seasons, promptly rejoining the conglomeration of fellow All-Stars would have been a vain endeavor for Chara.
So instead, he openly acknowledged his never-tiring accomplishment and embraced the magnetic applause, offering up a stick salute in open ice. It was about as close as one will get to seeing the next entrant in the Bruins’ Mt. Rushmore of defensemen emulate Williams’ hat-tipping habit of some five, six or seven decades ago.
Well, why not? This is a rare break from the norm in the thick of the NHL season when one can let his hair down and his stick up. The only other time or place for Chara to soak in such pleasurable praise without any guilt is, say, a hat trick amidst a 7-0 drubbing of a lowly opponent on home ice at TD Garden.
That regular-season accomplishment may claim the once-in-a-lifetime adage. But as long as he is an NHL All-Star caliber player, Chara may find his increasingly prosperous hardest-shot dynasty a once-in-a-year opportunity.
Granted, Nashville Predators’ blueliner Shea Weber made enough of a ripple himself in the final round of the event Saturday. His final shot clocked in at an even 106 miles per hour, which would have been a new record itself if not for either of Chara’s preliminary bids.
But 108.8? That may have to secure a new, immortalizing moniker for Boston’s captain. “Splendid Slapper” might be the way to go.