BOSTON — After more than 1,000 games with the Boston Bruins spanning the course of 14 seasons, former captain Zdeno Chara announced Wednesday that he will not be returning to the club in 2021. Moments later, the Washington Capitals announced that the defenseman had signed a 1-year, $795,000 contract with the team.
The 43-year-old defenseman has been with the black and gold since 2006, serving as team captain for all 14 seasons.
Chara made the announcement Wednesday afternoon on Instagram. It came almost four months to the day following the end of the Bruins 2019-2020 season, which wrapped up with a 3-2 double-overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Drafted 56th overall in the third round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, Chara has been a member of three teams since his arrival on the NHL scene. Traded away from Long Island to Ottawa in 2001, Chara spent another four seasons with the Senators before the offseason of 2006.
It was then when the hulking 6-foot-9 defenseman became the latest in a string of Bruins blueliners to anchor the team for one of its most productive eras.
On July 1, 2006, Chara inked a five-year, $37.5 million contract with Boston, the first of four signings with the team over the course of the next decade and a half. In that time with the Bruins, Chara has established himself as one of the best defensemen in team history.
During the course of the Bruins 96-year existence, many of their best teams have been built around a top defenseman. From Eddie Shore to Bobby Orr to Brad Park to Ray Bourque, high-end talent on the blue line has defined some of the organization’s best eras.
Chara has been the latest installment in that history of great Bruins defensemen. His 14 seasons as team captain are second-most in Bruins history, trailing only Bourque’s 15 seasons.
Since arriving in Beantown, the Trencin, Slovakia native has been named an NHL All-Star seven times and has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the league’s top defenseman – five times, winning the award in the 2008-2009 season.
He’s amassed 481 points (148G, 333A) in 1,023 regular-season games for the team, while racking up 1,055 penalty minutes and netting 24 game-winning goals in his career with the Bruins. He is sixth all-time in regular-season games-played for Boston.
Some of Chara’s greatest moments with the Bruins haven’t come during the regular season however, they’ve come during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During his time in Boston, ‘Big Z’ has played in 150 postseason games, second to only Bourque (180).
In 2013, the Bruins faced a 4-1 deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period of Game 7 in the first round. Boston ended up rallying, scoring a pair of last-minute goals to force overtime; Chara assisted on one and stood in front of the net on the equalizer, screening Toronto’s James Reimer.
When the contest ended with Patrice Bergeron’s overtime winner, Chara had logged 35:46 in ice time, seven minutes more than any other skater on either team.
Six years later, as the Bruins battled the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, Chara suffered a broken jaw in Game 4 after a shot from Brayden Schenn smacked the captain on the right side of his face.
Despite the injury, Chara did not miss a game for the remainder of the postseason, heroically sporting a full face-shield in games 5, 6 & 7.
Three times Chara has led Bruins teams to the Stanley Cup Final, reaching the final round in 2011, 2013 and 2019. While Boston fell short against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and against the Blues a year ago, Chara’s Bruins won the club’s first title in 39 years when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in 2011.
That postseason, Chara led the Bruins in plus/minus as a +16 and led the team in average time on ice amongst skaters at 27:39. He was also a team-high +11 in their 2019 run.
The Bruins have had their share of heartbreaks during the course of Chara’s tenure as captain, however.
In addition to their painful Cup Final losses in 2013 and 2019, the Bruins also lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 after leading three games to none in their second-round series. The club also suffered a pair of second-round exits after finishing the regular season as the league’s best team in 2014 and 2020. They’ve watched opposing teams celebrate Game 7 wins in the postseason at their expense in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2019.
But only a handful of teams have been more successful than the Bruins in the Chara era. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks both won three championships with clubs that were as close to dynasties as any exist in the modern NHL. The Los Angeles Kings made one fewer Cup Final than the Bruins in the last decade but won both of them to Boston’s one.
Even some of the powerhouse teams of the Eastern Conference like the Capitals have not reached the final round of the postseason more than once in Chara’s time with Boston.
The Bruins have pained some hard-to-swallow losses in the last 14 years, no doubt. But in the seven years prior to Chara’s arrival, the team missed the postseason four times and had not advanced to the Stanley Cup Final since 1990. His time in Boston has been one of the most fruitful periods for the team since the Big, Bad Bruins of the 1970s.
One of the most respected captains in the league, Chara won the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award in that Cup-winning 2011 season for his leadership on and off the ice.
In fact, in a 2019 article written by Joe McDonald of The Athletic, the longtime veteran of the NHL explained how he hates even using the word ‘rookie’ to describe first-year players, explaining that it contributes to a culture of hazing newcomers to the league.
Chara pointed to his time as a young player in the NHL and how it led him to ensure that no first-year player on the Bruins would have to experience the many rookie rituals prevalent across the league. The captain explained that different treatment off the ice leads to unfair expectations on the ice, where young players are expected to contribute early and often if they are to stay in the league.
That culture established by Chara has been picked up by much of the Bruins’ main core, in players like Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand, to name a few. All of them have been instrumental in the team’s success the last decade, which has seen the Bruins play for the Stanley Cup three times in nine seasons.
Chara has been the tallest piece of the NHL fabric since his debut on November 19, 1997. In total, he has played in a combined 1,748 career NHL games across parts of four decades. He’s scored 223 goals and amassed 726 points in his long career.
He’s been a part of the NHL for so long that he once fought Louie DeBrusk back in 1998 and then went on to play three seasons with Jake DeBrusk, Louie’s son, during his final years in Boston.
Now, as the 43-year-old turns to the next chapter of his career, so too will the Bruins following one of the most successful eras in their franchise history. In Chara’s 14 years, the team made the playoffs 11 times, won their division five times, were awarded the President’s Trophy as the league’s best regular-season team twice, played their way to the Stanley Cup Final three times and captured the most harrowed trophy in sports once, in 2011.
His number will most certainly hang in the rafters of TD Garden and he is all but assured a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. And to the city he’s called home for the last 14 years, he has earned a 6-foot-9 spot in the hearts of Bruins fans across New England.
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