Last month, the Boston Bruins finally retired number 22 for Willie O’Ree, who 64 years ago broke the color barrier in the NHL. It was a historic and exciting night for everyone in the hockey world. It was especially exciting since on Jan. 31, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, signed into law the bill that will award O’Ree with the Congressional Gold Medal.
O’Ree not only joins an impressive group of players with their numbers in the rafters of TD Garden, but elevates it. The standard for who gets chosen to have their number retired should only get higher from here.
Related: Bruins’ 2021-22 Mid-Season Awards
Now, the question is, who then should be that next player to have their number join the rafters? There are a few guys who have had their names tossed around, including some currently on the team (cough cough Patrice Bergeron cough). But, I think even before his number inevitably gets retired, there is another fairly obvious answer: Zdeno Chara.
Chara’s Impact on the Ice
To be honest, It still feels weird that Chara is not currently a Bruin. It feels weird that he is still playing in the league in a different jersey. At 44 years old, he is currently the oldest player in the league and still finding ways to make an impact for his current team, the New York Islanders, who drafted him in 1997, well before several notable players in the league this year were born. While he only has four assists in 36 games, he’s a plus-4 and recently made headlines for getting into a fight with Zack MacEwen on the Philadelphia Flyers and checking if he was okay afterwards.
These types of moments defined his fourteen seasons in Boston. He’s an incredible player, but an even better leader and competitor on the ice. He’s a giant on the ice, which sometimes means he runs into unfortunate accidents. But as shown with the MacEwen moment, he’s rarely seemed to have a malicious intent in his play.
Chara played monster minutes his entire career in the black and yellow. His lowest average time on ice was 21:01, and came in his last season for the Bruins, 2019-20, when he was 42. In his first season in Boston, he had his highest career average time on ice at nearly 28 minutes in 71 games in the 2006-07 season. That is nearly a minute more than the current leader in time on ice in the NHL, Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators, who is averaging 27:08.
While he has not made his name as a scorer in the second half of his career, he was definitely a significant points contributor early on. His best came in the 2011-12 season, when he had 52 points in 79 games and was a plus-33. For the type of game he played, which was never as offensively minded as someone like Bruins legend Ray Bourque (who’s number 77 hangs in the rafters) 52 points was pretty significant.
Chara’s on ice play also earned him plenty of accolades around the NHL throughout his time on the Bruins. He won the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defenseman in 2009 and was a finalist in 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2014. He won the Mark Messier Award for Leadership in 2011 and was named to the first All-Star team in 2008 and 2014.
Most importantly, when looking at Chara’s on-ice performance in determining his merit to retire his number is the fact that he led them to winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. In their run to the Cup, he had nine points in 24 games and was an incredible plus-16. His average time on ice was 27:39, he had 29 blocks and 55 hits. He was a majorly important piece on them winning their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
Chara the Captain On and Off the Ice
Chara was named captain of the Boston Bruins on Oct. 3, 2006, right at the start of his career there. He was the 18th captain in the history of the team and held it for the entirety of his tenure. Many of those former captains have had their numbers retired, including Bourque, Milt Schmidt, Terry O’Reilly, and Johnny Bucyk.
As already mentioned, Chara was a leader on and off the ice. He was always there for optional skates, and always gave his effort in every game. Who can forget him playing with a literal broken jaw in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019? He truly bled black and gold when he was here.
A fun fact that many know about Chara by now is that he speaks seven languages, which comes in handy when you’re a leader in a league like the NHL where players come to North America from all around the world. While they learned and adapted to speaking English, it was always helpful to have a captain who most likely knew at least a little bit of your native tongue.
He had a great way of bringing in the younger guys to the team. In the final seasons of his career in Boston, he was instrumental in mentoring Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
This video from Chara’s instagram is from after McAvoy signed his first contract extension with the Bruins. You can’t convince me that there is a better video of a 40+ captain interacting with a 20-something year old teammate out there.
Chara was always a presence in the Boston community. From being spotted biking around the city, to being a part of almost every Bruins charity event, he was so loved and appreciated by the fans. For his final years, he took over the annual turkey donation and pie deliveries that was started by Aaron Ward in 2008, spending time on his day off for the holiday to give back to those who need it.
Coincidentally enough, it was his young protege McAvoy who took over the tradition this year. Even if he is no longer on the team anymore, he truly influenced so many of the team’s current crop of young players to be the people they are both on and off the ice today.
Another 33 Should Join the Rafters
On Feb. 4, 1993, the Boston Celtics retired their number 33 for Larry Bird, one of the most beloved Boston athletes of all time. Once Chara finally hangs up his skates, which, who honestly knows at this point when that will happen, it should be long before the Bruins add another 33 to the rafters of TD Garden.
There is little reason not to retire his number. He has the individual awards, the Stanley Cup, longevity, on ice-production, and off ice impact. For fourteen seasons, he was the face and heart of the team. While he did not re-sign with the team just prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, he left on good terms and remains well-liked around the team and city of Boston.
Chara is destined to one day be enshrined in the hockey hall of fame whenever he decides to retire. He should also be the next Bruins to have his number retired.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.