With NHL camps just around the corner, and a lot of veteran players still looking for homes for the upcoming season, there will be some interesting signings in the next few days.
That said, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara signing with the Washington Capitals certainly caused a stir on Wednesday. He signed a one-year, $795,000 deal after not getting a contract to rejoin the Bruins.
“We are extremely pleased to have Zdeno join the Capitals organization,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “We feel his experience and leadership will strengthen our blueline and our team.”
The hulking defenseman, who turns 44 in March, has spent 14 years in Boston and now will look to hoist the Cup for the second time in his career with the Capitals this season.
In fact, the only Capital player who was with the team when Chara signed in Boston in 2006 is the team’s captain, Alexander Ovechkin.
While the Capitals have added a pair of defensemen over the offseason in Justin Schultz and Trevor van Reimsdyk, Chara certainly adds an element of grit and toughness, even though his foot speed isn’t quite what it used to be.
Chara wouldn’t be the only future Hall of Famer the Capitals have signed this offseason, as New York Rangers legend Henrik Lundqvist signed with the team before having to bow out with a heart ailment.
Chara confirmed he was leaving the Bruins on Instagram earlier Wednesday, writing, “The Boston Bruins have informed me that they plan to move forward with their many younger and talented players and I respect their decision.”
What Can Chara Bring to the Capitals?
Certainly, with the speed that the Caps’ top pair offers in John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov, along with Nick Jensen, Chara is in a slower gear, but he also can anchor a pairing to help maintain a defensive presence in case of a turnover.
Chara, whose contract figure gives Washington flexibility, figures to be heading to a third-pairing role, as one of the team’s weaknesses, defensive dept, has been addressed this season. He can also help the penalty killing with his presence in front of the net and try and clear out traffic, and also aid the struggling power play with a shot that is among the league’s hardest.
Chara can counterbalance a rushing defenseman as well, allowing a partner to rush the puck up ice, as with his speed, he can’t take a lot of chances himself, but does allow some protection in case the play changes the other direction.
Despite losing Michal Kempny for the season due to injury, Washington has now added Chara, Schultz and van Riemsdyk to the roster for this season, adding to returning players Carlson, Orlov, Jensen, Brenden Dillon and Jonas Siegenthaler. While the number of defensemen could create a bit of a log jam, the team also has the option to use some players on the taxi squad, and certainly with the injury and COVID-19 threat, they won’t appear to be caught short this season.
Chara’s arrival also offers the Capitals a leadership role, as he held the Bruins’ captaincy since his first season in Boston. One aspect the Capitals had been missing since Brooks Orpik’s retirement in 2019 was a veteran presence on the blue line, and having served as Boston’s captain certainly qualifies to fill a void in the room.
Chara’s willingness to put himself in harm’s way has become legendary in recent years, and he recently made news in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when he took a shot to the jaw in Game 4 but made an emotional return to the lineup wearing a full mask for Game 5 in front of the home crowd at TD Garden.
The Slovakian star is certainly not afraid to sacrifice himself to help his team, and despite his advanced age, he still can prove somewhat effective in trying to limit shots against — which will be important with a young netminding corps.
The Capitals offered up opponents a good number of scoring opportunities in the second half of last season, and Washington hopes Chara’s presence will reduce those. In addition, with a steady diet of physical opponents with the temporary alignment, Chara also gives Washington some extra size to deal with their rivals.
Coming in with a contract near the league minimum gives the Caps some flexibility, and clearly, the defenseman hopes he can earn another deal once the 56-game schedule ends.
Chara, who has appeared in three Stanley Cup Finals with the Bruins, also was able to lift the trophy in 2011 in a seven-game win over the Vancouver Canucks. With several offers reportedly on the table after the Bruins decided to go a different direction, Chara elected to try and see if he could help the Capitals win another Cup, and as a result, could face his old team eight times this season as they both temporarily share the same division.
For the Capitals, they add size and leadership at a reduced price for a team that seemingly is going all in to try and reclaim the Stanley Cup this spring.
Author of a pair of Washington Capitals books, Transition Game and Red Rising, as well as a book on the American Hockey League, Chasing the Dream. Covered the Capitals and the NHL for the Washington Times, AOL Sports, Sporting News, SB Nation, Newsday, Tampa Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.