Eleven months after Patrice Bergeron played his 1,000th career game in a Boston Bruins uniform, Zdeno Chara joined his alternate captain with the same milestone. Unlike Bergeron who reached the milestone at the TD Garden, Chara reached his feat on the road in Philadelphia Monday night against the Flyers in a 6-5 shootout loss.
Bergeron has played all of his games for the Bruins since being drafted by the club 45th overall in the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Chara has spent his career in three different uniforms, but a majority of the impact that he has had in the league has been since he donned the Spoked-B as a free agent signing in the summer in 2006. Since joining Boston, he has been a leader on and off the ice, while playing through injuries that most players wouldn’t be able to do. He also helped deliver a Stanley Cup championship after almost a four-decade drought.
Ottawa Makes a Tough Decision
Drafted 56th overall in the third round of the 1996 Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, Chara played three years on Long Island before being traded to the Ottawa Senators during the 2001 Draft as part of a deal that included draft picks.
After four very good breakout years in Ottawa with 51 goals and 94 assists, the Senators and Chara were backed into a corner at the end of the 2005-06 season. With fellow defensemen Wade Redden and Chara both having their contracts expire, the Senators knew that financially they could only afford to keep one and most likely lose the other. Ottawa decided to re-sign Redden and let Chara hit free agency. (from ‘Redden’s locked up, but Chara set to walk,’ The Globe and Mail, 07/01/2006) The Bruins jumped at the opportunity to sign a cornerstone of their defense.
Signing with Boston
On July 1, 2006, the Bruins got their future captain when the 29-year-old Chara agreed to a four-year, $37.5-million contract. With the signing official, Boston wasted little time in naming him the team captain after they traded their previous captain, Joe Thornton, to the San Jose Sharks earlier in the year.
Chara’s impact was felt immediately with the Bruins. He averaged 79 games a year in his first five years and played a key role in helping the Bruins break their 39-year drought between Stanley Cup championships in 2011 when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games. He has also backboned trips to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019 in which the Bruins came up on the losing end to the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, respectively.
Chara has been durable, playing in an average 73 games a year for the last seven seasons and has a total 148 goals and 332 assists for the Bruins with a plus-231 over his 14 years. After signing a seven-year contract extension on Oct. 9, 2010, he is still going strong after singing a one-year contract extension last spring.
Leadership on and off the Ice
As he has got older, Chara has been even more important to the Bruins off the ice as he has been on it. Over the last few years, Boston has used their draft picks to bolster their defensive unit and he has been there every step of the way, mentoring the future blueliners.
During the run to the 2011 championship, Chara was paired with Dennis Seidenberg. The duo was arguably the best paired duo in the league at the time. Two years ago, coach Bruce Cassidy paired Chara with fellow enforcer and rookie Brandon Carlo. The duo was one of the largest combinations in the league as Chara is 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, while Carlo checks in at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds. Add in the long reach from both players and it’s easy to see why it’s hard to get by them with the puck.
Playing Through Injuries
Being 42 years old in the NHL can take its toll on the body. Chara is finding that out this year, but an injury in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final last spring is still giving him issues this year.
In Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues, Chara took a puck to the face when he deflected a shot by the Blues’ Brayden Schenn. He was diagnosed with a broken jaw with multiple fractures in his face. After surgery, he was back on the ice in Game 5 three nights later starting at the TD Garden. On Dec. 23, he had surgery to repair an infection in his jaw and was back on the ice three nights later again.
When Chara took the ice Jan. 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the TD Garden, he became part of NHL history for playing a game in four different decades. Three of those decades have been spent in Boston where he will most likely finish his career and have a very good case to enter the Hall of Fame one day.