Zdeno Chara and the Washington Capitals are a match made in hockey heck.
2018 was the Washington Capitals‘ year.
They finished first in the Metropolitan Division, recorded 49 wins and 105 points over the 82 game regular season, and breezed through the playoffs like a knife through butter. That year marked Washington’s first (half) trip around the sun as Stanley Cup winners, made good on a very successful tenure under head coach Barry Trotz, and made one of the NHL’s All-Timers, Alex Ovechkin, a stateside champion for the first time in his now-15-year NHL career.
But since then, things haven’t been quite as sweet.
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The Capitols have still remained a steady playoff presence, making it to the dance in every season since 2014-15, but they’ve been bumped from play in the first round of each of the last two seasons – marking the first time that’s ever happened in franchise history.
Out went Trotz and his 66.7 win percentage, and in his place came Peter Laviolette, the controversial clipboard holder who has been successful everywhere he’s coached but never seems to remain in good standing for long enough to fully set his roots down and find a ‘forever home.’
Like Trotz, Laviolette brings a level of respect to the locker room that a young coach may not command, which is important when you consider the Caps have one of the oldest cores in the NHL.
And on Wednesday, December 30th, the team got just a little bit older with the addition of 43-year-old Czechoslovakian defenseman Zdeno Chara.
Now on paper, this is a pretty gosh darn obvious signing that I nary saw mocked during the offseason. After news broke that Chara wasn’t going to be headed back to Boston, as the team was looking to give their young defensive core more of a look, it became clear the player old enough to be Jakub Vrana‘s father would be looking for an older championship contender to play out the twilight of his NHL career.
Laviolette teams have a history of being gritty, defense-forward squads, so in theory, Chara is a perfect fit. He’ll all but surely play less than the insane 21 minutes of action a night he averaged in Boston and will all but surely settle into a third-line role beside either Jonas Siegenthaler or Trevor van Riemsdyk.
Objectively speaking, Chara is a scary dude. He’s a 6-foot-9, 250-pound Frankenstein-on-skates who has laid down some of the more brutal hits/fights in NHL history and actually looks happy doing so. Seriously, we’re talking about a man who went toe-to-toe against aspiring boxer Evander Kane in 2019 and arguably won the fight straight up. This is a dude who played a Game 5 with a broken jaw after taking a puck to the face and broke then-Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty‘s neck with a *cough cough* ‘spine-chilling‘ hit in 2011.
If the Capitals want to win now, they’re much better off having that guy under contract for a 56 game regular season in 2021 than playing him eight times a year – which would have been the case since the Bruins are officially joining the new Eastern Division for a one-year-only intradivision season.
In a limited role, Chara is still an incredibly effective NHL player. He’s also a strong locker room presence who can help to galvanize the troops and keep the team locked in during a condensed, regular season. Even though he’s technically old enough to be Peter Laviolette’s father (sarcasm), Chara’s addition should also help to get the Caps on the same page under their new head coach, with the shared desire to bring another ‘chip back to our nation’s capital atop everyone’s list.
Could the Bruins have used a player like that? Yeah, but hey, everyone has their own roster-building philosophy; I guess we’ll see who was right when all of the chips are on the table.
Traditionally speaking, signing a 43-year-old third-line defenseman isn’t going to change a team’s fortunes all that much one way or another. But hey, Zdeno Chara is not your typical 43-year-old third-line center. He’s a seven-time All-Star, a former Norris Trophy winner, and a former Messier winner who has appeared in 1,553 games, the 15th most of any player in NHL history. When he eventually hangs up his cleats, he’ll surely be Hall of Fame-bound, but first, Chara and the Washington Capitals have some business to attend to, as both would like to add another Stanley Cup to their trophy case.