It was far from a fairytale ending but Zdeno Chara‘s legacy in Boston remains unblemished.
Keeping in line with what just a bonkers year for a plethora of reasons, 2020 delivered yet again in its final days when it was announced that Zdeno Chara would be leaving the Boston Bruins.
After 14 stellar years, the giant terminator-like defenseman, who played with ice in his veins and destroyed opponents with ease and cyborg-like precision, hung up that iconic Bruins jersey and instead signed with the Washington Capitals.
It was a shocking turn of events that could have only happened in 2020, and it has left a trail of destruction in Boston.
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Those phone lines on all of those sports talk shows in Massachusetts must still be blocked.
Anyway, we graded Chara’s shockingly team-friendly deal in Washington here, and we also looked at why it was a win-now move for the Capitals who are looking for a second championship for franchise icon Alex Ovechkin.
But, today we are going to delve into Zdeno Chara’s lasting impact on the Boston Bruins and also his legacy with both the franchise and the city of Boston too.
Of course, we’ll preface this by clearly stating that the way things ended between Chara and the Bruins left a bitter taste in the mouths of a lot of people, and it isn’t the way a franchise icon should have been allowed to leave.
I did write here how the expected new Captain, Patrice Bergeron, may have a lot to deal with given the perceived change of direction the B’s are going in but, whatever happens, Chara deserved a better ending to his historic career with the Boston Bruins.
And that’s exactly the right word to describe Zdeno Chara’s career with the Bruins.
He was the heart and soul of this storied Original Six franchise, and he epitmozied everything the Boston Bruins are about on a nightly basis.
Since signing a big-ticket five-year, $37,500,000 contract with the Bruins in the summer of 2006, Chara helped to transform that franchise from a team mired in obscurity to a consistent championship contender.
Boston was a joke having missed the postseason the season prior to Chara’s arrival, while they had failed to make it out of the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1999.
However, much like Tom Brady was the catalyst for a major turnaround in New England for the Patriots, Zdeno Chara had a similar impact on the Boston Bruins.
He changed the culture within that organization from top to bottom, establishing a new standard of excellence which had to be met by everyone walking into that locker room, be it player, coach, trainer or any other team personnel.
Chara brought a new wave of professionalism to that locker room, with the way he carried himself on and off the ice a shining example for those around him.
It takes a lot of uptake to keep a giant and hulking 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds frame in top condition, especially so at 43-years-old.
But Chara was dedicated to his craft and he gave his entire life to the sport of hockey, sacrificing his body on multiple occasions.
I mean, who can forget that June. 6, night in 2019 when, after having his jaw absolutely destroyed and shredded to pieces by a flying puck in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues, Chara returned for a crucial Game 5 despite nursing a broken jaw.
He was on the ice for warmups and then was out for the introductions and the National Anthem wearing a protective guard, with TD Garden going absolutely nuts and letting their Captain know exactly how they felt.
You have to watch the video below to see it for yourselves:
And this clip from Elliotte Friedman also hammers home just how cherished, loved and adored Zdeno Chara was by the Boston faithful:
It is a breathtaking moment that still gives me chills and it will be one of the defining images of Chara’s Hall of Fame career – the towering defenseman literally putting his body on the line for the good of the team and still coming up big despite being battered and bruised.
It is why Zdeno Chara will go down as one of the best athletes in the history of Boston, as well as one of the best defensemen to have ever put on skates in the NHL.
There was more to Chara’s brilliance than just the toughness though.
While his unique size allowed him to hit like an absolute train and, perhaps unfairly, toy with poor victims in a fight before sending them to the ice with one of those giant bear paws, Chara was a dynamic blueliner who could contribute offense and come up clutch in key situations.
He scored a hat-trick against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, many of his 205 career regular season goals came thanks to a bomb of a shot from the blueline, which was crowned the hardest shot in the NHL, and he won the Norris Trophy in 2008-09 after a season in which he put up 50 points (19 G, 31 A) in 80 games to go along with 121 blocked shots and 166 hits, while averaging 26:04 of ATOI.
Then there was 2011 when, boasting a team that could beat up on anyone and outmuscle any other team, Chara played just under 28 minutes a night and willed his team to the promised land, getting his hands on the coveted Stanley Cup.
He was just made of something else entirely when it came to crunch time – just like another famous athlete in Boston sports history.
Chara was the ultimate competitor on the ice for the Bruins, skating in 1,023 career regular season games with 481 points (148 G, 333 A) while averaging 24:33 of ice time, in addition to 56 points (15 G, 41 A) in 150 Stanley Cup Playoffs games.
He was a five-time All-Star, a Norris Trophy winner, a one-time Stanley Cup champion, the winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2011 and he also led the Bruins to three Stanley Cup Finals.
Zdeno Chara was beloved by his teammates and he took great pride in taking young teammates under his rather large wing and showing them the ropes, with players in the ilk of Charlie McAvoy benefitting from that special mentorship in particular.
He was the perfect illustration of everything a leader should be, leading by example and conducting himself with utter class on and off the ice at all times.
Zdeno Chara was the model professional.
But Chara was also loved off the ice and he played an active role in the community in Boston and the wider area, setting up a number of charity initiatives and he always spearheaded the Bruins’ annual Thanksgiving pie initiative.
He was just the heart and soul of that community and that franchise.
And, for me, I remember seeing Chara play live in a back-to-back against the Vegas Golden Knights and the Toronto Maple Leafs in late 2018.
Watching the veteran up close and personal was pretty impressive, especially because it strikes you just how huge he really is when you see him in person.
But he just played with a real ease and sense of calmness when he had the puck on his stick and, despite the wear and tear on his body and father time trying desperately to catch up with him, the defenseman never gave up trying to play a big role for the Bruins and he was still logging monster minutes in 2019-20.
Of course, Chara’s NHL career isn’t finished and he’ll write a new chapter with the Washington Capitals in 2020-21.
However, a golden era has really come to an end now and, while it wasn’t the ending a player and man of Zdeno Chara’s ilk deserved, his legacy with the Boston Bruins remains unblemished and he will always be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Tom Brady and David Ortiz in New England.
And, hopefully one day Zdeno Chara will get the hero’s sendoff he really deserves from the Boston Bruins by having that iconic No. 33 jersey lifted up to the rafters where it belongs.
Among other Boston Bruins legends.
Because that is exactly what Zdeno Chara was, is, and always will be.
A true Boston Bruins legend and icon.