At 6’9 he is the tallest player to ever play in the NHL. Zdeno Chara‘s career has spanned 24 NHL seasons up to this point. While he hasn’t formally announced his retirement, he remains without a contract for the fast-approaching NHL season. Chara has been spotted this week at the Boston Bruins practice facility. No reports are linking Chara to a Bruins reunion. The former Bruin was merely paying a visit to some old friends as Bruins started hitting the ice for Captain’s practice.
Even if Chara decides to hang up the skates in the coming weeks, his career has been full of achievements, and the giant of a man should be a lock for the Hall of Fame. Take a look at his career from junior hockey to the NHL, becoming a Bruin and hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Zdeno Chara’s Career: The Legacy of Big Z
Zdeno Chara was born in Trencin, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), on March 18, 1977. According to an article by the Athletic’s Joe Mcdonald, as a young player growing up in Czechoslovakia, the Slovakian fell victim to hazing and bullying that Chara wouldn’t discuss in detail. As a result, the future Bruins’ captain decided he wouldn’t allow these things to happen if he was ever in charge.
In his younger days, Chara’s childhood idol was his future teammate with the Boston Bruins, Jaromir Jagr. “As a kid, playing the street hockey, you were pretending to be one of these guys and kind of playing those games, scoring those big goals. So, yeah, I was one of them. I had a huge — I don’t want to say crush — but he was the guy everybody loved to be. Young age, so dominant, so strong, scoring big goals at the right moments.” Chara said when speaking on Jagr.
Before coming stateside, Chara played hockey with the Slovakian club HK Dukla Trencin. Other notable Slovakian players that played with the club include Marian Gaborik, Tomas Kopecky, and Marcel Hossa. In 1994-95, Chara, playing in the Slovak U18 league, scored 22 goals and 22 assists for 44 points in 30 games. In addition, he racked up 113 penalty minutes in those 30 games. Evidently, he already had a knack for playing a physical game. The 6’9 defender played his 1995-96 season in Europe before making his WHL debut with the Prince George Cougars.
NHL 1996 Entry Draft and Prince George Cougars
Chara went undrafted in his first year of eligibility. However, he was put on the New York Islanders‘ radar by a scout who gave general manager at the time, Mike Milbury, a tape of the big defenceman performing drills one on one with a coach. Before the 1996 entry draft, Milbury conducted a pre-draft interview with Chara. During the interview, Milbury asked Chara, “Can you Fight?” the hulking defenceman replied, “Better not to (expletive) with me,” as stated in an article by Kevin Kurz of the Athletic.
#ToughGuyThursday Playing in his first season in North America, Zdeno "Big Z" Chara had 120 PIM in 49 games for the Prince George Cougars (WHL) in 1996/97, adding another 45 PIM in 15 playoff games pic.twitter.com/5QiIvGauhw
— Vintage Hockey Showcase (@hockey_vintage) September 15, 2022
Milbury’s Islanders drafted Chara in the 3rd round, 56th overall in that 1996 draft. The NHL had never seen a defenceman of Chara’s size. His size, however, required quite a bit of additional work before he made it as a regular in the show.
After being drafted, Chara played in the Western Hockey League for the Prince George Cougars. “He got off the plane, and he looked like an NBA player, not a hockey player,” Prince George head coach Stan Butler said in a Sportsnet feature video on Chara’s time in Prince George. While in Prince George, Chara became endeared to the local fan base. But, playing on North American soil for the first time, Chara knew prior that physicality was his most significant selling point, and sell did he ever.
In his only season with the Cougars, Chara scored three goals and 19 assists for 22 points in 49 games. He was no stranger to dropping the gloves and racked up 120 penalty minutes. Prince George reached the Western Conference Final of the WHL playoffs that season and the experience was a great stepping stone in Zdeno Chara’s career.
Zdeno Chara’s Career in the NHL Begins
In the 1997-98 season, at the age of 20, Chara made his professional debut. He split time with Kentucky Thoroughblades of the AHL (48 GP, 4G, 9A, 13P, 120 PIM) and made his NHL debut with the Islanders on November 19, 1997, against the Detroit Red Wings. Big Z went on to appear in 25 games during the season.
Chara also split the 1998-99 season between AHL and NHL duties. However, he spent most of the season playing in Long Island for 59 games. Chara has remained strictly in the NHL ever since, currently sitting at 1680 games played, the most ever by a defenceman in the NHL.
Chara played four seasons for the Islanders, primarily in a strictly defensive role. On June 23, 2001, the Islanders traded Chara along with Bill Muckalt and the Islanders’ 2001 1st round pick (Jason Spezza 2nd overall) in exchange for Alexei Yashin. The trade is considered the best in Ottawa Senators’ history and the worst for the New York Islanders.
Big Z started to find his game playing for the Ottawa Senators. Throughout four seasons in Ottawa, Chara played in 299 games scoring 51 goals and 95 assists for 146 points. He added 554 PIM and had a plus/minus rating of 109 as a Senator.
Bruins Land Big Z In Free Agency
On July 1, 2006, the Bruins forever changed the course of their franchise for years to come. Boston signed Chara as an unrestricted free agent to a $37.5 Million/5-year deal. The signing was the Bruins’ best free agent signing in franchise history. Zdeno Chara’s career would elevate to legendary status while playing in Boston. On October 3, 2006, ahead of his first season, Chara was named the 18th Captain in Bruins franchise history.
Big Z was a fantastic leader for the Bruins. He led them back into the playoffs starting in the 2007-08 season. The team grew stronger each year, clinching a playoff berth for seven consecutive years. Following the 2009 season, Chara was named winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenceman. His slap shot, the hardest in NHL history, became utilized as a weapon on the Bruin powerplay. During his Norris-winning season, Chara scored a career-high 19 goals and added 31 assists.
In 2011 Chara found himself the target of a police investigation due to a hit on Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens. Pacioretty dangerously collided with the turnbuckle after absorbing the impact. Although not known as an intentionally dirty player, Chara stated it was “very, very unfortunate that a player got hurt” he went on to say he “felt bad about what happened.”
Ending the Bruins’ 39-year Stanley Cup Drought
Chara, never one for individual feats had the Bruins looking like serious cup contenders before the 2011 season. However, in 2011 the Bruins ended a 39-year Stanley Cup drought, and Captain Big Z got to hoist the cup first.
Chara helped lead the Bruins to two more Stanley Cup Final appearances. First in 2013, losing in 6 games to the Chicago Blackhawks and in 2019, losing in Game 7 to the St Louis Blues. Etched forever as a Bruins legend Chara and the Bruins went their separate ways following the 2019-20 season. Chara signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals.
Zdeno Chara’s Career Comes Full Circle
After spending the 2020-21 season with the Washington Capitals, Chara signed back where it all began. The New York Islanders signed the 44-year-old to a one-year deal. Chara played 72 games for the Islanders last season, posting two goals and 12 assists.
Lou Lamoriello announced earlier in the off-season the Big Z wasn’t in the Islanders’ plans for the upcoming season. Although reports say Chara wants to continue playing, he is running out of time for a potential suitor with training camps kicking off this week.
Chara will always be remembered most for his time in Boston. However, if the last stop of his playing career were with the Islanders, where he began his journey two and a half decades ago, that would be a fitting way for his illustrious career to end.
All non-NHL stats from this article come from www.eliteprospects.com. All NHL stats in this article come from www.hockey-reference.com.
— theScore (@theScore) December 31, 2020