Norris Trophy-winning Zdeno Chara pondered retirement during the 2020 offseason, but opted to leave the Boston Bruins and sign with the Washington Capitals after a secret meeting with Peter Laviolette in Longboat Key and getting “an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up on.” Chara, who was in search of his second Stanley Cup, found the signing with Washington “a good fit for me and my family.”
Chara was fantastic and durable in a third-pairing role for the Capitals, skating with Nick Jensen and playing in 55 of 56 games. Chara, the tallest player in NHL history, scored 10 points (2g, 8a) and was a penalty-kill specialist. He became the fifth defenseman in NHL history to play in 1,600 games in April.
Ultimately, Chara’s dream of lifting the Stanley Cup again ended in the first round of the 2021 playoffs when his former teammates from Boston eliminated Washington in five games. It was the third consecutive season the Caps had been first-rounded since winning a championship in 2018.
“This season didn’t end the way we wanted, but that’s life,” Chara said on Capitals Breakdown Day. “You have to move on.”
Chara, 44, admitted he was unsure if he’d return for a 24th season.
“As far as myself and my future, I’m probably going to take a few days to talk to my family and make decisions after,” he said. “I think that, obviously, it’s not always a decision I can make myself. Sometimes there are things in life you have to realize. I have to have those conversations with my wife and my children and see where we’re going to be in the next two days or weeks. After those conversations, I’ll probably let those emotions settle in and see where I’m at.”
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan complimented Chara on his season and seemed open to bringing the rearguard back if he decided to play again – though it could be a numbers game.
“I think he’s uncertain on what he wants to do,” MacLellan said when asked about Chara’s future. “I thought he played great for us. He was a great addition. I thought our third pair was solid all year with him and Jensen. I think we’ll wait to talk to him to see what his plan is before we decide that.”
MacLellan said that left-handed shooting defenseman Martin Fehervary will be graduating to the big-league team next season. The Capitals already have three lefties on the roster returning including Dmitry Orlov, Brenden Dillon, and Michal Kempny. Chara would be the fifth unless the Capitals trade or lose one of the players in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft.
For Chara, the Capitals were only the fourth team he’s played over the last two decades plus (New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, and Bruins). He found his experience in DC special.
“I really enjoyed it since Day One,” Chara said. “Everyone welcomed me with open arms. All the credit goes to the coaching staff, trainers, all my teammates. They did an amazing job welcoming me and made that transition as easy as possible. It was a great time spent here and had a lot of fun. We played some great hockey. I couldn’t have asked for a better group.”
Those special times included the team giving Chara a group hug at the bench after he scored his first goal with the team and receiving both ninja headbands as offensive and defensive player of the game during his 1,600th game in the NHL.
Chara shared special praise for Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin, whom he had shared many physical battles with earlier in his career.
“He’s a great human being, an amazing player, great leader,” Chara said. “So to be on the same team was a great experience I will cherish for the rest of my life and I’m very grateful for that.”
Chara said he “felt great” physically during the season despite it being condensed and having “a lot of games, travel, itineraries, and practices.” He credited the coaching staff and trainers for how “they spread the workloads and rest days between our games and practices the way we could rest and be fresh. I had a lot of fun. I obviously love to stay in shape and work out. That’s what I do, we did, and it was a lot of fun.”
The most challenging part of the season was that Chara was separated from his family — wife, Tatiana, and his three kids, Elliz, Zack, and Ben — for the entire year. Chara’s family remained in Boston while he stayed in DC.
“That was one of those things that I found the most challenging,” Chara said..” But at the same time, the accommodations and the environment I was in made it much, much easier and better than I expected. Looking forward to seeing my family and my kids again every day, but definitely, that will be a factor going into the decision I’ll be making in the future.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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