2020 has been a rough year for Boston sports fans. The year began with the Red Sox trading away icon Mookie Betts, who promptly won a World Series with the Dodgers. Then the biggest of all legends, Tom Brady, departed the Patriots in free agency. Gordon Hayward, a key piece of the Celtics, left after the NBA season for greener pastures in Charlotte. And now Zdeno Chara, the Bruins captain over the last 14 years, is leaving Boston to sign with the Washington Capitals. The Bruins front office chose not have Chara return and will regret it this season and possibly next as well.
Chara was a breakthrough free agent signing for the Bruins when the team landed him in 2006. He was named team captain in his first season and held that role until his departure. Chara changed the outlook for the Bruins when he signed; Boston went from being a team that was perennially in the playoff hunt to a team that had a realistic shot at building toward a championship. The Bruins reached the Eastern Conference Finals in Chara’s fourth year after losing in the second round in seven games the previous year. Following a blown 3-0 Conference Finals lead in 2010, the Bruins reached and won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
A major reason for the Bruins 2011 Cup win was the stellar play of Chara, especially against the Sedin twins in the Cup Final against Vancouver. Since then, Chara has helped lead the Bruins to two more Cup Finals, both heartbreaking losses. In 2013, Chara shut down the top-seeded Penguins first line in the Conference Final (while goalie Tuukka Rask, who is good, was dominant) before Boston ran into a Blackhawks team that was in the middle of a Dynasty. Boston had several opportunities to grab that series, but ended up losing a Game 6 at home in the final minute.
The Bruins went through a semi-rebuild from 2015-2017, but returned to contention in 2018 and reached the Cup Final once again in 2019. Another heartbreaking Cup loss occurred at home in Game 7.
One of the swing points in the series was Chara breaking his jaw in Game 4. The biggest reason the Bruins did not win the Cup was the underperformance of their top line, but Chara’s injury was also a major factor. After leaving Game 4, the Blues scored the winning goal and went on to win two out of the next three games with a hobbled Chara heroically returning in Game 5 and giving everything he had the rest of the series.
Chara’s numbers in Boston of 148 goals, 333 assists and 24:33 of average ice time don’t come nearly close enough to telling the full story of his impact. He was always tasked with shutting down an opponent’s top line as well as being on the top penalty killing unit. He did both at an elite level. He made the All-Star Team six times while with the Bruins and also won a Norris Trophy.
He upped his performance in the playoffs; scoring 15 playoff goals and assisting on 41 others while playing over 25 minutes of ice time against the best competition in the world.
His impact off the ice is immeasurable. Chara was the consummate leader and became an instant hit in New England. The Bruins are well known for doing great work in the community and Chara was often at the forefront of their efforts. In good times and bad he always put the team first and let his work ethic and character speak for itself.
All good things come to an end and Chara’s tenure with the Bruins was one of the best in franchise history. Going forward, the Bruins will have a hole on the left side of their defense with the only known commodity being Matt Grzelcyk. They will also have a hole in their locker room, but thankfully they will have a ready-made solution for their captaincy in Patrice Bergeron. Chara’s presence is irreplaceable and Bruins management will be up for some serious criticism if the left side of their defense is a weak point this season. Chara will always be remembered as one of the greatest athletes in Boston sports history and someone who the character off the ice that matched his greatness on it.