An era has ended in Boston Bruins hockey.
Zdeno Chara, the club’s 14-year captain who helped break a 39-year-old Stanley Cup drought, is leaving the Bruins. He has signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals — the B’s newest East Division rival — for $795,000.
But this was never about the money. While there was not a trace of bitterness in his Instagram goodbye to the city, Chara made it clear it was not entirely his decision to leave.
“My family and I have been so fortunate to call the great city of Boston our home for over 14 years,” wrote Chara. “Recently, the Boston Bruins have informed that they plan to move forward with their many younger and talented players and I respect their decision. Unfortunately, my time as the proud Captain of the Bruins has come to an end.”
The writing had been on the wall for a while now. As dedicated of an athlete to ever play in Boston, Chara had not been among the skaters at Warrior Ice Arena in recent weeks. And when asked last week about what role the team had in mind for Chara, team president Cam Neely was tellingly non-committal.
“We do want to take a look at some of these young left shot D’s that we have in our system to see if they can step up or is it the time for them to step up and see where they’re at in their development,” said Neely. “We certainly respect Zdeno and everything he’s done for the organization and what he’s accomplished as a player and what he’s done both on and off the ice here in Boston, so you know it’s really just a matter of what his desire is and how the coaching staff and we feel what our lineup should look like or could look like depending on the development of some of these young guys.”
Chara had three choices. He could have accepted a reduced role with the Bruins. He could have retired. Or he could have moved on to a different team that will ask more of him. Chara picked Door Three.
While it was not the ending in Boston that Chara wanted, the divorce was as amicable as anyone could have hoped.
“Don Sweeney gets high marks from me. He was extremely communicative and respectful as he could be throughout this process. It’s been tough,” said Chara’s longtime agent Matt Keator.
Patrice Bergeron relayed his feelings about Chara to the Herald in a text.
“For the past 14 years, Zee has been a teammate, friend, mentor and brother,” wrote Bergeron, the leading candidate to replace Chara as captain. “We have experienced so much together and it has been an absolute honor to compete alongside him all those years. I will miss him as a teammate, but we are bound together forever. Wish him, Tatiana and the kids all the best in their new adventure.”
The club released statements from their top executives, including ownership, a rarity on the occasion of a departing player.
“It’s been a wonderful 14 seasons with Zdeno’s talent, leadership and personality. He played a tremendous and enduring role in the success of the team each and every season he put on a Bruins uniform,” said owner Jeremy Jacobs. “Zdeno and his family will always be in the hearts of this team, my family and the entire Boston community”
Neely called him one of “the greatest players to put on a Black and Gold sweater.”
“Zdeno’s dedication to the game, his teammates and Bruins fans were everything we could have hoped for in a player and specifically as our captain for 14 years,” said Neely.
Said Charlie Jacobs: “We are incredibly grateful for everything Zdeno has done for the organization, and the entire New England region during his tenure. Thank you, Zdeno.”
GM Don Sweeney, who grew up in the Bruins organization playing with Ray Bourque, said: “In my 30 years with the Bruins organization, I have had the privilege to get to know so many great Bruins legends. Zdeno Chara’s impact on the city of Boston and the organization firmly places him among the best of the best of Boston sports icons.”
Chara’s signing with the Bruins back in the summer of 2006 was the catalyst for the club returning to prominence. On the same day, the B’s inked Marc Savard and suddenly Boston, eschewed by top tier free agents for years, landed two. After a big misstep in Chara’s first year under one-year head coach Dave Lewis, Chara and the B’s hit their stride when Claude Julien was hired in 2007. He won the Norris Trophy in 2008-09 and, on June 15, 2011, the heavily bearded Chara let out a mountain man’s yelp as he lifted the Stanley Cup over his head in Vancouver, the first time a Bruin had done that since 1972.
The B’s would go to the Finals twice more with Chara, most recently in 2019. Chara produced one of the most spine-tingling moments in the new Garden’s history when he suited up for Game 5 against St. Louis with a shattered jaw. The B’s fell one game short of a second Cup
The game comes to an end for everyone, and Chara’s age did show up in the B’s second round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoff bubble last summer. But it is impossible to say that the B’s are a better team today than they were at the end of the season. Combined with losing Torey Krug to free agency, the hole on the left side of the blue line has now become gargantuan with the loss of Chara. While he was no longer a power-play participant, and he found himself on the bench when his team needed a score, Chara was still a force on the penalty kill and when it came to protecting leads.
If the B’s were in a different spot, then moving on from their 43-year-old captain to let some high end draft picks a chance to play would have been a no-brainer. But the B’s still have designs on a Stanley Cup, or so we thought. Now they have a left side that could feature Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril (2015 first rounder) and Jeremy Lauzon (2015 second rounder), with Urho Vaakanainen (2017 first rounder) in the mix. The pedigree is there. The track record is not.
Now Chara plays for another Cup hopeful, and one the B’s will have to play eight times in this 56-game schedule. And when the Capitals play the Bruins, tough guy Tom Wilson will not have to worry about Zdeno Chara anymore. A little frightening, no?