I was in Toronto on July 1, 2006 when I got a text from a friend saying that the Bruins signed free agent Zdeno Chara to a 5-year/$37.5M deal. I thought for sure he was yanking my chain. No fucking way were the Bs about to pay one player $7.5M per season (not to mention the 4-year/$20M deal they also gave Marc Savard on the same day). But indeed they were. In one fell swoop, the franchise sent the message that a new era had dawned: no longer would it sign free agents to big deals just to spite fellow owners but instead to make the team on the ice as good as it could be. Thanks in large part to the Chara signing, it would end up being the franchise's most fruitful era since the 1970s.
But Zdeno Chara's blueline watch in Boston has ended. For the first time in 15 years, the Boston Bruins will kick off their season without their Slovakian giant setting the tone on and off the ice. Rather than take a reduced---I'm sorry---"integrated" role a season after having the second-most ice-time on the team, Big Zee decided to pull up stakes and play his 23rd NHL season in D.C. for $795K. And just like that, the longest-tenured captain in the NHL and one of the most respected leaders in the game will chase his second career Stanley Cup with a new division rival.
"I just felt that what was presented to me and the conditions that were attached to it, I just felt like I had more to offer," Chara said Thursday. "And I respect their decisions and wish them the best, but I just felt like I could still play regularly and play the games...I still have gas, lots of gas left and I still want to go out there and do my thing. That's my motivation to still prove that I can play."
Chara certainly didn't sound angry or bitter in his Zoom presser. He simply felt he had more to offer than what GM Don Sweeney was proposing for the '20-'21 season even while noting that there were "no guarantees" about playing time in Washington. His agent Matt Keator said, "The Bruins were great. They were communicative throughout. Don Sweeney handled it very well. He was clear and concise. There was no gray area."
Regardless of what was said behind closed doors, a franchise cornerstone is gone. Not over money. But because the front office wants to incorporate younger players into the line-up while reducing Chara's workload. He goes from a top-pair guy on the Bruins to...eating popcorn on the ninth floor some nights. And if he was going to be out of the line-up, I'm guessing that would raise issues with the captaincy as well. Because health-bombing the guy with the 'C' above his left titty is a bold move that would likely have some ripple effects.
Deserved or not, one thing the Bruins did ensure was pissing off their fans. Again. For the second time since the season ended, the taste left in the mouths of many Bruins fans is like when you wake up on New Year's Day and wonder if a cat shit in your mouth while you were sleeping. So, who is gonna make up for that 21+ minutes per game that the 6'9" Chara played? Or the 3:11 per game killing penalties?
Torey Krug and Chara are both gone from the left side of the D and the Bs are gonna fill their minutes "by committee". Matt Grzelcyk and John Moore are currently the only NHL regulars on that side so Don Sweeney is hoping that prospects and AHLers will fill the gaping hole left by the future HHOFer's departure. Or perhaps he'll trade for a veteran once teams get their rosters and cap situations set.
To be sure, this move had nothing to do with money (seriously, people, the Bs have been spending to the cap for 15 fucking years now, find a new angle). The Bruins front office just didn't want to bring Chara back in the same role he's had for the past 14 years. So he decided to go elsewhere. No hard feelings between the two parties.
So this is how it ends. Like Eddie Shore, Bobby Orr, and Ray Bourque before him, Zdeno Chara will join the Hockey Hall of Fame for his exploits as a Boston Bruins defenseman. And also like those three, he won't finish his career in the Black and Gold.
The second best free agent signing in Boston sports history, Zdeno Chara left his mark here. He re-established what it meant to be a Boston Bruin and what Bruins hockey was. After "The Great Joe Thornton Giveaway Spectacular", the franchise was adrift, struggling for credibility and relevance. Signing Chara ultimately restored the Bs to league prominence and made fans proud to sport the spoked-B again. It also made them champs for the first time in almost 40 years. For that, we're forever grateful.
Thanks a bunch, Zee. Best of luck in D.C..