What is the Bruins’ longtime captain’s legacy?

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Zdeno Chara (via Creative Commons)

By Leo Kagan, Staff Writer

Boston Bruins legend and longtime captain Zdeno Chara retired last Tuesday, ending his 25-year career by signing a one-day contract with the Bruins. 

Chara was dominant as one of the NHL’s premier defensemen. Standing at an NHL-record 6-foot-9 inches, Chara was just as feared by opponents as he was beloved by fans. 

He put together what is undoubtedly a Hall of Fame career, with a Norris Trophy win as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2009, a Stanley Cup championship as captain of the Bruins in 2011, and career longevity like very few other professional athletes, let alone hockey players. 

Chara’s counting stats are also exceptional. In 1,680 games played—the seventh-most in NHL history—he scored 209 goals and 680 points. A consistent player at both ends of the ice, he was plus-301 over his career. 

No franchise can say it’s had a player like Chara because there’s never been anyone like him. He was the tallest player in NHL history. He boasts the hardest slap shot of all time. He and Daniel Alfredsson were the NHL’s longest-tenured European captains.  

He didn’t have superstar offensive capabilities like Bobby Orr or the goal-scoring touch of Phil Esposito. He was simply a reliable player who was quite possibly one of the NHL’s all-time greatest leaders

Chara came to Boston in 2006, just as the Bruins were beginning to build their roster into a contender. Young pieces like Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci had been drafted, though none besides Bergeron had yet made an impact. Captain Joe Thornton was just traded to the San Jose Sharks. The team was rudderless when Chara arrived via free agency. It didn’t remain that way for long. 

Chara was named team captain before the start of his first season in a Bruins uniform. While wearing the ‘C’,’ he demonstrated his leadership abilities both on and off the ice. The Bruins made the playoffs in 2008—the second season after he signed—and won their first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years when Chara lifted the Cup in 2011. 

Off the ice, Chara instituted a culture that persists to this day. His work ethic and drive to be in the best shape possible were things the Bruins tried to mirror on their road to yearly playoff contention. 

I grew up watching the Bruins and idolizing a list of players like Bergeron, Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Tim Thomas. But at the top of that list was always “Big Zee.” His number, 33, was the first one I wore playing organized hockey. 

When I think of why Chara was so admirable—beyond the awards in his trophy case, the counting stats, or the records he broke—I think of a few moments. I think of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals when a Brayden Schenn shot broke Chara’s jaw. Chara left that night and returned two nights later, jaw wired shut, to play out the series. That’s how tough he was. 

But the moment that’s even more inspiring, the one that’s burned into my brain, is the image of the big man lifting Lord Stanley’s mug in 2011. Arms raised above his head, a smile breaking across his face, Chara bellowing in celebration. 

That’s his legacy as a Bruin. A champion, a tough man, and a leader.