Zdeno Chara is going back to where it all started.
The veteran defenseman signed a 1-year deal with the New York Islanders on Saturday morning. It had been unclear if Chara would return for his 24th NHL season or if he would hang up his skates.
Chara was drafted by the Islanders 56th overall in 1996 and played 231 games with the franchise before he was traded by then-general manager Mike Milbury in 2001 as part of a deal to acquire Alexei Yashin from the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s kind of a full circle,” Chara said during a Zoom call after the deal was announced. “Who would have known this would kind of work out the way it did after 20something years. I’m certainly very honored and humbled to be an Islander again. The organization went through some transitions over the course of 20 years, but I think we all see the progress and positivity that the team has had.”
Chara had been debating whether he would return for another NHL season for much of the summer and he said that he had been having ongoing discussions with his family. “That was very important to me that my family would feel comfortable and ready for me to play another year,” he said.
The NHL veteran won’t be too far from his family, which remains based in Boston, where he played for 14 years with the Boston Bruins.
Several teams reached out to Chara to inquire about his services, however, he wouldn’t say how many or which teams. He described it as a “good amount” of interest. The Islanders caught his eye by the way the organization has carried itself on the ice when he has played against them.
“It’s always hard to play against the Islanders,” Chara said. “They’re always on you. They play a very heavy game and a grinding game. They don’t give up many chances, many goals. It’s a very solid group with strong leadership and a strong core of players that have been with the Islanders for a long time.”
In an offseason that has already corrected another historical wrong among Islanders fans, the addition of Chara would follow a similar narrative. The hulking defenseman went on to become a star in the NHL spending time in Ottawa and then Boston.
Zdeno Chara played 1,023 games with Boston and was their captain from 2006 to 2020. He spent last season with the Washington Capitals, where he appeared in 55 games and had 10 points (five goals, five assists).
The 44-year-old still packs a solid punch on the blue line and could help fill out a less than deep stable of defensemen this season. Chara is likely looking at a sixth/seventh defenseman role with the orange and blue and could help on the team’s special teams.
Chara was part of a penalty kill unit in Washington last season that had an 84% success rate, which was the fifth-best in the league. He also logged 18:19 of average ice time last season, which showed he could play a solid number of minutes if the Islanders needed him to.
However, it was the lowest average ice time he’s had since the 1998-99 season with the Islanders. Over his time in Boston, he averaged 24:33 of ice time.
In addition, Zdeno Chara fits the bill for the left-handed defenseman the Islanders had been looking for since Nick Leddy was traded earlier in the offseason.
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