Zee Thoughts I Have

The Dec. 31 episode of Locked On Boston Bruins was all about Zdeno Chara. I prepared more notes for this episode than any other over the past 15 months, and I thought I’d post them here to actually make use of this website. Plus, it was the Joe Thornton trade that first pushed into writing my hockey feelings, and I thought it was only fitting to do the same for Zee 15 years later.

1. How it happened

Chara on Instagram:

“My family and I have been so fortunate to call the great city of Boston our home for over 14 years. Recently, The Boston Bruins have informed me 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.

I want to first of all thank the passionate and loyal Bruins fans, who shared the ups and downs of each season over the past 14 years. I’m proud that we were able to return the Stanley Cup to Boston and celebrating with all of you, in Boston, New England, and around the world, was a moment I will never forget. You all have treated my family and me as one of your own and I will always be grateful. Thank you.  

I would also like to thank all of the Bruins staff. The trainers, equipment staff, medical staff (all doctors, dentists and therapists), PR and hockey operations, the front office staff, arena staff, security and everyone who helped make the past 14 years so memorable. While there are too many names to mention, please know how sincerely grateful I am to each of you.

I want to thank the Jacobs family for the opportunity to represent the Bruins as their Captain. I am grateful and proud of everything we accomplished.

To all of my teammates throughout the years in Boston, I am so lucky to have a lifetime of memories that I will never forget. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, we were always a team, we were always there for each other and those bonds and friendships will never be forgotten.

My family and I will always cherish the strong friendships and connections we made here. From the beginning in 2006, we have been embraced by this community and made to feel welcome. We will always be grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the community and for the people who always supported me and my family.

As I begin this next chapter, I want the people of Boston to know how proud I was to be a Bruin and how grateful I am for all of the support over the years. “Thank you” does not seem adequate to express my sincere gratitude. I will always be a Bruin. I will always love Boston.

Thank you.

Zee”

“We are extremely pleased to have Zdeno join the Capitals organization,” said Capitals GM Brian MacLellan. “We feel his experience and leadership will strengthen our blueline and our team.”

2. How we got here:

Chara on Sept 3:

“I feel strong physically…I’m positive and I believe I can still play this game and contribute to the team and I want to stay in Boston. I want to be a Boston Bruin. I want to continue to lead by example and share my experiences and my game skills with the younger players and my teammates. That hasn’t changed. I’m committed. We’ll see what’s gonna happen next.

“I’m committed to the Boston Bruins. I’m committed to the Boston fans and the City of Boston,” said Chara. “I think I expressed that a number of times. I’m excited about the future of this team. We are gonna do whatever we can to win another Stanley Cup. I can’t really reflect on some of the rumors. I have not heard any of these rumors directly and I dismissed any comments or conversations about this matter [during the season] because it might cause unnecessary distractions to my teammates and the organization.

“I expressed to my agent that I would like him to meet with management and make that my priority, the sooner the better, and see what the future holds.”

Cam Neely on Dec. 21

“We do want to take a look at some of these young left-shot D’s that we have in our system, 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,” Neely said. “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.”

Neely added: “I still think we’d like to still explore our back end a little bit. Even though we feel we’ve got some guys that can step in, it’s just a matter of the experience piece that everybody likes, but you don’t get experience until you play.”

3. The Aftermath

Bruins GM Don Sweeney

“The single most unrewarding phone call I had [on Wednesday], to hear from [agent] Matt [Keator] and speak with Zdeno in what his decision ended up being,” Sweeney said during a video conference on Thursday morning. “Zdeno…he walks in his own shadow, literally and figuratively. It was extremely difficult to go through the whole process…this extended over months and we gave him all the latitude in the world to make what was ultimately his decision, he and his family’s decision alone.

“I wanted to make sure that we did that with the utmost respect that we possibly could…Zdeno is forever a member of the Boston Bruins and will be enshrined in both the Hall of Fame and, in my humble opinion, in the rafters amongst the greatest to ever wear a Boston Bruins uniform.

“I want to make sure it’s abundantly clear that we had multiple, multiple discussions with Zdeno and Matt Keator,” said Sweeney. “Very appreciative of all the dialogue and both sides being honest in terms of where they were. We had certainly offered a contract to Zdeno months ago and he indicated he wanted time to continue to work through, again, where he felt he was at, where the league was at and the return to play protocols, and the role we were describing and hoping to integrate him into with our hockey club.”

Sweeney added that the club was up front with Chara about its desire to “to integrate some of the younger players that have had an opportunity to develop in our system and us trying to see whether they were capable of handling minutes and situations that they had not been exposed to.” He also said that the Bruins did not lay out any specific parameters during the negotiations in regard to a number of games or minutes that Chara would be assigned moving forward.

“We describe it as an integrated role and just didn’t make a categorical promise that he would have the exact same role that he had had in his 14 [seasons] – a historic career with the Boston Bruins,” Sweeney went on to explain. “I was very sad. It’s an unrewarding aspect of the job to see a player like that choose to leave.”

Capital D Zdeno Chara

“I want to mention that I believe Don Sweeney negotiated in good faith, and I appreciated the way everything was communicated to me and he was very open to me,” Chara said. “We had a number of conversations, he made it clear what conditions and what role I would be taking with the organization if I returned.

“But I just felt what was presented to me and what conditions were attached to it, I just felt that I had more to offer and I respect their decisions and wish them the best. But I just felt I can still play regularly and play the games and I have no issues with them going a different direction, I just feel like for me at this point in my career it’s better if I continue to play.”

“I respect the way it was communicated to me. We had a number of conversations,” Chara said. “Early on, it was probably a little bit unknown what the role would be, but as the conversations progressed toward the end, it was very clear to me that I would not be in the starting lineup for the season or starting some games or playing some back-to-back games. I would be more of a reserve type of player. 

“I have no issue with that, and a lot of credit to Don Sweeney for how he handled the situation. For me, I felt it would be a better fit for me if I find a better role with another team and step aside and let the Bruins go with the direction they chose to do.”

4. Career to date

(Via Capitals’ website):

Chara, 43, recorded 14 points (5g, 9a) in 68 games with the Boston Bruins last season. The Trencin, Slovakia, native registered 3:11 of penalty kill time per game to rank 11th in the NHL and help the Bruins to the third best penalty kill percentage last season (84.3). Chara also finished second among Bruins defensemen in blocked shots (101). 

Prior to joining Washington, Chara was the longest-tenured captain in the league, having worn the “C” for the Bruins since his first season in Boston in 2006-07. Standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 250 pounds, he is also the tallest player to ever play in the NHL. Chara is entering his 23rd career season in the NHL. Among active NHL players, Chara ranks first in plus/minus (+288), time on ice (37,128:55), penalty minutes (1,956), third in games played (1,553) and ninth in shots (3,271). He is one of six Bruins to appear in at least 1,000 games (1,023), and his 481 points (148g, 333a) rank third among Bruins defensemen in franchise history, behind Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506) and Bobby Orr (888).

In 1,553 career regular season games with the Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators – the sixth-most games in NHL history among defensemen – Chara has 656 points (205g, 451a).

A Stanley Cup champion with Boston in 2011, Chara became the second European-born captain to win the Stanley Cup (Nicklas Lidstrom) and the first from a country behind the Iron Curtain (Czechoslovakia). Chara has recorded 70 points (18g, 52a) in 195 playoff games, the ninth-most playoff games by a defenseman in NHL history and the most among active defensemen. 

Over his 22-year NHL career, Chara has received several individual accolades. He was awarded the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2008-09 after recording a career-high 19 goals and 31 assists in 80 games with Boston. He was the recipient of the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2010-11 for his exemplary leadership both on and off the ice. He was named to the NHL First All-Star Team three times (2003-04, 2008-09, 2013-14), the Second All-Star Team four times (2005-06, 2007-08, 2010-11, 2011-12) and is a six-time NHL All-Star (2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12). He was also the recipient of the Golden Puck as Slovakia’s Player of the Year three times (2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12).

Chara has represented his home country of Slovakia in international play on several occasions, including three Olympics (2006, 2010, 2014), in which he has scored one goal and five assists in 17 games. Most recently, Chara served as alternate captain for Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, notching two goals in six games to help lead the team to a second-place finish to Team Canada. 

Chara was originally selected by the New York Islanders in the third round (56th overall) of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.

5. personal Reflection

I was gutted when the Bruins traded Joe Thornton in 2005. After the Cam Neely / Ray Bourque eras had come to an end, he was the future, my next pillar of Bruins fandom. That all came crashing down, but less than a year later the Bruins took advantage of a poor decision by the Ottawa Senators and convinced the Big Man to be their next big thing.

For the past 14 years, Chara has typified what it means to be a Bruins on and off the ice. He was big and mean and excelled at both ends of the ice, and he was also kind and welcoming and created a no bullshit culture in the locker room (sometimes at the expense of looser canons who didn’t quite fit the new mold). He won a Norris, a Stanley Cup, recorded the fastest shot in NHL history, served as his country’s flag bearer at the 2014 Olympics, signed extension after extension, played in the Cup Final with a broken GD jaw, and came painfully close to finishing his career the right way – as a Stanley Cup champion. 

But as we all know, storybook endings aren’t the norm, and here we are a week away from training camp with a bunch of question marks on the blue line and Chara in Washington.

The Bruins committed to Matt Grzelyck, signed Jakub Zboril to a 1-way deal, Jeremy Lauzon and Urho are Vaikannainen looking for reps, John Moore is still a thing, and Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller are there to round out the right side after Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

The Bruins also have $2,982,686 in cap space and may still be looking to add via signing or trades.

From my perspective, as long as Chara wanted to play for the organization, you let him stick around. Youth movements need mentors. I’m honestly fine with giving Zboril and Lauzon and Vaak a look on the left side – these are 1st and 2nd round picks and there could and should be something there. But it didn’t have to come at the expense of one the greatest Bruins of all time.

In fact you could easily argue the kids would be much better off long term with him around this season. Like I’ve been saying for weeks, he’s a valuable 3rd pair, penalty killing defenseman who could be deployed late in games when the opposing goalie is pulled.

Quite simply, Chara should have finished his career in black and gold.

I still think the Bruins are fine up front and in net, and there’s still time and cap space to make adjustments on defense before and during the season. Big picture, though: Torey Krug is gone, Tuukka Rask and David Krejci are one year away from free agency, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand aren’t getting any younger. The Bruins as we’ve known them over the past decade and a half are nearing the end, and gord knows what lies on the other side. Neely and Sweeney have made their decisions and are committing to seeing what they have in prospects they’ve drafted and developed.

If it doesn’t pay off, it will likely cost them their jobs if the building process ends up amounts to a house of cards.

That’s it for today’s special episode of Locked On Boston Bruins. We will be back on Monday January 4th on a daily basis and with all the latest from training camp.

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