Zdeno Chara’s long-term impact on the Boston Bruins will be felt for years in both tangible and intangible ways.
Chara’s name will remain etched in silver on the Stanley Cup, forever evidence of the fact that he captained one of the NHL’s elite franchise’s to the sport’s mountaintop after 40 years of falling short. Furthermore, it’s safe to assume his No. 33 will eventually hang from the rafters wherever the Bruins play for however long they play.
But Chara’s impact will be felt in other ways, too. The hulking defenseman on Tuesday signed a one-day contract with the Bruins to announce his retirement. In doing so, Chara closes the book on a remarkable 24-year career defined not just by his defensive dominance but also by his discipline and leadership.
And while he spent the final two seasons of his career in Washington and Long Island, the thing he helped build in Boston lives on. When the Bruins signed him in 2006, it helped jump-start one of the greatest runs of success in Bruins history. Boston missed the playoffs just three times in his 14 seasons with the Black and Gold, including his debut campaign that was as much about resetting the culture as anything else.
“I want to lead this team by setting a good example with my work ethic, drive, dedication and discipline,” Chara said back in 2006.
He said he believed the organization could be turned around. He certainly accomplished that mission and helped transform the Bruins into a model franchise in the NHL.
Chara did it exactly how he said he would, with his work ethic, drive, dedication and discipline. His off-ice workouts were a thing of lore. He missed just 79 games over the course of his time with the Bruins, no small feat for a 6-foot-9 defenseman who logged 24 minutes per night and whose time in Boston spanned from his age-29 season through his age-42 season.
In addition to that dependability, Chara set the mold for an NHL captain in the 21st century. He was a unique combination of old school and new school, willing to drop the gloves in an instant to defend a teammate but also preaching the importance of inclusion inside the dressing room. As far as any of us outsiders could tell, he treated the All-Stars the same way he treated the middling journeymen and everyone in between.
“Obviously, for a long time, we are treating everybody the same way, no matter if he’s 18 or 40, or somebody has a thousand games or is playing their first game,” Chara told reporters in 2019. “We treat everybody with respect and same way as everybody else in the locker room. Since a very young age, I didn’t like the separation inside a team (between) young players and old players, players who accomplished something, players who just (came into) the league. I don’t like to use the word rookie. They are teammates. I don’t like to separate. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Once you’re a team, you’re a team. … We have to treat each other with respect and the same way.”
And it’s that thing, the way he treated people and how he handled his business off the ice that carries on now. The Bruins have been fortunate that Patrice Bergeron ascended to and embraced that role giving a natural succession plan when Chara walked. But it’s clear Chara’s lead-by-example nature rubbed off on Bergeron, who surely borrowed from what he saw over the course of the ex-captain’s run in Boston.
“It’s more the demeanor, how (Chara and the past veterans) handled that situation. If they looked calm, and in control, it was always reassuring to me and the younger guys,” Bergeron said, reflecting on Chara’s impact last year. “That’s how I’m trying to approach it as well. There are gonna be some phases or instances where you could have been better, and it’s about realizing you can’t get too high or too low and approach it positively and look for where you can get better.”
Bergeron, obviously, is back and will ensure that message lingers in the Bruins dressing room for at least one more season. Even if Bergeron himself walks away soon, there are a handful of players like Brad Marchand or Charlie McAvoy ready to carry the torch. That’s a testament to how the team has built its core, sure, but the culture Chara helped establish and nurture clearly remains even through two coaching changes and myriad roster turnover.
Tuesday will be a day to celebrate Chara. The same can be said for his eventual number-retirement ceremony whenever that comes. And eventually, he’ll take his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, another chance to reflect on his greatness. But beyond those tangible celebrations and acknowledgments, the culture Chara helped establish will carry on, and that might ultimately be his greatest contribution to Bruins hockey.