By: Joe Travia | Follow Me on Twitter @NHLJoeTravia
July 1st, 2006, is the date that changed everything for fans of the Boston Bruins. After the canceled 2004-2005 season, the Bruins returned to the ice in disarray for the 2005-2006 season. A poor start to the season for the team led to franchise player and Captain Joe Thornton being traded to the San Jose Sharks after just 23 games that season. With a lineup featuring names such as Dave Scatchard, Brad Isbister, Yan Stastny, and David Tanabe, the Bruins finished 29-37-16, good enough for a paltry 74 points and a last-place finish in the Northeast division. General Manager Mike O’Connell was fired in May of 2006. Head Coach Mike Sullivan was fired in June. Changes were coming, and the organization needed new leadership at the executive level and on the ice. Enter Zdeno Chara.
On the first day of free agency, the Bruins announced they had signed Chara to a five-year contract that paid him $7.5 million per season. The 29-year-old Chara was coming off two straight seasons in which he finished top-four in Norris Trophy voting, establishing himself as one of the premier two-way defensemen in the game. Chara had a reputation for being a leader. The Bruins rewarded him with the captaincy upon arrival, hoping he would help fix a damaged culture and lead the organization back into the prominence the fans deserved.
What followed was a 14-year run in the Black and Gold that will one day have him in the Hockey Hall of Fame and his #33 hanging from the rafters alongside other Bruins legends like Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, and Eddie Shore. While in Boston, Chara was a five-time all-star, two-time First Team All NHL, and four-time Second Team All NHL. His slapshot became the stuff of legend, as he set the record with a 108.8 MPH blast in the 2012 All-Star Game Skills Competition. He was nominated for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman five times as a Bruin, winning the award in 2009.
Beyond all his individual accolades, Chara built a culture that led to sustained success for the team on the ice. Chara captained the Bruins to three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, winning the championship in 2011, the Bruins’ first since 1972. Chara was a lead-by-example type, and he commanded respect. Though they fell short in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final vs. St. Louis, few will forget the reception Chara received before game five, just days after fracturing his jaw in two places. As he stood there wearing a full-face shield, with his jaw wired shut, the TD Garden faithful showered him with a legendary ovation that showed what he meant to the fanbase.
As towering a fixture as Chara was on the ice, he was equally towering in the Boston community through his charitable efforts. He was a fixture around Boston on Thanksgiving, delivering pies to various organizations throughout the city. He led the Bruins PJ Drive, which supplied pajamas for kids all around the state of Massachusetts. And who can forget Chara dressing as the Easter Bunny on Halloween during a visit to sick kids at the Children’s Hospital?
So, here’s to you, Zdeno Chara. You are one of the greatest players to represent the Boston Bruins on and off the ice. Thank you for all the memorable moments you provided us over the years, and best of luck in your retirement. We’ll see you at the Jersey Retirement ceremony.
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