By Neil Becker
Whether it's dishing out bone-jarring hits, dropping the gloves to fight or unleashing bombs from the blue line, defenceman Zdeno Chara has without question carved out a prestigious Hall of Fame career.
Chara, who stands at 6 ft 9, 250 pounds, was originally drafted third round (56th overall) in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders.
Affectionately known as "Big Z," this Slovak would go on to become one of the best all-time defencemen in an accomplished 24-year career which saw him achieve many individual and team accomplishments.
Chara first embarked on the NHL scene in 1997 with the Islanders, where he played until getting traded at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft to the Ottawa Senators.
Playing for the Senators, this gentle giant improved vastly and eventually became a Hall of Fame player.
During the 2002-03 season, where he set a career-high of 30 assists and 39 points, Chara experienced the thrill of being named to his first of what would be numerous mid-season All-Star games.
Following the 2005-06 season, when once again Chara posted career highs of 16 goals and 41 points, his time with the Senators ended as he signed on July 1, 2006, as an unrestricted free agent with the Boston Bruins.
This signing proved to be a genius move for the Bruins as Chara emerged into a dominating force, both offensively and defensively, as he would go on to really come of age and enjoy the greatest years of his career.
It was with the Bruins that in 2011, he realized every hockey player's ultimate dream when on a hot June night, he played a key role in helping his team defeat the Vancouver Canucks in a Game 7 to capture the Stanley Cup. In the process, Chara became only the second European to captain a Stanley Cup winning team. For those wondering, the first European was Swedish captain and defenceman Nicklas Lindstrom who led the Detroit Red Wings to a 2008 Stanley Cup victory.
After 14 years as a Bruin, Chara opted for a change of scenery. On December 30, 2020, he signed a one-year deal to play with another future Hockey Hall of Famer, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
Fittingly enough, Chara's career officially came full circle when he agreed in September 2021 to finish off his dominant career in the same play where it all began, in Long Island with the Islanders. Chara, who at that time was the oldest active player at age 45, played 72 games that final season, where he produced two goals and 14 points, along with 85 penalty minutes.
This Slovakian legend made his mark setting all kinds of records in a career which saw him compete in 1.680 games where he scored 209 goals and 680 points, along with a +/- of a +301 while racking up 2,085 penalty minutes.
During the post-season, Chara always proved clutch as he played in 200 playoff games, producing 18 goals, 70 points, and 218 penalty minutes.
Without question, Chara's resume is first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame material as it's filled with many unbelievable achievements, including being selected in 2004, 2009 and 2014 on the NHL first All-Star team. In his illustrious career, Chara also was on the 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012 second All-Star team.
Chara was always known throughout his career for his booming 100-mile-per-hour slap shot. He would go on to make his mark in the 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 mid-season NHL All-Star Games.
During that time, Chara would amaze his peers and hockey fans tuning in from coast to coast. During the NHL Super Skills Competition, this gentle giant showed his competitiveness and brute strength by dominating the hardest hot competition, which he won in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011. In 2012 he made All-Star history by blasting a slap-shot measured at a record-breaking 108.8 miles per hour.
Other achievements in his impressive hockey resume include his time as a Bruin winning the 2009 Norris Trophy and, two years later, taking home the Mark Messier Leadership Award and helping Boston win the 2011 Stanley Cup.
In that magical 2009 season, when Chara won the Norris, he played in 80 games where he scored 19 goals, and tallied 50 points, along with an impressive +23 and 95 penalty minutes.
Chara realized every hockey player's dream when on a late June night in 2011, he accomplished that ultimate feat by celebrating with his Bruins' teammates a Stanley Cup after they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in an epic Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Another great achievement for Chara is that he sits number one for most games played by an NHL defenceman at 1,680.
Meanwhile, in the Bruins record books, Chara ranks behind two prominent Hall of Famers - Bobby Orr (888) and Ray Bourque (1,506) - for points scored by a Bruins defenceman. During his time as a Bruin, Chara recorded 481 points.
He also serves as an example of how a late-round draft choice, with hard work and dedication, can not only make the NHL but have a long, successful career.
On the international stage, Chara also left his mark as he helped Slovakia win silver at the 2000 and 2012 IIHF World Championship. In the 2012 tournament, his play didn't go unnoticed as he was selected as the best defenceman.
Four years later, in 2016, he was also part of the Slovakian team which won silver at the World Cup of Hockey tournament.
In total, Chara played for his country in 10 international tournaments, including seven World Championships (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2012), along with three Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Chara, who, as mentioned, enjoyed his most success during his 14-year tenure with the Bruins, showed his love towards the organization by officially retiring on September 20, 2022, after agreeing to a one-day contract with the organization.
"I have no regrets. I would not change a thing," Chara said. "We are in a business where we are ultimately judged by winning and we experience our highs and lows with that. But I walk away knowing I gave it everything I had all the time."
He also wrote in an Instagram post: "I am honored to return to TD Garden today to sign a one-day contract with the Boston Bruins with the Boston Bruins and officially finish my career with the team that has meant so much to me and my family. There are so many people that have helped contribute to my success, including all of you, and I look forward to properly thanking everyone this afternoon."
During his illustrious career, no matter where he played, Chara made a difference in the community.
"Big Z," who as a veteran served as a mentor, was constantly amazed by what he could do on the ice. Unfortunately, the only thing he couldn't beat was father time.
Thank you, "Big Z," for entertaining this hockey fan on a yearly basis, and I can't wait to hear your Hockey Hall of Fame speech in a few years from now.