Big Z is back on the Island

Zdeno Chara signs 1-year deal with Islanders 

Full Circle

What’s Happening: 25 years later, it’s come full circle for Zdeno Chara and the New York Islanders. Chara signed a one-year contract with the Islanders on Saturday, the team that drafted him in 1996. 

The future Hall of Famer, now 44 years old, is a seven time all-star and Norris Trophy winner. He won the Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011 and has over 1,600 NHL games under his belt. Only Chris Chelios, Scott Stevens, Larry Murphy, and Ray Bourque have played more NHL games as a defenseman. 

While best known for his time as a Bruin, he’s also dawned the jersey for the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals, where he spent last season. 

The reunion may serve to quell a sore spot of Chara’s departure from Long Island. After playing 231 games there to begin his career, he was traded to Ottawa in a deal that is now infamously lopsided. Then GM Mike Milbury sent Chara, Bill Muckalt, and a future 1st round pick (Jason Spezza) to the Senators for Alexei Yashin. 

The question in 2021 is: at 44 years of age and entering his 24th NHL season, what does Chara have left to give?

The Island Fit: For a team that was a game away from the Stanley Cup final last season, it may seem like an odd marriage. But earlier this offseason, Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello traded Nick Leddy to Detroit in a cap-related move, which opened up a hole on the left side. Leddy was a stalwart for the Islanders, logging over 20 minutes per game and playing extended special teams minutes. Asking Chara to step in there is a tall order.

Chara’s been a strong penalty killer even into his 40s — he averaged a team-high 2:41 PK time per game last season — but he’s not a 20-minute-per-gamer anymore. He averaged 18:19 per game in Washington last year, his first year to average under 21:00 since his rookie season in 1998. 

But if he’s tasked with being the partner for 21-year-old Noah Dobson on the third pair and to bring some leadership, then this might be just what the Islanders need. 

Chara’s Last Dance? We’ve asked this question before about the seemingly ageless Chara. He’ll be 45 when the playoffs roll around, and while he’s certainly not the perennial Norris contender he once was, he proved last season that he can still be a solid contributor on a good team. 

“I love the game. I have a passion for the game, and I believe I can still play. That’s all you need,” he told ESPN. And with ESPN reporting that several other teams also showed interest in Chara, the league seems to agree with his assessment. 

If the Islanders don’t win the Stanley Cup this season, is it unforeseeable that Chara comes back again? For now, his legendary story continues, and is one that has come full circle. 

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