The player, known to the NHL as “Big Zee,” calls it a career.
Zdeno Chara has signed a one-day contract with the Boston Bruins and on Tuesday announced his retirement after 24 seasons in the NHL and leading Boston to the 2011 Stanley Cup.
The 6-foot-9 defenseman from Slovakia gave up his skates at the age of 45, relinquishing the title of the NHL’s oldest active player.
He returned to TD Garden to end his pro career two years after leaving the Bruins after 14 seasons with the team.
The proclamation printed on his ceremonial signing contract spoke of that longevity in the sport.
“Do you want to know what it says?” he asked the assembled crowd for the signature. “Zdeno must agree to keep himself in good shape and physical condition at all times after his retirement.”
Chara called returning to the city of his greatest NHL triumphs to mark the end of his time on the ice “surreal.”
But he said he’s happy with a decision made primarily to devote more time and energy to the family that has supported him throughout his career.
“I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change anything,” said Chara. “We’re in a business where we’re ultimately judged on victory and we’ve had our ups and downs with that. But I walk away knowing that all along I gave everything I had.”
Chara won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 2009 and has also spent time with the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals. Chara, better known for his ability to keep the puck out of the net than get it in, still scored 237 goals and added 523 assists for 760 points in 1,880 regular season and playoff games.
His 1,680 regular season games is a record for a defenseman. Chara also leaves sixth in Bruins history in games played (1,023) and third in points by a defender (481), behind Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506) and Bobby Orr (888).
Chara is a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee not only for his consistency but also for his size in the game from Slovakia to North America. In 2000 and 2010, he won two teams for his home country that won the silver medal at the World Cup.
The affinity that Chara’s previous Boston teammates and coaches have for him was evident Tuesday when several of them including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie Coyle, Charlie McAvoy and others , were available for his news conference.
Chara became the second European captain with Detroit to win the trophy after Sweden’s Nicklas Lidstrom. He was one of the faces of a successful era for the Bruins that also included trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013 and 2019, the latter of which he finished while playing with a broken jaw.
Chara was drafted in the third round by the Islanders in 1996 and played his first four seasons on Long Island before being traded to the Senators. Boston signed him in 2006, and it remains one of the most impactful free agency signings of the 17 years of the NHL’s salary cap era.
Chara made five of his seven All-Star Game appearances with the Bruins and was one of the most popular athletes in town during that time. He left in 2020 when the team failed to guarantee him a full-time, full-season job, and signed a one-year contract with Washington before ending his playing career with the Islanders.
But he said building a championship culture in Boston, which hadn’t won a Stanley Cup Finals since the 1971-72 season of Orr’s heyday until 2011, is one of the things he values most.
“Because without that you can’t win. You need a culture. You need players who want to follow,” said Chara. “And it wasn’t just me. It was a team effort. I would never have made it without Patrice. I never would have made it without Brad coming in and following Patrice’s lead. We had people willing to come on different teams and we adapted to that culture. We pushed each other. We set goals and slowly but surely we climbed and took the steps.
“It was difficult at first. It probably wasn’t easy and not everyone wanted to change in some way. But it was necessary.”
AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno contributed