He’s one of the biggest players in NHL history — both in stature and sustained career success — and he’s about to embark on what could be his final season.
The year is 1996.
Bill Clinton is President. The Nintendo 64 is the hot new video game console. Twitter is still 10 years away from its founding. And Zdeno Chara is drafted by the New York Islanders in the third round of the NHL draft.
A lot has changed since then. But not Big Z.
More than two decades after getting his shot at the pros, the Zdeno Chara has made his return to the team where it all began, signing a one-year deal for what ultimately could be his final season in professional hockey.
Because Chara is like a 6-foot-9 Energizer bunny — he just keeps going.
But whether or not the new NHL season that begins this week is indeed his final one on skates, the Z-Man will undoubtedly go down as one of the most successful, most feared, and utterly unique hockey players in history.
Two Decades of On-ice Dominance
Zdeno Chara has been playing in the NHL for longer than some of his teammates have been alive.
As the oldest active player in the NHL, the 44-year-old defenseman has put together 23 stellar seasons with four different teams — the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and the Islanders.
In addition to his reputation as a fierce defender and enforcer — seriously, just Google “Zdeno Chara Hockey Fights” — the gigantic, stalwart Chara is known for having an outstanding fitness regimen that has kept him competing well into his forties.
In the four years he spent with the Islanders early in his career, Chara played in 231 games, notching six goals and 28 points. His time on Long Island was cut short, however, as Chara was shipped to the Senators as part of a blockbuster trade involving Alexi Yashin.
He spent another four years in Ottawa before signing what would be the biggest contract of his then-young career — a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Bruins.
That contract, and the subsequent seven-year, $45.5 million deal he signed with Boston in 2011, ultimately proved to be a great investment.
It’s fair to say that most of Chara’s major career highlights came during the 14 seasons he spent with the Bruins.
Not only did he play some of his best hockey with the black and gold, he was also their captain and helped bring the city a Stanley Cup. His presence in the Boston sports market grew so strong, in fact, that he began to earn a level of reverence typically reserved for icons like Tom Brady, David Ortiz, and Paul Pierce.
But as New England sports fans know, all good things eventually come to an end.
Chara left Boston in late 2020 to sign with the Capitals for the 2020-21 season, where he played 55 of 56 games in a far reduced role than what he was used to in Beantown.
He then signed a deal with the Islanders this past offseason — a move that brings him full-circle with the team that first took a chance on him nearly a quarter-century ago.
With so much time spent in the league, his resume is pages long.
Here’s just a snapshot of what he’s done with his time on the ice.
- Age: 44
- Current contract: One year, $795,000
- Pro playing career: 24 seasons
- Estimated career earnings: $98.8 million (includes signing and performance bonuses)
- Career stats: 1,608 games played, 207 goals, 459 assists, 666 points, 2,000 penalty minutes,
- Accolades: AHL All-Rookie Team (1998), NHL First All-Star Team (2004, ’09, ’14), NHL Second All-Star Team (2006, ’08, ’11, ’12), seven-time NHL All-Star (2003, 2007-’09, ’11, ’12) Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award (2011) Norris Trophy Winner (2009), Stanley Cup Champion (2011)
- Notable facts:
- Tallest person to ever play in the NHL (6-foot-9)
- Hardest slap shot ever recorded in a game (108.8 mph)
- Only the second European-born-and-trained captain to lift the Stanley Cup
- Flag-bearer for Slovakia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi
An Off-ice Linguist, Leader, and… Realtor?
The Zdeno Chara brand has been a little bit of everywhere in his two-plus decades in the league. And just like his performance on the ice, all of it has been larger than life.
While the Slovak developed an almost deadly on-ice demeanor, he is lovable and at times goofy off the ice, making him easily one of the biggest Jekyll & Hyde figures in hockey, if not all of sports.
One minute, he’d be beating someone up in an on-ice scrum. The next, he’d be at the Boston Children’s Hospital delivering gifts, smiling for photos, and making kids laugh while dressed as a pink rabbit.
Chara also found himself on the march for several worthwhile causes during his career. Not only was he the first Athlete Ambassador for “Right to Play,” a global organization that teaches children in need through educational games, but he was also one of the first NHL players to endorse “You Can Play,” which promotes the acceptance and empowerment of LGBTQ+ players in the NHL.
While he wasn’t always one to seek big endorsement deals or demand to be center of attention, Chara found himself in a few campaigns over his long career.
In 2014, he was featured in an ad from sports equipment and apparel brand Warrior showcasing their Dynasty AX1 hockey stick. The commercial depicted Chara taking a massive slapshot that beheaded a goalie.
The NHL banned the ad.
One of his most memorable appearances came in 2016 and involved a McDonald’s commercial that asked Canadiens fans what they would be willing to do for a Big Mac. Would they be willing to hug Chara?
And most recently, Chara starred in a streaming docuseries called Z: Made For This on Peacock.
While his career has never been about anything but hockey, Chara’s resume off the ice is equally interesting and impressive. Here’s a look at what he’s been up to:
- Chara’s estimated net worth: $50 million
- Notable Facts:
- He is an investor and ambassador for a Slovak startup called Specter Hockey that is developing a new kind of hockey tape.
- He has 276,000+ followers on Instagram.
- He got his real esate license while injured during the 2015 season with the Bruins.
- He’s fluent in Slovak, Czech, Polish, Russian, German, Swedish and English.
It’s anybody’s guess if this will be Zdeno Chara’s final year in the NHL — or if he’ll make an attempt at signing and then retiring with the Boston team that made him a multi-millionaire and one of the sport’s true folk heroes.
Regardless, it’s understood that Chara still owns a home in Massachusetts. Sure, that could simply be part of his plans as a real estate broker. It could also foreshadow his swan song in the NHL after an inimitable professional life well-spent.
But first thing’s first: Opening up his second stint with the Isles by giving the fans at the all-new UBS Arena something truly, literally huge to cheer about.