When compiling * all-time best” lists, there might be a tendency to minimize the accomplishments of players still in uniform.
But the current era of Bruins' hockey has lasted long enough and seen enough excellence that it's impossible to ignore its foundational blocks. And there is no sturdier pillar than Zdeno Chara.
You cannot overstate what Chara has meant to this club regaining its footing and standing as one of the elite franchises in the game. It started with him simply choosing them.
In the summer of 2006, the club was still reeling from the choices ownership had made leading up to the lockout of 2004-05, allowing free agents like Brian Rolston and Mike Knuble to simply walk away from a very good team that had been upset by the Canadiens in the first round of the 2004 playoffs. When the new collective bargaining agreement was signed and the league was back in business with a new salary cap, other free agents were available, but they would not sign with the B's.
To make matters worse, the stunning Joe Thornton trade in November 2005 did not reshape and reboot the team liked it was hoped.
It did, however, create some cap space and, in the summer of 2006, the Bruins — with interim GM Jeff Gorton running the show while incoming GM Peter Chiarelli was prohibited from taking over until after the free agency period — signed Chara, the former Senator, to a five-year, $37 million deal. Once Chara was signed, the next domino to fall was crafty centerman Marc Savard, who also signed a long-term deal.
The B's had some very important pieces remaining from the Mike O'Connell/Gorton stewardship — Patrice Bergeron, prospect David Krejci and '06 draftees Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand — but Chara represented the much-needed presence on the blue line that the club had been lacking since the departure of Ray Bourque at the 2000 trade deadline. Chara was immediately named captain, a role he longed to fulfill.
The Chara deal was arguably the best free agent signing in the history of the National Hockey League.
In his first season, Boston was in an organizational misstep under the one-year tutelage of coach Dave Lewis, but the B's returned to playoffs the following season and reignited the passion among the dormant fandom with an epic seven-game series against Montreal. The B's lost that series, but the methodical march to the Stanley Cup in 2011 — the franchise's first in 39 years — had begun.
In his time with the B's, Chara won one Norris Trophy and was a finalist on four other occasions. He's scored double-digit goals in sevens seasons and had three 50-point seasons. But while point production was always part of the package Chara has brought to the table, it's not the most important piece.
At 6-foot-9, 265 pounds, Chara represents one of the most daunting, intimidating defenders the league has ever seen. In Chara's 14 seasons in Boston, the B's have finished in the top 10 in goals against 11 times, finished in the top three in the NHL seven times and led the league twice, including this season that is in peril because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chara, fanatical about his conditioning, has helped set a certain tone of professionalism in the organization and it has allowed him to remain a key contributor into his 40s. His days as a power-play point man are long gone, but he remains an excellent penalty killer, sometimes spending the entire two minutes out on the ice. And when the seconds are running off the game clock and the B's are protecting a lead, chances are Chara is on the ice.
As with other current players on this list of legends, Chara still has a chance to climb a notch or two with more team success. But if he decided to retire right now and let them hoist his No. 33 to the Garden rafters — something he's given no indication he's ready to do — he's already cemented his spot among the greats.