After 14 seasons with the Bruins, Chara, 43, signed a one-year, $795,000 contract with the Washington Capitals as a free-agent defenseman on Wednesday. He captained three Boston teams that went to the Stanley Cup Final, winning the championship in 2011. The 6-foot-9 defenseman was a finalist for the Norris Trophy five times with the Bruins, winning it in 2008-2009.
He played 68 regular-season games and 13 more in the playoffs, but Chara said he didn’t know he’d return for his 23rd NHL season until he began training for the 2020-21 campaign in September.
“We were in that pause when we’d usually start a season. That time was when I decided that if I started skating, going back to training, I would be quickly honest with myself about whether there was any hesitation about going back to the ice. That never appeared,” he said in a press conference on Thursday. “To me, that was an indication that I have lots of gas left and still want to do my thing. That’s my motivation: Still proving that I can play.”
The question was where he’d play.
Boston general manager Don Sweeney said the Bruins had “multiple” discussions with Chara during the year and had offered him a contract “months ago.” He said Chara asked for time to mull over the offer and the role the Bruins wanted to integrate him into on the team: a reduced role compared to previous seasons, as Boston wanted to give younger defensemen in their system ice time in order to evaluate them.
“We didn’t make a categorical promise that he would have the same role that he had in his historic career with the Boston Bruins,” said Sweeney on Thursday.
Chara said as those conversations with the Bruins progressed, it became clear him that he “would not be in the starting lineup for the season, not starting some games and not playing some back-to-back games. I would be more a reserve type of player.”
Chara reiterated that Sweeney “negotiated in good faith” but that ultimately Chara felt he could still play consistent minutes in the NHL on another team.
Nearly two-dozen teams in the NHL showed interest in Chara. He said Washington’s curiosity intensified recently.
“A few days ago, Washington informed us about their interest and I saw this opportunity that I didn’t want to pass on. It was a good fit for me and my family,” said Chara.
The defenseman said there have been no promises made by the Capitals with regard to his ice time or games played. The Capitals have roughly 10 defensemen in the mix heading into the 56-game regular season.
“There’s no specifics. There’s no guarantee. I just want to have a chance to compete,” said Chara, who is going through COVID-19 protocols in the D.C. area.
While his on-ice role remains cloudy, it’s obvious what appealed to the Capitals off the ice about their new defenseman. Chara is one of the NHL’s most respected captains. After two first-round exits following their Stanley Cup win, Washington put a premium on trying to find ways to motivate their veteran players. After hiring fiery coach Peter Laviolette, they add Chara to a locker room with captain Alex Ovechkin.
“This is Alex’s team and Peter’s team, and I look forward to helping them as much as I can on and off the ice,” said Chara.
Due to the NHL’s COVID-19-influenced realignment, the Capitals will face the Boston Bruins eight times in intra-divisional play this season. “It’s going to be a strange feeling, for sure,” said Chara.
He believes former teammate Patrice Bergeron will succeed him as a Bruins captain. Chara also acknowledged that he’s another in string of high-profile Boston athletes to leave town in recent years. He said he reached out to one of them, former Patriots star Tom Brady, during this process.
“Yeah, we are friends,” said Chara. “I definitely see a new opportunity, new challenges. I’m extremely motivated and looking forward to going out there to compete.”