June 23rd, 2001. Ex-Islanders general manager Mike Milbury pulled the trigger on a trade to bring disgruntled Ottawa Senators forward Alexei Yashin to Long Island. The Isles would ship three pieces north of the border in what seemed like a decent trade at the time. That trade is now looked at as one of the most infamous transactions in team history.
20 years later, one of those pieces will suit up for the Islanders once again.
As first reported by ESPN’s Kevin Weekes (and later made official on the team’s Twitter account), the Isles have inked future Hall of Fame defenseman Zdeno Chara to a one-year contract. As of now, no terms on the deal have been released. The move came shortly after signing another defenseman in Erik Gustafsson to a professional tryout offer (PTO) just two days ago.
From Zdeno Chara’s Instagram #Isles pic.twitter.com/O7inQOXO9F
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) September 18, 2021
So what does the 44-year-old Chara bring to the table at this stage of his career? Two words: veteran leadership.
Big Z has over 1,600 (!) regular season games of NHL experience under his belt, as well as 666 career points. Chara’s also played in 200 playoff games to this point (which ranks 23rd in league history and most amongst active players). The Slovakian native has oodles of postseason experience (mainly with the Boston Bruins) over the course of his career, highlighted by Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 2011, 2013 and 2019 (capturing the Cup in ‘11). Chara too served as Bruins captain for 14 seasons spanning from 2006 to 2020. Never a bad thing to add a former captain to your arsenal.
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“They are a very solid group with strong leadership, a great coaching staff and one of the best managers in the league,” Chara said in a zoom conference on Saturday. “They have been making a lot of noise around the year, especially last year.”
Chara also went on to mention that there were other teams in pursuit of his talents, but said, ‘We made the decision to go with the Islanders.”
Players actually want to come play for the Islanders now? Oh, how things have changed with this franchise.
Zdeno Chara scored his 1st NHL goal as a member of the @NYIslanders and now he had a chance to score his last wearing the orange the blue #Isles pic.twitter.com/HyYr31Hejs
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) September 18, 2021
So with Chara officially under contract — and assuming he makes the team out of camp — a lot of fans might be wondering: where does he fit into the lineup? It’s tough to assume, but I see it as a long shot for Big Z to play in the top four (still feel as though Gustafsson or Dobson should be the two front runners as of now, but time will tell). That leaves the third pair, which consisted mainly of Andy Greene and Noah Dobson last season. Greene’s been solid defensively over his time as an Islander, but I’m sure most fans would agree with me in saying I wouldn’t mind seeing him and Chara switching out on that bottom pair alongside a young kid in Dobson.
Or, you could make things interesting. Newsday’s Andrew Gross put this pairing together first: Chara with Scott Mayfield. That duo might lack speed, but I don’t see many forwards being too excited about forechecking against Chara (6’9”, 250) and Mayfield (6’5”, 220).
If those two do play together at any point this season, they’re going to be a pain for the opposition, no question.
Follow Carter on Twitter at @cbentivenga14