Zdeno Chara never planned to finish where he started. Two decades later, though, the 6-9, 250-pound defenseman is thrilled to be rejoining the Islanders.
"Well, it’s kind of a full circle," Chara, 44, said Saturday on a Zoom teleconference to announce his one-year deal. "Who would know that this would work out the way it did after 20-some years, but I’m certainly very honored and humbled to be an Islander again."
President and general manager Lou Lamoriello has been looking to bolster his depth among left-shooting defensemen since trading Nick Leddy to the Red Wings for salary-cap purposes on July 16. Players will report to training camp on Wednesday and the first on-ice sessions will be Thursday.
Chara played 55 of 56 regular-season games last season for the Capitals — his lone season in Washington after 14 seasons and one Stanley Cup as the Bruins’ captain — and had two goals, eight assists and 44 penalty minutes. Despite his advanced NHL age, Chara still provided a physical presence and his huge frame remains a tough challenge to get around.
Chara has 207 goals, 459 assists and 2,000 penalty minutes in 1,608 NHL regular-season games and 18 goals, 52 assists and 218 penalty minutes in 200 playoff games.
He can pass Hall of Famer Chris Chelios (1,651) this season for the most career games by a defenseman.
"I love the game," said Chara, adding that the Islanders were not the only team that showed interest in signing him. "I have passion for the game and believe that I can still play. Those are the things you need."
The Islanders selected Chara in the third round in 1996. The future Hall of Famer made his NHL debut for them on Nov. 19, 1997, and played 231 games with six goals and 23 assists.
Then-Islanders general manager Mike Milbury acquired Alexei Yashin from the Senators on June 23, 2001, in exchange for Chara, Bill Muckalt and a first-round pick that was used to select Jason Spezza.
"The organization went through some transitions over the course of 20 years, but I think we all see the progress and the positivity that the team has had," said Chara, whose family still resides in Boston. "That was very important to me that my family would feel comfortable and ready for me to play another year and being away from them but, at the same time, not too far."
Chara can become the oldest player to dress for the Islanders, according to team statistician Eric Hornick.
Goalie Dwayne Roloson currently holds that distinction; he was 41 years and 80 days on Dec. 31, 2010.
Ron Stewart, at 40 years, 243 days on March 11, 1973, was the oldest skater. Marek Zidlicky, at 39 years, 90 days on March 3, 2016, is the oldest defenseman to play for the Islanders and the oldest player to appear in the playoffs for them.
Chara will have competition for playing time.
NHL veteran Erik Gustafsson, 29, will attend training camp on a professional tryout offer and Paul Ladue, 29, has been signed to a two-way contract after playing 69 NHL games for the Kings between 2017-19.
Thomas Hickey and Sebastian Aho remain in-house candidates to compete for a roster spot.