Zdeno Chara has been one of the best defencemen of this century. Over the course of 1,350 regular season NHL games, Chara has scored 188 goals, 604 points, and has an overall +/- of 188. He has also captained the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cup Finals, lifting Lord Stanley’s mug in 2011 and he recorded the hardest slapshot in NHL history. But he is now 40 years old. While many NHLers play into their 40s, there are certainly fewer of them than there are players in their 30s and 20s. And while a 40-year-old player is comparatively rare, a 2.06 meter (6.75 foot) tall 116 kilogram (255 pound) 40-year-old is truly unique. With his big body, you’d think Chara would be a likely candidate for early retirement. But apparently, not so. Chara has one year left on his contract but has publicly stated his desire to continue playing beyond then. He’s refused to give a possible age of retirement (unlike Jaromir Jagr’s stated goal of 50) but clearly he has no immediate plans to call it quits.
But that brings up an interesting question: if Chara does indeed sign another contract in 2018, with whom will he sign? Of course, the natural answer is Boston. But things don’t always work out so simply. Boston will need the cap space that the end of Chara's contract will free up and they need to get faster on the blue line, so they may just decide to move on.
Due to the since-repealed “Kovalchuk Rule”, Chara’s final year’s cap hit is equal to his salary: a reasonable $4 million. He also has a no movement clause. Just how much money he wants and where he wants to play will determine his future. Where might he want to play? Where won’t he?
15 Want: Boston Bruins
Let’s begin with the most obvious choice. Boston is the likeliest place for Chara to continue playing. He’s the team captain, he’s been the face of the organization for years, and the fans love him for the Herculean effort he put forth in bringing Beantown their first Cup in almost 40 years. And he’s said he wants to re-sign. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the Boston Bruins don’t know what they are. Are they a good team that just needed to replace head coach Claude Julien mid-season or should they be looking to rebuild?
The Bruins do have a good looking young defensive core coming up. Do they necessarily need Chara? Perhaps not. The ‘Big Z’ is slowing down, that’s undeniable. But his veteran leadership and steady hand could a big plus for a young blueline. But at what cost? If Chara is willing to take a pay cut, he’ll probably stay. But he could probably make more money elsewhere.
14 Won’t: New York Islanders
Speaking of teams who are having a bit of an identity crisis, we have the New York Islanders. The team that drafted Chara would love to have him back. Like Chara, Islanders’ captain John Tavares has only one year remaining on his contract. Making a trade with Boston to bring Chara in might convince Tavares that the Isles are making a serious push for success now. But organizationally, the team is a mess, as it has been for most of the past 30 years. Apart from their star player possibly preparing to leave, the Isles themselves are in danger of being evicted from their new home in the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Does Chara really want to sign for a team with such an uncertain future that people are seriously asking if they could be relocated to Hartford? Unlikely.
13 Want: Ottawa Senators
Speaking of former teams, it is reasonable to consider Ottawa as a possible destination for the Big Z. It was with the Senators that Chara first grew to become an elite level defenceman. And as they just showed in the playoffs, they have what it takes to make a serious run for the Cup. What’s more, in Ottawa, Chara would have a chance to play with arguably the best defenseman in the world right now, Erik Karlsson. Get to play with an amazing talent, relive some of your glory days, and possibly win a Cup? It sounds like a winning combination. The biggest issue, however, will be money. While the Sens do have a considerable amount of cap space at the moment, they are not a wealthy organization and with the Canadian dollar very low right now, Chara would likely have to take a pay cut to play with them.
12 Won’t: Toronto Maple Leafs
Just further south of Ottawa, we have the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a promising first season for Auston Matthews and an encouraging first round performance against Washington, the Leafs now have to start looking to make the next step. While they have an impressive forward lineup, the Leafs’ back end looks suspect. Chara’s championship pedigree and veteran leadership would do wonders for their blueline. Would Chara want to play for the team he and Boston traumatized in the playoffs in 2013? Probably not. First, going to Canada would mean he would have to pay more in taxes.
Second, while the Leafs saw a marked improvement this past season, they’re still a ways away from being serious Cup contenders. And third, as Chris Chelios revealed this past winter, many veterans don’t like playing for Leafs coach Mike Babcock; they feel he works them too hard and lacks respect for their achievements.
11 Want: Washington Capitals
Perhaps Leafs fans shouldn’t be too encouraged by their play against Washington. The Capitals --favorites to hoist the Cup this year-- only went on to lose in the next round to their bête noire, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington seemingly did everything right. They brought in hugely respected coach Barry Trotz, “Mr. Game Seven” Justin Williams, and made the biggest deadline deal by bringing in Kevin Shattenkirk. What more can they do? All they can really do is try to keep adding proven winners to their team and hope they get over their second round hump. Shattenkirk is unlikely to re-sign and if the Bruins are on the outside of the playoffs come deadline day 2018, a Chara to Washington deal makes all the sense in the world. Maybe there Chara can get a second Cup and the Caps can shake off their “underachievers” tag.
10 Won’t: Edmonton Oilers
Like the Maple Leafs, the Oilers are an exciting team with a young core and an outlandishly talented superstar center in Connor McDavid. But they’re actually better than the Leafs as they have a star defenseman in Adam Larsson and veteran winger Milan Lucic, an old teammate of Chara’s. So, could we see Chara move to Edmonton? Unlikely. While they’re an exciting team, if Chara is Cup hunting, he’ll likely have better options. And, as mentioned before, with higher Canadian taxes and a weak dollar possibly limiting Edmonton’s budget, he could make more money elsewhere.
Lastly, and I’m sure Edmontonians love their city and I’m sure it has may great qualities, but the league’s most northern city has had problems attracting players in the past. Including franchise d-men...and their wives *cough cough, Chris Pronger*.
9 Want: Carolina Hurricanes
One reason Zdeno Chara’s future is so interesting is that he has a lot of options. There are many young teams who are really aching for proven winner on the blueline to provide leadership and guidance to their squads. Teams like the Carolina Hurricanes. The ‘Canes have been in the wilderness for years but near the end of the this season they made a surge toward the playoffs. It wasn’t quite enough, but the signs of improvement are there. If they’re able to maintain that pace for a whole season, they’ll make it. And if that happens, they’ll definitely want a player with Chara’s background. But would Chara want to go there? Well, they have cap space and the weather is pretty nice. Why not?
8 Won’t: St. Louis Blues
Slot this one into the “franchise is mired in confusion” category. St. Louis is a good team...probably. At least, they have been since they fired Ken Hitchcock. Is current coach Mike Yeo the answer to all their problems? Zdeno Chara probably isn’t willing to find out. After losing in the conference finals last year and the second round this year, you’d think the Blues are on the cusp of making a run to the finals. But there’s no telling if Jake Allen’s late-season hot streak will continue long-term. And after losing Kevin Shattenkirk, a linchpin of the defence, they could use a Chara to make that Cup run. But unless they look imperious throughout the first half of next season, Chara probably figures he has safer bets for a Cup run or to get more money.
7 Want: Slovan Bratislava (KHL)
During the 2012-13 lockout, Chara played half a season for HC Lev Praha, the Prague Kontinental Hockey League franchise. That team no longer exists, but Slovan Bratislava does, which should be even more enticing to the Slovakian Chara. His hometown team, Dukla Trenčín plays in the Slovak Extraliga --not a big or particularly talented league-- but if he moves to the capital, Bratislava, he can play in the oligarch-funded KHL.
Could Chara do a Jagr/Kovalchuk/Datsyuk and move over to the ever expanding KHL? Why not? He would get to move back to his native land and make as much money as, if not more than, he would likely get from an NHL team. If it doesn’t work out in Boston, the KHL is a real possibility.
6 Won’t: Kunlun Red Star (KHL)
Kunlun Red Star is just a stand-in here for many of the KHL franchises that appear to be ramshackle organizations. While a move back to Slovakia might interest Chara, another KHL team is unlikely to. Sure, one of the moneyed clubs like Metallurg Magnitogorsk or SKA St. Petersburg (who will likely have a large, Ilya Kovalchuk shaped hole in their budget) could lure Chara over with a big wad of cash, but most of the KHL clubs wouldn’t have a chance. Especially teams in the ridiculously expansive Chernyshev Division of the Eastern Conference who must travel exceedingly long distances for games; including to China for Kunlun.
The Beijing team’s first year, while surprisingly respectable on ice, was a farce everywhere else. From comedically inept ceremonial puck drops to having to play half their home games in Shanghai for somereason, Kunlun is typical of many of the KHL clubs who just don’t have their you-know-what together. Chara ain’t got no time for that.
5 Want: Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers appear to check all the boxes for Chara. Florida is a young team with promise (had they avoided a few injuries, they likely would have made the playoffs this season), they have a good track record of incorporating aging veterans into their lineup (Jagr), and it’s nice and warm there. Lots of people retire to Florida, why shouldn't NHLers want to wind down their careers their? The Panthers also have a ton of cap space, though not necessarily a ton of money. Chara might be able to get a bigger contract somewhere else, but Florida has no state income tax, so he’d take home more of his paycheque there. Florida seems to fit perfectly, unless Chara has doubts about playing for a divisional rival of the Bruins.
4 Won’t: Montreal Canadiens
Which brings us to the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins’ biggest rivals. The most consistent criticism of the Canadiens for over a decade has been that they lack size; and they don’t come bigger than the Big Z. Mind you, the Habs really need the size up front. But more to the point, Chara is Boston’s captain, surely he won’t want to jump ship to the ‘bleu, blanc, et rouge’. Of course, his coach did. Just weeks after getting the ax from Boston, the man who coached Chara to the Stanley Cup showed up behind the Habs’ bench. But that’s a bit different. Julien is French Canadian and had previously coached the Habs. And by hiring only bilingual coaches, the Canadiens do have a limited pool from which to draw coaches, so Julien was bound to end up back there. Chara? Not so much.
3 Want: Tampa Bay Lightning
Like Raleigh, North Carolina, and Sunrise, Florida, Tampa Bay has very nice, warm weather. But unlike the Hurricanes and the Panthers, the Lightning have a legitimate shot at winning the Cup within the next few seasons. It’s weird to say that about a team that failed to make the playoffs this past year, but they were finalists in 2015 and semi-finalists in 2016. If they can keep Stamkos healthy for a full year, they’ll have a real shot. And with them, Chara could play alongside Victor Hedman. The Lightning however, don’t have a lot of cap space. If Chara does leave Boston, the choice he may have to make is does he want a big contract or one last run at the Cup. If he chooses the latter, we could easily see him in a Lightning sweater.
2 Won’t: Colorado Avalanche
Rumors were swirling this year that the Bruins were interested in either Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, or both. After firing Claude Julien, general manager Don Sweeney might well feel he could be next on the chopping block if things don’t go well in Beantown. As mentioned before, the Bruins do have a few promising young defenceman, so would Sweeney consider including Chara in a deal for Duchene or Landeskog? He probably would, but remember Chara has a no movement clause, and he is not going to waive it to go Colorado. The 2016-17 season was truly abysmal for the Avalanche and it’s hard to imagine any player wants to be a part of that right now. There are just easier ways for Chara to make money.
1 Want: Vegas Golden Knights
Most expansion franchises have a pretty rough first few seasons when it comes to the standings. The Vegas Golden Knights are unlikely to be an exception. But they are the first expansion team in the salary cap era, which means they will be obligated to hit the cap floor. This means they’ll have to spend lavishly on free agents just to make sure their team salary is at the minimum. Vegas is also nice and hot and Chara would undoubtedly fulfill a much needed leadership role there. Furthermore, Nevada also doesn’t have a state income tax. He’s unlikely to find much on-ice success there, but he’ll get to be a key part of a new organization, live in Las Vegas, and make a lot of money.