Zdeno Chara agreed to a one-year contract with the New York Islanders on Saturday. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The 44-year-old defenseman is the oldest player in the NHL and will enter his 24th season. He scored 10 points (two goals, eight assists) and averaged 18:19 in ice time in 55 regular-season games with the Washington Capitals last season and did not score a point in five games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I love the game,” Chara said. “I have passion for the game and believe that I can still play. Those are the things you need. I don’t think you need to say much besides having love for the game and having passion for it.”
Selected by the Islanders in the third round (No. 56) of the 1996 NHL Draft, Chara has scored 666 points (207 goals, 459 assists) in 1,608 regular-season games with the Capitals, Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators and Islanders and ranks 13th in games played.
“It’s kind of a full circle,” Chara said. “Who would [have known] this would work out the way it did after twenty-something years. I’m certainly very honored and humbled to be an Islander again. Obviously, the organization went through some transitions over the course of 20 years, but we all see the progress and the positivity with where the team is at.”
Chara has scored 70 points (18 goals, 52 assists) in 200 playoff games and is one of 23 players to appear in at least that many games. He captained the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011.
The winner of the Norris Trophy voted as best defenseman in the NHL in 2008-09, Chara has made the NHL First All-Star Team three times (2003-04, 2008-09, 2013-14) and the Second All-Star Team four times (2005-06, 2007-08, 2010-11, 2011-12). He ranks fifth among defensemen in NHL history in regular-season games, trailing Chris Chelios (1,651), Scott Stevens (1,635), Larry Murphy (1,615) and Ray Bourque (1,612).
Chara said he received interest from other teams before deciding on the Islanders.
“We just obviously had to go through this process where it was taking some time,” Chara said. “I had some conversations with teams and obviously with my family and we made the decision to go with the Islanders.
“Discussions with the family have been going on probably the whole summer. That was very important to me that my family would feel comfortable and ready for me to play another year and be away from them, but at the same time not too far.”
Chara was asked if his decision to play another season in the NHL was based on a desire to play for the Slovakia in the 2022 Beijing Olympics in February. He played for them in the 2006 Turin Olympics, and was captain in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2014 Sochi Olympics. NHL players did not participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
“I didn’t really think about the Olympics at this time,” he said. “I kindly declined to play the qualification in Slovakia due to (the) right reasons. I don’t know where this goes, but I think my focus is right now being ready for training camp and whenever the Olympics comes, I’ll deal with that.”
The Islanders (32-17-7) finished fourth in the MassMutual East Division last season and lost in the Stanley Cup Semifinals in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have advanced to the conference final each of the past two seasons.
“It was always hard to be playing against the Islanders,” Chara said. “They’re always on you. They play a very heavy game, grinding game and they don’t give up many chances, many goals. Games are always tight. It’s a very solid group with a stronger leadership and a strong core of players that have been part of the Islanders for a long time.
“Under the great coaching staff (Barry Trotz) and one of the best, if not the best, (general) manager in the League (Lou Lamoriello). It’s a well-structured and cultured team now and for sure they’re making a lot of noise around the League.”
New York opens the regular season at the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 14.
“You never know how your career will evolve and how it will end up but obviously nobody can really imagine to finish where they start,” Chara said. “It just worked out that way and I’m glad it did. I’m happy to be an Islander again. That’s just the way it sometimes works.”