Longtime Bruins captain Zdeno Chara leaves for Capitals

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Zdeno Chara, Sidney Crosby

FILE – In this Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 file photo, Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) pushes Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) from the crease in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Boston. Longtime Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara signed with the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, a stunning move less than a week before most NHL teams open training camp. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Longtime Boston captain Zdeno Chara signed with the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, saying his former team had decided to move on from the towering defenseman who helped the Bruins climb back into the top echelon of the NHL and win the Stanley Cup in 2011.

The stunning move — Chara agred to terms on a one-year contract worth just $795,000 — came less than a week before most NHL teams open training camp. The Bruins haven’t opened camp without Chara since 2005, the first season after a yearlong lockout.

“The Boston Bruins have informed me that they plan to move forward with their many younger and talented players, and I respect their decision,” Chara posted on Instagram. “Unfortunately, my time as the proud captain of the Bruins has come to an end.”

The 43-year-old Chara helped the Bruins reach the final in 2013 and 2019 along with the 2011 championship run. He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defensemen in 2009 and was a stalwart on the blue line while Boston added more and more talent around him to build a Eastern Conference power.

“I’m proud that we were able to return the Stanley Cup to Boston,” Chara said in his post thanking the Bruins and their fans. “I am grateful and proud of everything we accomplished.”

Chara was just the second European captain to win the Cup and will be teamed with Russian star Alex Ovechkin, who became the third when Washington earned its first franchise title in 2018.

The Capitals will now try to do it again with Ovechkin and Chara.

“We are extremely pleased to have Zdeno join the Capitals organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We feel his experience and leadership will strengthen our blue line and our team.”

The 6-foot-9 Chara is a seven-time All-Star whose camp had been in talks with the Bruins since before free agency opened in October. It seemed likely the native of Slovakia would return to Boston for his 23rd NHL season unless he decided to retire.

Instead, Chara and the Capitals will face the Bruins eight times in the realigned East Division after the season opens Jan. 13. Boston GM Don Sweeney had prepared for this since Chara wanted time to evaluate his options.

“It’s been a wonderful 14 seasons with Zdeno’s talent, leadership and personality,” Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said. “He played a tremendous and enduring role in the success of the team each and every season he put on a Bruins uniform.”

Bruins president Cam Neely on a video call last week left the door open to the possibility of Chara leaving, saying there were “a lot of factors in play about what makes sense for us and what makes sense for Zdeno.”

“We certainly respect Zdeno and everything he’s done for the organization and what he’s accomplished as a player and what he’s done both on and off the ice here in Boston,” Neely said. “It’s really just a matter of what his desire is and how the coaching staff and we feel our lineup should look like, or could look like depending on the development of some of these young guys.”

Chara adds an experienced left-handed shot to an already deep Washington blue line led by Norris finalist John Carlson and re-signed physical presence Brenden Dillon. The addition of Chara could push young defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler and Martin Fehervary into reserve or taxi squad roles this season.

Chara will be playing in front of starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who was born nine months before Chara made his NHL debut for the New York Islanders in 1996. The Capitals had hoped to have veteran Henrik Lundqvist in net chasing his first title, but he was unable to join the team because of a heart condition.

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