BUFFALO — Zdeno Chara may be finishing his career where he started.
The 44-year-old former Bruins captain, who played last season with the Washington Capitals, signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders. The club announced the deal Saturday morning, opting not to disclose financial terms.
It’s likely that Chara, who has played on bonus-laden one-year deals since 2018-19, is making close to what he made last season in D.C. According to CapFriendly, Chara pulled in a $795,000 salary, with an additional $480,000 in bonuses for games played and playoff qualification.
On his Instagram account Saturday, Chara posted a selfie he took while wearing a white Islanders jersey from his time there (1997-2001). In the background, his navy sweater hung on a door frame, the alternate captain’s “A” visible.
“I had to get some dust off them, but sure they still looking good!” Chara wrote.
The Islanders gave Chara his NHL shot, drafting the 6-foot-9-inch Slovakian in the third round (56th overall) in 1996 following one season with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars. The North American newcomer was a project, a curiosity, considered too tall and awkward to make an impact beyond his brute strength.
“He was Baby Huey,” ex-Islander Mark Parrish recalled in a 2020 Globe story. “But you saw the hockey sense, the timing, the way he read plays. You saw the competitiveness. You saw the leadership potential.”
A mere 1,608 NHL games (plus 200 in the playoffs), one Stanley Cup title, seven All-Star appearances, and one Norris Trophy from his first training camp in 1996, Chara is back on Long Island. The sure-shot future Hall of Famer will serve as left-side depth, along with fellow graybeard Andy Greene, veteran Thomas Hickey, and Swedish prospect Sebastian Aho.
Chara said in a Zoom call that he had multiple NHL options and was “honored and humbled” to return to the Islanders after two decades.
“It’s a very solid group with strong leadership and strong core players that have been part of the Islanders for a long time,” he said. “It’s a well-structured and cultured team now and for sure they’ve been making a lot of noise around the league, especially the last few years.”
Chara is the obvious choice to captain the Slovakian squad at the Beijing Olympics in February. It would be his fourth Olympic appearance, his third as captain. He was the flag-bearer for his nation at the 2014 Games in Sochi. In June, the country conferred on Chara state honors for extraordinary merits in sport.
Chara, who played 231 games for the Islanders, did not make the playoffs in his time there. On June 23, 2001, then-general manager Mike Milbury traded him, along with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2001 draft (future NHL star Jason Spezza) and Bill Muckalt to the Ottawa Senators for high-priced center Alexei Yashin, a trade Milbury later called a mistake.
Chara, who turns 45 on March 18, has never publicly stated how long he wants to keep playing. He is the oldest player in the NHL since Hall of Famer Chris Chelios, who was 48 when he played his last game in 2010.
Unable to strike a deal for a 15th season in Boston, he was a third-pair, penalty-killing defenseman last season in Washington. Chara played 55 of 56 games, producing two goals and 10 points, while averaging 18:19 of ice time. That was reduced to 16:16 in the playoffs, when he went scoreless in the Capitals’ five-game, first-round loss to the Bruins.