When Peter Laviolette met with Zdeno Chara in the offseason, before the 44-year-old defenseman was officially part of the Washington Capitals, there were no expectations about the upcoming season, no X’s and O’s drawn out. It was just two people getting to know each other.
The two met on Longboat Key – a Florida island where both have houses. It was the first time they had gotten together in a casual, informal setting.
“It was really nice to get to know him, meet his family and kind of hang out,” Chara said. “We knew about each other for a long time. We had those places for some time, but we never got to meet down there, so it was nice to meet up and spend time together.”
When the conversation was over, Laviolette recalled calling Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan “right away” to describe the chat and Chara’s impressive character.
“Just listening to him speak and what he was going to try to do to help this team be successful . . . he has not dropped the ball at any point for what we talked about,” Laviolette said Monday. “He’s been a terrific player; he’s been a terrific teammate. He’s all business. He came here for a reason.”
Chara was the captain of the Boston Bruins for 14 seasons, but as the 2020-21 campaign approached, the Bruins opted to go younger on their blue line and Chara signed with Washington in December. Now he will face his former team in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, beginning with Game 1 on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.
“I think he’s delivered everything that he said he was going to do,” Laviolette said. “He was going to come in here and be a factor on the ice. He was going to come in here and be a positive influence in the locker room, a leader in the locker room. He was going to lead by example by the way he lives his life, by the way he plays the game and prepares for the game.
“At no point has he disappointed us in what he has delivered for us this year.”
Chara has been a rock on Washington’s blue line. Back in December, when Chara signed, he said there were no specifics, no minutes guarantee with the team. Chara said he just wanted to have a “fair chance and compete with the guys for the Stanley Cup.”
Since then, he has mainly been skating with Nick Jensen on the third defensive pairing and spending time on the penalty kill. The veteran has not only stayed relatively healthy this season, but he has also acted as a steady presence in the locker room. He averaged 18:19 of ice time per game and recorded two goals and eight assists.
“I feel good. I think we are in a good spot. Playoffs are around the corner. . . . Just like every team, you got to go with the right mind-set and right attitude going into the playoffs and take one game at a time,” Chara said.
Chara – who missed only one game this season and played the 1,600th game of his career in April – was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Each team gets one representative, selected by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
“I don’t think that you could use two better words to describe a player or a person than dedication and perseverance,” Laviolette said. “Dedication for sure and perseverance to keep pushing and playing the way he does at this point in his career.”
Chara already acts like another coach, according to assistant coach Kevin McCarthy. His insight will be valuable ahead of this playoff series.
“Obviously it can mean a lot,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “He’s been there for many years, and they haven’t really switched that much. He can be an asset for us, knowing what they are doing. . . . That is huge in the playoffs. Small things like that can change the series, I think. Hopefully we can take advantage of that.”
Boston Coach Bruce Cassidy echoed similar thoughts Monday night.
“I imagine he will give whatever information is necessary,” Cassidy said. “We’ll break down Zee like we would any other player. We know a lot of his tendencies. Maybe that will help us in certain situations. At the end of the day, he’s a competitor.”