Zdeno Chara will return to Capital One Arena and play the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for the first time since leaving the team as an unrestricted free agent and signing with the New York Islanders in the offseason .
The 45-year-old future defenseman is currently in his 24th season as a professional and recently celebrated his 1,652nd game — the most in NHL history for a defenseman.
While it’s unclear how much of an electric reception Chara will receive from fans – Chara never played in front of Capitals fans due to coronavirus restrictions during the 2020-21 season – Nicklas Backstrom signaled the defenseman would be warmly welcomed by his former Capitals teammates.
“Well first of all, (he was memorable by) the way he carried himself,” Backstrom said. “Very professional and a great guy to have in the locker room. A lot of guys looked up to him. We’ve played him for a lot of years. He was a leader in Boston and came here and was a leader right away. A lot of guys looked up to him. He’s one of those guys that’s been in the league for so long and I can’t say enough good things about him.
Chara was praised last season for his passion for fitness.
“I found myself improving just by being with him, training with him, preparing with him. He demands that of his teammates,” Tom Wilson said last season.
Evgeny Kuznetsov seemed to be particularly struck by the Slovak legend, who could be seen talking to Chara about goal celebrations and his hockey gear during training.
“I really want to invite her to dinner someday, to sit together at home and talk,” Kuznetsov said. “I want to know all the details about nutrition, psychology, what motivates him to come to the rink and the gym every day. It’s rather difficult to be away from your family, always on the road. In his situation, maybe you’d lose the passion a bit, but he’s still full of desire.
“He’s a really nice and funny guy. Always smiling and with a sharp sense of humor, despite his age.
It’s unclear if Chara will be honored with a tribute video during the game.
Despite being a year older, Chara remains just as feisty as he was last season when he set the NHL record as the oldest player to receive a major fight. Chara has broken his own record this season by dropping the gloves five times this season. His last fight was against Jeffrey Viel of the San Jose Sharks.
“He’s not afraid to drop those gloves,” Backstrom said. “I’ll tell you whatever, I’m staying out of it.”