When it was announced on Wednesday that Zdeno Chara & Daniel Alfredsson were named as team captains for the upcoming NHL All-Star Game, two names immediately came to mind: Alexei Yashin & Wade Redden. And the fact that this game is taking place in Ottawa only magnifies the place that these two former(ish) NHL’ers have had in allowing the Big Z to return to the Nation’s Capital as a Stanley Cup Champion.
Let’s jump back to June 23, 2001. The hulking 6 ft 9 defenseman from Slovakia – drafted 56th overall by the New York Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft – was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Draft day as part of a package that included Bill Muckalt and the second overall pick (which was used to select Jason Spezza) in exchange for Alexei Yashin. Now, Yashin was coming off a year in which he had scored 40G & 88pts, and had also put up 44G & 94pts in ’98-’99, with a holdout year in between (during which, no lie, I saw him shopping at Zellers with his Russian girlfriend at Bayshore Mall), a standoff that pretty much signaled the beginning of the end of his time in Ottawa. Chara, on the other hand, had only played one full season on the Island, with a modest 9pts to go along with 157 PIM. On the flip side of this deal, however, both players began trending in drastically different directions. While Yashin did put up almost a point per game during his first year as an Islander, and while the team as a whole finished with 96 points (their best point total in 18 years), his production would steadily diminish over the next several years, resulting in the decision to buy out his contract in June of 2007 (leaving Mr. Wang on the hook to pay him roughly $2.2 million until 2015). Chara, on the other hand, emerged as an elite defenseman in Ottawa, raising his point totals every year while averaging +27 & PIM totals well into the hundreds, and even earning his first Norris nomination in 2004.
(And oh yeah, Jason Spezza has developed into a pretty nice player too.)
Fast forward to 2006. That summer, the Senators were faced with a bit of a conundrum; their two top defencemen (Chara & Wade Redden) were unrestricted free agents, and in a new salary cap era, the team could not afford to hold on to both. The Senators decided to go with the latter, and Redden agreed to a two-year contract worth $13 million with a no-trade clause, while Chara (who may or may not have wanted to stay in Ottawa anyway) signed of a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Boston Bruins, at which point he was named captain of his new squad.
While Redden’s overall production slipped a bit during the ’06-’07 season, Ottawa did make a serious run at the Cup before losing in 5 to the Ducks in the Final (with many believing that Z’s size could have made a big difference against the bigger, badder Ducks). The following season – despite a slight uptick in production – Redden was shopped around a bit, and it was reported that he killed a deal that would have sent him to San Jose for Matt Carle and a draft pick. When his contract ran out that summer, it became apparent that the Senators would not be re-signing Redden, and he went on to sign a six-year, $39 million contract with the New York Rangers that has since been labeled “the worst in the history of the NHL, if not in the history of hard-cap pro sports” (thank you, Brooksie). To say that Redden failed to live up to that contract is an understatement, and, as we all know, he is currently plying his trade in the AHL (after being put on waivers prior to the start of the 2010-11 season), while the man who signed off on that contract (owner James Dolan) recently stated that his team is close to winning a Cup.
Speaking of which, that is exactly what Zdeno Chara himself would go on to do as a member of the Boston Bruins. In fact, besides hoisting a Cup back in June, Chara has put up career highs in goals and points as a Bruin, and was nominated for two more Norris trophies, including a W in that category in 2009. And, after signing a 7 year extension last season, he will likely end his career in Black and Gold as one of the great Bruins defensemen, with a high probability of some more hardware to put on his mantle when it’s all said and done.
So, as he returns to Ottawa to put together his squad in the improperly named All-Star ‘Fantasy’ Draft, lines can be traced back to points in time 10 & 5 years ago, linking both Alexei Yashin & Wade Redden to Zdeno Chara finally finding a home in Boston. While the juicier storyline may have been to play up the Battle of Ontario, Chara is certainly a fitting All-Star Captain, albeit a potentially painful reminder to Ottawa fans in regards to the one who both came & got away, and who only seems to continue to get better.
End note: One other interesting twist in all this is how Chara (and Alfie, for that matter), will choose to approach last year’s final pick in the Draft, Phil Kessel. Here’s what Chara had to say on the matter.