Z is for Zdeno, as in Zdeno Chara, the tallest-ever Senator. I wasn't sure I was going to write about Chara as the Sens have options at "Z" (Mika Zibanejad and Zack Smith), but six years after his departure, he still leaves a big whole on Ottawa's blue line.
Acquired in the incredibly lopsided 2001 draft day deal which sent Alexei Yashin to the New York Islanders, Zdeno soon became a fan-favourite and blossomed in Ottawa. It was with the Senators that Chara transformed from a reliable defensive player to a two-way threat. He became known for his blistering slap shot, which had been developing in New York and emerged as one of the hardest in the NHL during his time in Ottawa.
In 2002-03 Chara continued to improve offensively and was rewarded with his first All-Star game selection, recording the second hardest shot in the skills competition, behind only Al MacInnis. 2003-04 was a breakout season for Zdeno, as he emerged as an elite defenseman, netting 16 goals and 41 points. All of this resulted in his first Norris Trophy nomination.
After the lockout, Chara continued his dominant play. He recorded 16 goals and 43 points, earning a place on the NHL's Second All-Star Team. However, when the Sens were ousted prematurely from the playoffs that year, it meant the end of Zdeno's time in Ottawa as well. Both Chara and Redden's contracts were up and ultimately the Sens were only able to offer Redden a contract.
On July 1, 2006 Chara signed a five-year deal with the Boston Bruins worth $37.5 million. He stepped right into a leadership role with the Bruins, assuming the captaincy, vacant since the departure of Joe Thornton the season before. Since moving to Boston, Chara's star has continued to rise. He played in one All-Star Game as a Senator, he's played in five as a Bruin (one as a starter and was a captain when the game was held in Ottawa this past season). He was a First Team All-Star in 2004 with the Sens and again in 2009 with the Bruins. He was also a Second Team All-Star in 2006 with the Senators and in 2008 and 2011 with the Bruins. On several occasions, including this year, Chara has been a Norris Trophy finalist, finally winning the award in 2009. He's won the Hardest Shot competition at the All-Star Game Skills Competition five times, beating his own record on two occasions (his current record was establish this year in Ottawa, with a 108.8 mph, or 175.5 km/hr, blast). He won both the NHL Plus-Minus Award and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2011. He has played for Slovakia at seven World Championships, the 2004 World Cup, and two Olympics. He also played his 1000th game in the NHL in 2011-12. He is an enthusiastic Athletic Ambassador for Right to Play and also speaks seven languages (Slovak, Czech, Polish, Swedish, Russian, German, and English).
But perhaps Zdeno's most important achievement in the eyes of Sens fans is that he captained his team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011. As the hulking defenseman lifted the trophy in the air, Sens fans were left to wonder again: what if? What if Chara had stayed and Redden had left? Would the 2007 Cup run have ended differently? Would subsequent seasons have been more successful? Zdeno was a great player for the Sens, but his performance since joining the Bruins has elevated him to another level and this will always have Ottawa fans wondering.
Obviously, this is the end of the Senators Alphabet series. I've had a great time researching, crunching numbers, and ultimately learning about my team - I hope you have as well. Thanks to everyone who has been reading the Alphabet and this blog: your comments have been interesting, your poll voting has at times surprised, and your suggestions were appreciated. I'll be starting a Senators Numbers series detailing the history of jersey numbers soon and I hope you'll continue to read. Thanks again everyone.