The Ottawa Senators
were in a tough spot at the end of the 2005-06 season. Their two top defensemen, Wade Redden
and Zdeno Chara
, were free agents, and with the salary cap, they only could afford to sign one.
At that same time, several clubs were interested in Assistant General Manager Peter Chiarelli, a former college hockey player with a strong background in economics and business management.
The Senators signed Redden and let Chara go, and stayed with General Manager John Muckler and let Chiarelli go. Both Chara and Chiarelli signed with the Boston Bruins
and each has played a major role in turning around the team.
Chiarelli clearly is the Bruins' leader off the ice, while Chara has developed into one of the NHL's best leaders as captain of the Bruins and their top player in terms of minutes played.
Chara was named Bruins' captain prior to the start of the 2005-06 season and he's held that role since, including the past two seasons for coach Claude Julien
"I was looking forward to a leadership role and I knew that this team had enough older veterans who are good leaders," said Chara. "I knew that I couldn't do it by myself. We have shared leadership and responsibility duties. It's never a one-man show; you have to share that and have good communication with players and coaches. You also have to be a good example on and off the ice."
Chara had players set the example for him during his career, which started in 1997-98 with the New York Islanders
"I played with three captains that really impressed me," Chara said. "There was Kenny Jonsson
and Trevor Linden
with the New York Islanders
and Daniel Alfredsson
with the Ottawa Senators
. They were similar in that they are all very quiet and intelligent. When you watch them, you realize how passionate they are and how they handle things. You learn from them. That doesn't mean that I'm the same way. I tried to learn from every aspect."
He said it's important to see the captaincy as a real job, not a ceremonial honor.
"You have to be a leader, especially on the ice," Chara said. "You have to lead a team and you have to make sure you have a feeling for the locker room. If it's too tight, you have to make it looser, and if it's too loose, make it tighter. Make everybody ready. Mostly, you have to be a guy people like, respect and want to follow. Other guys have to help and share responsibility.
"I don't think there is anything you aren't allowed to do if you aren't captain. It doesn't mean that if you are captain, you're allowed to do things differently or get away with anything. If you are captain, remember you're not special and you should be treated the same as everyone else. Be hard but be fair. To be a captain is a big honor and I took a lot of pride in being captain. I try to get better at everything I do and I take pride in my job.
"You have to take some of the blame; there's not always a good side to it. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and live with it. That's the nature of the job. You take some of the blame and that's a hard part of the game."
Chara was asked to evaluate how his leadership has helped the Bruins in their two-year rise to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. He said that while there is a veteran core on the Bruins, they have thrived by successfully integrating young players.
"When younger guys are coming onto the team, they are looking for leadership," Chara said. "We have a group of older guys, a good group that buys into the system and what we are trying to accomplish. We all have a job to do. It's up to the other guys to follow the leaders, learn the system and play hard. The head coach is the ultimate leader and we have to follow his instructions."
Chara said he is comfortable delegating some of the leadership, but he's seen captains who like to keep full control to themselves.
"I've seen it, but I think this is the better way to do it, to have more heads in the meetings talking about things," Chara said. "We come up with more ideas this way. It's better to discuss things among a group of leaders than with one or two people. I like having four, five or six guys together, making decisions as a group, rather than me making decisions on my own and then realizing I should have talked to more people.
"It's better to have other guys involved and share leadership and responsibility."