Zdeno Chara signs 1-year deal with New York Islanders

Defenseman Zdeno Chara has signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders for his 24th NHL season, rejoining the organization that originally drafted him in 1996.

"It's kind of a full circle. Who would know this would work out the way it did?" Chara said Saturday. "I'm very honored and humbled to be an Islander again. The organization has been through some transitions over the last 20 years, but we can all see the progress and the positivity the team has."

Chara, 44, played last season with the Washington Capitals, appearing in 55 games and contributing two goals and eight assists. He joined Washington on a one-year contract. An unrestricted free agent, this is the fourth straight one-year deal Chara has signed.

He said there were "a good amount" of other teams interested in signing him before he chose the Islanders. He said his family, who lives in Boston, was comfortable with him playing another season.

"I love the game. I have passion for the game, and I believe I can still play. That's all you need," he said.

The 6-foot-9 defenseman was drafted in the third round (56th overall) in 1996 by the Islanders. He played 231 games for them from 1997 to 2001 before general manager Mike Milbury sent him, winger Bill Muckalt and a first-round pick that became center Jason Spezza to the Ottawa Senators for center Alexei Yashin -- a transaction that still holds a place of infamy for Islanders fans.

Chara celebrated the homecoming with an Instagram post Saturday in which he wore one of his old Islanders sweaters, writing: "I had to get some dust off them, but sure they still looking good!"

The defenseman has played 1,608 games with the Islanders, Senators, Boston Bruins and Capitals since entering the NHL in 1997-98 -- the 13th most games played in NHL history. Chara has 207 career goals and 459 career assists, along with 2,000 penalty minutes. He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman in 2008-09 and was a finalist for the award six times.

The signing helps fill out the left side of the Islanders' defense, as Chara joins Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Sebastian Aho on the depth chart.

Chara said his decision to return for the 2021-22 season wasn't influenced by the chance to play for Slovakia in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. He turned down an invitation to play for his nation in the qualification rounds and said he "doesn't know where this goes" when it comes to representing the country in the Winter Games. It would be his fourth Olympics.