Hockey

Blittner’s Blue Line: Yesteryear Meets Present Day

By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

Everybody, get in your time machines, we’re going for a journey through time.

Let’s start in the year 1996. Where were each of you just four-years shy of the new millennium? I was a toddler and my sister was born late in the year. But what about the NY Islanders? What were the Islanders doing in 1996?

For starters, the 1995-96 Islanders finished in 7th place in the old Atlantic Division with just 54-points. Mike Milbury was the Head Coach and Pat Flatley was the Captain. The team was a mess and in the early stages of a playoff drought that spanned seven-seasons. These weren’t your parents’ Islanders. 

Come the NHL’s annual Entry Draft in June of 1996, the Islanders, like every team, wanted to find some young talent who could help improve the team. Well, in the 3rd round (56th overall) the Boys from Long Island selected a big-bodied, 18-year-old defenseman out of Czechoslovakia by the name of Zdeno Chara. 

Chara spent the following season (1996-97) with the Prince George Cougars (WHL) before getting called up to the NHL during the 1997-98 campaign. Islanders fans know what happened next. Chara spent a couple years with the team establishing what type of player he was and then Milbury traded him on June 23, 2001 to the Ottawa Senators as part of the package for Alexei Yashin. 

The tough as nails defenseman spent four-seasons in Ottawa becoming an All-Star and skating into the Norris Trophy conversation before signing with the Boston Bruins as a free agent on July 1, 2006. The rest…is history. Chara spent the next 14-seasons in Boston, racking up the accolades, including: a Stanley Cup championship (2010-11) and a Norris Trophy (2008-09). 

A brief stop in Washington during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season followed and then came his “homecoming.” On Saturday September 18, 2021, the Islanders brought Chara back home. He isn’t the same impact player he was in Boston, but his leadership, coupled with his size and experience will allow him to be a steady presence on the Isles’ blue line during the 2021-22 campaign. He replaces Nick Leddy, who was traded to Detroit earlier in the off-season and at the age of 44 — he’ll be 45 during the season — Chara is looking at one last chance to add another Stanley Cup to his resume.

If your time machines have a fast forward function please let us know if Chara and the Islanders succeeded. Actually…on second thought, no spoilers please. I want to find out the old-fashioned way. 

Now, for our next trip into the past. 

On Monday, the Arizona Coyotes announced they are bringing back the always popular Kachina Coyote logo and jersey; replacing the howling coyote head that had served as the team’s logo since 2004.

With all the off-ice strife that has engulfed the franchise over the past several years, it’s nice to see the team listen to its fanbase and bring back the logo and jersey that arguably should have never been dismissed in the first place. 

Now if only the Kachina Coyote could help the players on the ice get some victories.

Okay, back into your time machines. We have one more stop to make. 

Alongside the Coyotes’ news on Monday came the Devils’ announcement that Travis Zajac had returned to the club on a one-day contract in order to retire from the NHL and make the transition into a player development and consulting role with the franchise. 

Zajac, who spent the first 14.5-seasons of his career with the Devils before being traded to the Islanders at last season’s deadline, had options to continue his playing career if he wanted. Lou Lamoriello reached out to Zajac about returning to the Islanders. A couple of other teams made overtures as well. But in the end, Zajac decided it was time to hang up his skates and move onto the next phase of his life. 

He was a consummate professional and I wish him nothing but the best. 

Alright, you can put your time machines away. Now it’s time to look to the future.

By the way, the future is now with Training Camps in the NHL opening across the league this week as hope springs eternal for all 32 franchises. Opening Night for the 2021-22 season is only 21-days away!

Categories: Hockey

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