Chára is the tallest player ever to play in the NHL. He is also the second European-born and raised captain to win the Stanley Cup in 2011, and the first born and trained in a country within the Iron Curtain.[notes 1]
Chára was drafted in the third round, 56th overall, by the New York Islanders at the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He would spend his first season in North America with the Western Hockey League (WHL)'s Prince George Cougars, who subsequently selected Chára in that year's CHL Import Draft. Chára spent four seasons with the Islanders organization, becoming a reliable, stay-at-home defender in a primarily defensive role. He earned a reputation as a tough player to play against – intimidating, physically strong and a punishing hitter who could, on occasion, fight. His physical strength also gave him a very hard slap shot, which seemed to improve each season, although Chára was never deployed in an offensive role as an Islander.
Chára was traded to the Ottawa Senators during the 2001 NHL Entry Draft as part of a deal to acquire forward Alexei Yashin. At the time, it was believed that the deal would vastly improve the Islanders, who were never a contending team when Chára played there. Chára was part of a package deal that included Bill Muckalt and the second overall pick from that year's draft, which the Senators used to select Jason Spezza.
The Senators knew from observation that Chára would be a reliable defender, and were also aware that he was growing into his body and improving his skills each year. However, Chára grew in ways that exceeded all expectations. In 2001–02, during his first year in Ottawa, he recorded new career highs in goals (10) and points (23) as he turned into a bona fide two-way defenseman. His powerful slapshot continued to improve, and Ottawa began to deploy him on the power play to use it, something the Islanders had rarely done. It resulted in four of Chára's goals being scored with the man advantage that season. The following year, in 2002–03, Chára began to blossom into an elite NHL defenseman. He posted new career highs with 30 assists and 39 points and became one of Ottawa's top two defenders, along with Wade Redden. He also earned his first All-Star Game appearance, where he recorded the second-hardest shot behind Al MacInnis in the Skills Competition.
After the 2004–05 NHL lockout, in which Chára played in the Swedish Elitserien for Färjestad BK, he matched his previous NHL season's 16-goal total and tallied a career best 43 points, good enough for NHL Second All-Star Team honors. Following the season, Ottawa was faced with the possible loss of its two top defensemen — Chára and Redden — and finances dictated they could only sign one; the Senators opted for Redden. As Chára did not come to terms on a new contract with Ottawa, he became an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2005–06.
On July 1, 2006, the first day of the free agency period, Chára signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Boston Bruins and was named the team's captain, a role left vacant since Joe Thornton's departure during the 2005–06 season to San Jose. Chára became only the third Slovak-born NHL player to become a team captain, after Peter Šťastný of the Quebec Nordiques and Stan Mikita (co-captain) of the Chicago Blackhawks. Chára was named to the 2007 All-Star Game, his second appearance, in Dallas and scored two goals in an 12–9 Eastern Conference loss. Chára also won the hardest shot segment of the preceding Skills Competition, clocking a shot at 100.4 mph. While his season was a personal success for many of these reasons, the Bruins were in a rebuilding mode at the time, and the signing was questioned throughout the League, as Chára posted an uncharacteristic −21 plus-minus rating that season due to the Bruins' struggles. His 32 assists, however, were a new career high.
In 2007–08, Chára was voted a starter in the 2008 All-Star Game, the first time in his career he received such All-Star Game honours. He repeated as the winner of the hardest shot competition, recording an even-faster 103.1 mph (166 km/h) on the radar gun. On March 8, 2008, during a game against the Washington Capitals, Chára suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder. However, after missing five games, he played the remainder of the season, including the 2008 playoffs. Upon a first-round elimination at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, he underwent a shoulder operation on April 29. At the end of the season, Chára received his second nomination for the Norris Trophy after tallying a career-high 17 goals, 34 assists and 51 points, marking the fifth-straight season he had either matched or bested his previous season's points total. The Bruins improved tremendously this season, and the critics who had questioned the Bruins' signing of Chára the previous season were largely silenced by his, and the team's, improved play.
In 2008–09, Chára was named to his fourth All-Star Game. As back-to-back champion of the hardest shot competition, Chára initiated a charity drive among the participants ($1,000 per player) to go to the charity of choice of the competition's winner. The 2009 installation of the event featured additional intrigue, as three players widely considered to possess the hardest shots in the NHL (Chára, Sheldon Souray and Shea Weber) had all been chosen as All-Stars, and therefore would participate in the event. Having raised $24,000 from the six competitors and their respective teams, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA), Chára set a new Skills Competition record with a 105.4 mph (169.7 km/h) slapshot. He donated the winnings to Right to Play, and due to Chára's leading role in fundraising for charity, the hardest shot competition that year was punningly dubbed a "Chara"ty event. The shot passed Al Iafrate's previous record 105.2 mph (169.3 km/h) slapper from the 1993 competition. During the season, Chára posted a career best 19 goals, and eclipsed his career best points total, reaching the 50-point plateau for the second consecutive year with a goal and an assist in his final game of the season. For his efforts, he won his first Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman, beating out Mike Green of the Washington Capitals and Nicklas Lidström of the Detroit Red Wings. Chára would post another standout season in 2009–10, scoring 44 points. His goal total fell to seven from the year before, but his play was as strong as ever, leading the Bruins to lock him up long-term with a contract extension; on October 9, 2010, he re-signed with the Bruins on a seven-year deal.
In 2010–11, his 14 goals and 44 points were another strong campaign, leading to yet another All-Star selection and new heights as his slapshot continued to break records at the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, North Carolina. He eclipsed his own previous record with a shot clocked at 105.9 mph (170.43 km/h). He also achieved a personal milestone that is exceptionally rare for a defenseman; on January 17, 2011, Chára recorded his first career hat-trick against the Carolina Hurricanes in a 7–0 victory. He celebrated the feat by performing retired Slovak NHL star Peter Bondra's celebration, where he mocked throwing a hat into the air. The 2010–11 season culminated in the ultimate glory for Chára, as he captained the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks for the first time since 1972. In doing so, Chára became the first Slovak to captain a Stanley Cup champion, and only the second European to do so after Nicklas Lidström of Sweden for the Detroit Red Wings. He also became the first player born in a country behind the Iron Curtain to captain a Stanley Cup winner.
At the 2012 All-Star Game's Hardest Shot skill competition, Chára yet again raised his measured hardest slap shot velocity to another record, attaining 108.8 mph (175.1 km/h). Runner-up Shea Weber surpassed Chara's 2011 event record by recording a 106.0 mph blast in the same contest, but Chára's performance ensured that he kept his crown.
Chára is widely considered to have the hardest slapshot in the NHL, and quite possibly the world – the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) claims the world record belongs to Alex Riazantsev at 114.1 mph, but due to differences in the mechanics of the KHL competition, the NHL does not recognize this figure. Chára has won the hardest shot competition at the All-Star Game Skills Competition five times in a row, in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 (Note: there was no NHL All-Star Game in 2010, due to NHL player participation in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and also in 2013 as a result of the 2012–13 NHL lockout).
Chara played his 1,000th career NHL game on March 24, 2012, against the Los Angeles Kings, a 4–2 victory for the Bruins.
During the 2012–13 NHL lockout, Chara agreed to play for HC Lev Praha of the KHL until NHL play resumed. He returned from the lockout to post another solid season, with seven goals and 12 assists in the 48-game season. His point totals were down due to some of Boston's struggles down the stretch, particularly on the power play, where Chára only posted one assist all season despite plenty of ice time in man advantage situations. However, he remained solid on defense and a key contributor for the Bruins. In the 2013 playoffs, he was physically dominant and played a key role in leading his team to the Finals.
Following the 2013–14 season, Chára was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded yearly to the defenseman judged to be the best at his position. He was nominated along with Duncan Keith, the eventual winner, and Shea Weber. Chara finished runner-up in the voting.
Prior to the March 8th incident, Pacioretty had lightly pushed Chara after a Canadiens goal. Also, a few weeks later, Chara tried to get even with Pacioretty in a scrum. On March 8, 2011, Chára hit and drove Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty's head directly into an off-ice stanchion at the end of the bench, knocking him unconscious. The injured player was taken off the ice on a stretcher. The extent of the injury was revealed the next day to be a non-displaced fracture to the 4th vertebra and a severe concussion. For delivering the hit, Chára received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, and videotape of the play was sent to NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy for review. However, Murphy decided no further punishment was warranted, calling it a "hockey play." Although a criminal investigation was announced by the Montreal Police Service immediately after the incident, the Crown Prosecutor Office announced on November 17, 2011, that Chára would not be criminally charged. Pacioretty eventually made a full recovery, returning to Montreal the following season.
Before he was drafted in the NHL, Chára's coaches in his native Slovakia attempted to persuade him to play basketball, due to his height. Also as a result of his height, Chára uses sticks two inches longer than NHL regulations; he receives a waiver from the NHL to do so.
Chára married his long-time girlfriend Tatiana Biskupicová on July 14, 2007, in a Catholic church in Nemšová, Slovakia. Tatiana gave birth to the couple's first child, daughter Elliz Victoria Chára (or Chárová), on April 27, 2009. His father, Zdeněk Chára, was a prominent Greco-Roman wrestler.
During the off-season, Chara resides in Boston and works on developing his shot with Brett Provost. Provost blocks anywhere from 50-75 shots per session wearing ordinary equipment. Provost is best known for as the NCAA statistical leader in the shot blocking category in the 2009-10 through 2012-13 seasons. Chara has offered to pay Provost for his services, but Provost has repeatedly declined. Provost currently resides in the town of Ludlow, Massachusetts, part of the Springfield metropolitan area.