The Boston Bruins are full speed ahead after the NHL and NHLPA have figured out their 56-game regular season format, so we’ll all have NHL action in less than a month’s time. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara remains unsigned, however, and B’s President Cam Neely said on Monday that the team is “still fleshing things out” with the 43-year-old blueliner about plans for the upcoming season.
It certainly feels as if it’s not a cut-and-dried decision with Chara given that the Bruins want to give a long look to a number of young left-shot defenseman, and that they already have eight D-men signed to NHL contracts at this point. Asked if there was a guaranteed roster spot for Chara this season if he indeed wants to play, Neely left plenty open for discussion with their currently unsigned surefire Hall of Fame defenseman.
“I think it really depends on what he feels he can do to help us, and we have to feel the same way [about] how that looks. Is that something that he would be comfortable with, how we maybe envision it looking compared to maybe how [Chara] feels it may look?” said Neely. “This is a really difficult time for anybody that is going to come off a long break. [The players will] have a short training camp and jump right into a compressed schedule with a number of back-to-backs and I think 116 days, I believe, to play 56 games. So, there are a lot of factors in play about what makes sense for us and what makes sense for Zdeno.”
Certainly, Chara could still bring plenty to the Bruins at this point in terms of killing penalties, playing shutdown defense and protecting leads late in games. There’s the intimidation factor that’s always there with the 6-foot-9 tower of power, and the leadership from a player that’s been captain in Boston for the last 15 years.
But there are also legitimate questions when it comes to the compressed schedule, and when it comes to playing time at the cost of development for players like Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen among others. Would the Bruins be better off with Lauzon playing the PK/shutdown role on the left side rather than hoping that Chara bounces back better than he did after the long layoff leading into last summer’s Stanley Cup playoffs?
Chara struggled and looked a step behind while averaging under 20 minutes of ice time per game for the Bruins during the postseason bubble in Toronto.
It quite simply may come down to the Boston Bruins looking at Chara as a third pairing defenseman that might settle into a 6-7 reserve role and be a healthy scratch fairly regularly during a hectic schedule that’s going to be very challenging for a soon-to-be 44-year-old defenseman. If that’s the role for Chara this coming season, then it throws plenty into question all the way down to whether a possible part time player should retain the captaincy.
“We do want to take a look at some of these young left shot D’s that we have in our system to see if they can step up. Is it the time for them to step up and see where they’re at in their development,” said Neely. “We certainly respect Zdeno and everything he’s done for the organization and what he’s accomplished as a player and what he’s done both on and off the ice here in Boston.
“So, you know it’s really just a matter of what his desire is and how the coaching staff and we feel what our lineup should look like, or could look, like depending on the development of some of these young guys.”
The hunch here is that Chara still views himself as a top-4 defenseman playing every night, and that’s a role the Bruins don’t seem to envision for him on the 2021 roster. There will be other NHL teams that can promise a more prominent role to Chara as a possible missing piece for a Stanley Cup contender, and it could be that becomes more attractive as a one-year landing spot. It could be that it makes more sense for the Bruins and Chara to go their separate ways if their visions really differ for this upcoming season.
As Neely referenced during his Monday zoom call with reporters, it’s pretty complicated when it comes to these final moments of Chara’s proud, very distinguished Hall of Fame legacy in Boston where it could end in one of several different ways.