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Haggerty: It Was Time To Move On For Boston Bruins, Chara

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Certainly, it’s the end of an unmistakable era with the Boston Bruins now that Zdeno Chara is officially moving on.

The 43-year-old tower of power helped turn around a B’s franchise headed into the wrong direction when he arrived in 2006 as a big-name free agent, won a Stanley Cup in 2011 and led the Bruins for 14 seasons with a toughness, attitude and snarl that screamed out Big Bad Bruins.

Chara was the most fearsome shutdown defenseman of his generation, an iconic future Hall of Famer that will go down as the tallest at 6-foot-9 to ever play in the league and a tireless leader and example-setter in his time with the Boston Bruins. But the Bruins also very clearly decided it was time to move on from their longtime captain, and instead build around a group of young, skilled defenseman hopefully ready to take over.

“The Bruins have informed me they plan to move forward with their many younger and talented players, and I respect their decision,” said Zdeno Chara on Instagram, confirming is playing days with the Bruins were over. “Unfortunately, my time as proud Captain of the Bruins has come to an end.

“I want the people of Boston to know how proud I was to be a Bruin and how grateful I am for all the support over the years. ‘Thank you’ does not seem adequate to express my sincere gratitude. I will always be a Bruin. I will always love Boston.”

The Bruins were hoping Chara was ready to retire following last season when it really didn’t end well for the big captain in the Toronto bubble. Perhaps he could have stayed with the organization as a coach or in some other off-the-ice capacity had he decided his playing days were over. Chara had just two points, was a minus-4 and averaged under 20 minutes of ice time in the return to play last summer and was a couple of steps slow after the fourth month layoff due to COVID-19.

But instead, Chara has opted to keep defying Father Time after signing a one-year, short money deal with the Washington Capitals.

Clearly there was concern amongst the Bruins that Chara would suffer from a similar layoff prior to the 2021 season in January. But there was also a very clear Boston Bruins organizational desire to see what young left-shot players like Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon will bring to the table. All three are a crossroads where they need to establish themselves at the NHL level, and the only way they can do that is with ice time and opportunity.

It would have been an impossible situation with Chara pushing for playing time as the longtime captain of the team.

The only path to restructuring the back end was if the Bruins cleared the defensive decks on the left side, and they’ve done that now by walking away from Torey Krug and Chara. Matt Grzelcyk is the lone hold-over remaining on the defense’s left side and will lead a very young group barring any last minute trades or signings.

It felt like the Bruins had been attempting an amicable breakup with their longtime captain through this entire, strange offseason. Certainly, their actions spoke to a hockey club attempting to move on as they signed former first round pick Zboril to a two-year, one-way contract and re-signed Kevan Miller to a one-year deal back on the opening day of free agency.

Similarly, the Boston Bruins pursued Oliver Ekman-Larsson in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes as well, which really signaled a desire to go in a different direction than the hard-nosed, punishing and in-your-face Chara.

The only way the Miller contract – for a player that hasn’t suited up in 18 months due to injuries — makes sense for the Bruins is if they signed the rugged, hard-hitting defensive warrior to fill the toughness void anticipated when Chara didn’t return for the 2021 season.

Bruce Cassidy has addressed the topic numerous times this offseason, and each time sounded like a head coach that wasn’t exactly expecting Chara to be back while talking about “the circle of life” in the NHL. Cassidy even mentioned youngster Jeremy Lauzon as a big, strong D-man that could potentially step up and replace the penalty kill work that’s become Chara’s stock in trade.

“If ‘Zee’ ends up in another uniform, then we have to rely on these young guys,” Bruce Cassidy in an interview with NBC10’s Raul Martinez earlier this offseason. “I guess that’s the way I look at it. I look at it as a coach. You try to separate the personal side of it. You go to bat with these guys every day, it’s a privilege to coach them but then people change, there’s trades and then you move on and then you gotta worry about the next guy.

“I don’t want to sound impersonal but that’s the way a coach sometimes has to look at it. We gotta get the best out of the next guy that’s going into the lineup. So, we’ll see how it plays out. No matter what, ‘Zee’ has been a legend in a Bruins uniform, and you know that’s a tough one, very difficult one but we’ll see how it goes.”

Certainly, Chara’s absence will hurt the Boston Bruins in the short term.

He’s a 6-foot-9 intimidator that keeps opponents from taking too many liberties against star players like David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and his value is still there on the penalty kill and in the defensive zone. Chara was a plus-26 last season even as he had arguably lost a step in a fast-paced NHL game only getting faster every season. There’s no replacing his experience, unparalleled toughness or leadership qualities.

That doesn’t even mention that Chara is joining the Washington Capitals in a move that makes the Caps an even bigger, more menacing bully against a Bruins team playing them eight punishing times this season.

From a leadership standpoint, it feels like Patrice Bergeron is ready to step up and be the captain of the Boston Bruins while leading by example with a growing willingness to be vocal with his leadership. There’s also little doubting the Bruins will be a faster, more streamlined back end with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk leading in the puck-moving department, and Brandon Carlo already a premiere shutdown defenseman with just a few years in the league.

But it’s gonna be weird without Big Zee, No. 33, after 14 years in Boston as the worthy Hall of Fame Bruins franchise defensemen heir to Eddie Shore, Bobby Orr, Brad Park and Ray Bourque.

The legend’s legacy with the Black and Gold is an important one that he’s carried with distinction, honor and class over the last 15 years. Nobody will ever forget Chara as the epitome of toughness playing through a broken jaw during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final or leading the 2011 B’s group to Stanley Cup glory with his unbending leadership. It’s no accident the Bruins made it to three Stanley Cup Finals during his 14 years leading the Black and Gold.

Chara’s legacy in Boston as a Bruins legend, and a complete gentleman, is complete, and something he should be extremely proud of while he waits for his number to be raised to the TD Garden rafters someday. It’s just a shame that not every NHL player gets the ending they exactly want because that sure doesn’t seem to be the case with Chara and a one-year stint in Washington.

 

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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Colder

Moving on from Chara to look at the young guys? The same ones that Sweeney is often shopping around with no takers? Give me a break. The Bruins defence will be as big a laughing stock as the Pats defence was this year!
With Pasta and Marchand out to start the season, the Bruins will be out before they even get started!!
Time for Neely and Sweeney (dumb and dumber) to move on as well!

Phil

Joe …I think a transition from chara to the would young guys would have been way better …there is no doubt he would have been perfect to mentor the new kids ..ala …Carlo and mcavoy…they seemed to have made out ok …he would have been perfect as 3rd pair and the young guys would practice and rotate with him …and he was still a pk monster and a physical intimidating force …bruins just got way easier to play against…the big bad bruins are definitely no more.!! Poor vision. Poor judgement poor succession planning!

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