By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Here’s what we know: There will be a 2021 NHL season. It’ll certainly look different than what we’re used to, with 56 games of intradivisional play and with the Bruins in the new, temporary “East Division.” In most cities, stands will be empty to start, and there’s really no set date for when things will open up on that front. The Bruins, who will not take things outside in 2021, continue to meet and talk with local officials in regards to opening TD Garden.
But here’s what we don’t know: Whether or not Zdeno Chara, currently an unrestricted free agent, will be back for a 15th season with the Bruins. With a season officially on, Chara has started the process of assessing his options. The B’s captain since 2006, he’s also made it known that he’d like to be here.
Nor do we know how the Bruins actually feel about the prospect of the 43-year-old Chara returning to Boston for this 56-game sprint.
Questions about Chara asked to front office and coaching staff personnel have often come with the reminder that he’s a future Hockey Hall of Famer and that he’s given the Bruins a lot. 14 of his 22 NHL years, and a Stanley Cup in 2011, to be exact. Of course, not a single question thrown their way regarding Chara has disputed these beliefs or inevitable, undeniable facts. It has, in a way, felt like a “thank you for your service, but that’s enough.”
That continued on Monday with Cam Neely’s conference call.
“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,” Neely said when asked about Chara. “So, you know, it’s really just a matter of what his desire is [for 2021] 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.
“We do want to take a look at some of these young left-shot D’s we have in our system to see if they can step up or is it the time for them to step up and see where they’re at in their development.”
The young guys referenced by Neely here include first-round picks Jakub Zboril (No. 13 overall in 2015) and Urho Vaakanainen (No. 18 overall in 2017), as well as 2020 bright-spot Jeremy Lauzon.
The Bruins may be excited about Zboril, but his two-game NHL sample failed to inspire any sort of confidence (he was outdone by Connor Clifton, who used that chance to launch himself from depth prospect to everyday NHLer), and Vaakanainen’s practice habits have been questioned by B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy. Even Lauzon appeared to fade in the NHL’s summer restart in Toronto.
Still, their presences are apparently enough for Neely to say “it’s tough to say” when asked about Chara’s potential role.
“I think it really depends on what he feels he can do and help us, and we have to feel the same way, and how that looks,” Neely noted. “Is that something that he would be comfortable with, how we maybe envision it looking compared to maybe how he feels it may look? This is a really difficult time for anybody that is going to come off a long break and 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’s a lot of factors in play about what makes sense for us and what makes sense for Zdeno.”
While you appreciate the Bruins’ enthusiasm for an adventure of prospect discovery, thinking there’s no room for Chara on this left-side defense corps may be a cataclysmic miscalculation that costs them in a major way. Be it in terms of their chances of contending in 2021 or having to overextend themselves for a trade deadline fix.
The Bruins still know this to be true in the back of their minds, but they can’t make that obvious and slam the door shut on their most-deployed penalty killer from a year ago. Nor can they, with just under $3 million in available cap space, commit to Chara eating up at least half of that without potentially making their final push on the market’s other options in an effort to be more complete.
So in the now, with another two weeks to go before the official start of training camp, and like Operation Ivy told us in “Knowledge,” all we know is that we don’t know nothing.
fine by design.