By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’ll level with you, I’ve sat here for three hours trying to picture how I was going to be happy with the end of Zdeno Chara’s playing career.
And I’ll admit that my ideal situation seemed unrealistic; I wanted Chara’s career to end on Boston ice, with fans in the stands, and with the 6-foot-9 captain raising hockey’s ultimate trophy over his head one final time as this core capped its era in proper fashion. In this scenario, I also have a Coke in one hand and Stone Cold Steve Austin is sitting next to me. We’ve ordered Chipotle and all he has to say is, “Hell yeah, brother.” Like I said, bit of a dreamer here.
But I know that how it actually ended on Wednesday, with Chara confirming his exit from the team he’s captained since 2006 via Instagram and signing with the Capitals, is garbage.
Of the highest order.
First of all, and with all due respect for your desire to get a Patrice Begeron jersey with a ‘C’ on it, the Bruins should never lose a captain to a (temporary) divisional rival for less than $800,000.
Sorry if this feels like an oversimplification, but it’s the truth. If the Bruins are still committed to keeping their championship window open — re-signing their veteran backup goaltender, adding a 31-year-old wing in free agency, and non-moves involving a polarizing goaltender and second-line center in the last year of their contracts confirm this to be their belief — this doesn’t happen. You know Chara’s value on and off the ice better than anybody else and wouldn’t arm your enemy and make your path harder over pennies.
The Caps were already the ultimate thorn in the Bruins’ sides. That may change with Braden Holtby now a Canuck, but the second biggest issue for the Bruins in their struggles against the Caps? Their size and snarl. And with Chara gone the Bruins just lost their only form of Tom Wilson protection… to the team with Tom Wilson. (Wilson smelled blood and tried just plain jumping David Pastrnak when Chara was out of action in their Dec. 23 meeting last year.) This Caps team also boasts Garnet Hathaway, Brenden Dillon, and top sixers TJ Oshie and Alex Ovechkin are happy to throw the body. Oh, and Oshie’s reaction to Chara joining the Caps should say it all when considering the difficulties he presents, even in 2020.
Again, over pennies.
But let’s say the split had to happen.
If it was going to come to this (it never should have), clarity should have come sooner. Matt Keator, the agent for Chara, told the Globe’s Matt Porter that the Bruins were clear with Chara and left no gray areas. That’s great. It’s what he deserves.
But in Chara’s Instagram post, he pointed out that the Bruins informed him that they would be moving ahead with a youth movement on the backend, which would tell you that they told him that he would not be needed in 2021. Just a reminder that the Bruins had these young guys in their pipeline when they told us all that they were waiting for Chara to initiate talks about next year, and when Cam Neely sidestepped saying the wrong thing about Chara.
They also made the 33-year-old Kevan Miller (at least four knee procedures and zero games since Apr. 4, 2019) a priority when free agency opened in October. Miller did not talk with any other teams, but the Bruins still gave him $1.25 million in guaranteed money and his deal could be worth up to $2 million with bonuses. Chara’s played almost 2,437 minutes of hockey since we last saw Miller on the ice, and Chara’s brought the Bruins within one win of a Cup, won a Presidents’ Trophy, and anchored one of the top penalty-killing units in all of hockey over that sample. But, again, one of these guys was deemed a priority while the other (who openly stated his intentions) was made to twist in the wind for some insane reason.
Chara may be turning 44 halfway into the 2021 season, but you’ll never convince me that the 33-year-old with potentially shot knees factors positively into that youth movement while Chara does not.
Now, perhaps that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Miller is a third-pairing thumper while Chara’s been a top-pairing guy for the entirety of his Boston run. Chara’s also a proud guy and maybe he wasn’t on board with the idea of a reduced role or sitting out some back-to-backs. But are we really thinking there won’t be some form of load management in Washington? The Capitals signed him less than a week before the start of training camp and for nothin’. There’s potential for him to play a major role for the Capitals, of course, but until proven otherwise, you can’t tell me he’s leaving for a completely different scenario than what would’ve been presented to him in Boston as a rotating contributor on Boston’s left side. (The Bruins even talked about matchup-based roles for Matt Grzelcyk, basically ripping the door open for Chara’s 15th season in town.)
Point blank, after an offseason of free agent misses and close-but-no-cigar trades, you cannot convince that there’s legitimate financial, personnel, or roster complexion roadblocks that prevented the Bruins from finding a home for Chara.
The actions and non-actions over the last three months prove this to be untrue.
You can bet your life that Bruins are almost guaranteed to find themselves looking for help on defense this year, too. They can say what they want about the young kids, but the help wanted sign is still in the window. Just ask Ben Hutton. And of course, and with no guarantee of an upgrade, they’ll pay more for it — either in assets moved out of town or dollars — than they would have to bring Chara back to where he always wanted to be and to where he should’ve finished his illustrious career.
The Bruins, who have scoured the market for help and been told no all offseason long, inexplicably said no to more help from the 6-foot-9 giant who left a powerhouse to come to The Hub and breathe life back into a dying franchise 14 years ago.
No matter your ideal outcome, it’s obvious that Chara’s Boston exit shouldn’t have been this way.
Because it quite simply never had to be this way.