By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
As usual, most everyone is missing the point about Zdeno Chara. This isn’t about the money … or whether he’s better than Kevan Miller … or whether the Bruins are short on defense without him and Torey Krug. It’s about turning the page and clearing the path to the future, mostly for Charlie McAvoy.
Chara is now a Washington Capital, as we all know, the result of a one-year, $795,000 contract that is a mere pittance for someone who is one of the best and most noble Bruins defensemen and captains of all time. Yes, it’s cheap money. But many of the same people complaining about Chara’s play over the last few seasons are the same ones now lamenting his departure, the most classic example of people who just need something to complain about.
So let me spell it out for you in the simplest terms: McAvoy will never reach his potential so long as Chara is here, for multiple reasons. First, Chara’s slowness holds McAvoy back. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Chara’s status as future Hall-of-Famer and team captain creates a hierarchy in the team’s defense corps that, by definition, leads to deferential behavior. Chara commands so much respect – and rightfully so – that someone like McAvoy isn’t going to challenge his own potential so long as Chara is there.
Doesn’t anyone get that? If Chara is here, McAvoy is No. 2 on the defense corps in the Bruins locker room. No matter whom he plays with. No matter where he is. It just can’t work anymore if the Bruins want McAvoy to become the franchise defenseman and leader he can and should be.
Generally speaking, I’m loathe to make comparisons to other sports – but I’m going to do it here, anyway. (Let’s see if people can get this through their thick heads.) During his time with the Red Sox, Jon Lester was a good pitcher, not a great one, so long as Josh Beckett was in Boston. The entire chicken-and-beer debacle of 2011 happened in large part because someone like Lester repeatedly deferred to the status of a veteran like Beckett, which doesn’t make Lester blameless. It just means that Lester was never going to grow until he absolutely needed to.
So the Red Sox traded Beckett in a blockbuster transaction with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A year later, Lester again started growing, going 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts to lead the Red Sox to an improbable World Series title. Once Beckett was gone, Lester didn’t have anyone to hide behind anymore. His reputation and actions were entirely on him.
Does that mean McAvoy is going to lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup this year? Of course not. But it does mean the Bruins need more from him. And whether you want to believe it or not, the absence of Chara will actually help in this regard, because Charlie McAvoy doesn’t have anywhere to hide anymore.
Don’t look now, folks, but McAvoy’s time is here.
And it’s largely because Chara’s time is over.
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.