Charas future with Bruins remains unclear, Neely says

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Zdeno Chara‘s future with the Boston Bruins is still up in the air, according to team president Cam Neely.

“We still have to flesh that out,” Neely said Monday. “I think [Chara] was waiting to see what the schedule looked like, how it may impact his decision. We’re still fleshing that out.”

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association formally reached agreement Sunday to play a 56-game regular season schedule starting Jan 13, 2021.

The Bruins have less than two weeks to sign Chara, an unrestricted free agent, before training camp opens Jan. 3.

Part of the issue appears to be the role that Chara would have with the Bruins. Since Chara signed with Boston on July 2, 2006, he has been the No. 1 defenseman and team captain. He won the Norris Trophy voted as the top defenseman in the NHL in 2009.

However, the increased responsibility given to defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Chara’s diminishing skills at age 43, and the desire to try to integrate some younger defensemen, help make Chara’s status less certain than it once was. He averaged 21:01 in ice time in 2019-20, his lowest since his first full NHL season in 1998-99.

“It’s tough to say” what that role would be, Neely said, should Chara return.

Asked if there would be a roster spot for Chara, Neely said, “I think it really depends on what he feels he can do and help us, and we have to feel the same way. How that looks — is that something 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 and jump right into a compressed schedule with a number of back-to-backs and, I think, 116 days 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.”

Chara was clear about his own desires after the Bruins were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

“I want to stay in Boston. I want to be a Boston Bruin,” Chara said Sept. 3.

In 1,023 games over 14 seasons with the Bruins, Chara has scored 481 points (148 goals, 333 assists). He has 656 points (205 goals, 451 assists) in 22 seasons and 1,553 games in the NHL with the New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and Bruins.

While the Bruins have the right side of their defense locked down with McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, and Kevan Miller, the left side is up in the air, with the departure of Torey Krug as a free agent to the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 9 and the uncertainty with Chara.

Rookie defensemen Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen could be options on the left side, as could veterans Matt Grzelcyk, John Moore, and Jeremy Lauzon.

“We do want to take a look at some of these young left-shot Ds that we have in our system, 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,” Neely said. “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.”

The Bruins could also dip into the free agent or trade market, with Neely saying, “I still think we’d like to still explore our back end a little bit. Even though we feel we’ve got some guys that can step in, it’s just a matter of the experience piece that everybody likes, but you don’t get experience until you play.”

Neely said that two forwards who had offseason surgery, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, remain on schedule with their recovery. Marchand had sports hernia surgery Sept. 14 and his recovery was expected to take approximately four months, which would put him on target for the start of the season in mid-January. Pastrnak underwent a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair on Sept. 16, with his recovery expected to take approximately five months, which would put him on target for mid-February.

“They’re coming back, but they might miss a little time,” Neely said. “As far as hard dates, it’s hard to put a hard date on those guys. Brad, I know has been on the ice a couple times, which is a good sign. David recently got back into town and will continue his rehab.”

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