With the NHL draft in the rearview and 31 franchises in the midst of the free agency period there is still a couple of monumental decision to be made; what will 43-year-old Zdeno Chara do, and how will the Bruins replace him in the first defensive pairing?
After letting Torey Krug walk and resigning Matt Grzelcyk the Bruins defense has some big holes to fill especially if their captain doesn’t return. Chara’s agent in the beginning of October said his client is “looking at all options.”
The Bruins remain the front-runners to re-sign Chara, but other teams have continued to contact him about next season. Chara has spent 14 seasons with the Bruins winning a Stanley Cup in 2011 and has been a cornerstone piece to the franchise since he signed in 2006. Chara saw a dip in production last season only registering 14 points in 68 games but still averaging top pairing minutes with 21:01 of time on ice.
With a possible Jan. 1 restart time for the NHL, the left side of the Bruins defense could look significantly different. To start, Grzelcyk is looking to take over the point position on one of the deadliest powerplays in the league with Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and David Krejci. The Charlestown native will be the first in line to replace Krug on the powerplay unit and most likely will get the opportunity in game. It will be a tough task to fit in for the ever-elusive Krug but Grzelcyk holds some of the same qualities and could fit seamlessly.
As for 5-on-5 play we could see old Boston University teammates pair up on the first line. Charlie McAvoy has established himself to be an effective defenseman on the first pairing and looks to be the defenseman of the future for the black and gold. Grzelcyk has a chance to reunite with old BU teammate McAvoy on the first pairing even if Chara re-signs. Fans have seen this pair together on the ice before as they have spent a total of 456 minutes on ice together over the past three seasons in 5-on-5 situations.
If he is unable to perform up to first defensive pairing levels the Bruins could try him with Brandon Carlo who skated with Torey Krug the past two seasons. Carlo has transformed into a shutdown defenseman and Grzelcyk has the potential to pair up and be the offensive production he lacks.
As for the left side behind Grzelcyk there are even more questions. Big-bodied Kevan Miller is coming back after having multiple knee injuries in 2019 and if this is the version of Miller that Bruins fans saw in 2018, he should be a great addition. He signed a one-year deal worth up to $1 million and if he has anything left in the tank the Bruins will definitely need it.
Other guys who could make a showing up in the defense this year is John Moore, Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL DWYER