Zdeno Chara's agent, Matt Keator, has said a couple times during this offseason that the longtime Bruins captain and current free agent was in no rush to make a decision and that he wanted to see what the new season would look like before making one.
Well, we now know what the season will look like thanks to the agreement on a 56-game season beginning Jan. 13 that the NHL and NHLPA announced on Sunday, so the clock is officially ticking for Chara.
Speaking to the media via Zoom on Monday, Bruins president Cam Neely explained where things stand from the team's perspective and how they're approaching it.
"Well, we still have to flesh that out," Neely said. "I think Zee was waiting to see what the schedule looked like, how it may impact his decision, so we’re still fleshing that out.
"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," Neely added. "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."
With the Bruins already losing Torey Krug this offseason, the left side of the defense currently features Matt Grzelcyk as the one sure bet and then John Moore, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and possibly Kevan Miller (if he plays his off side) competing for the other two lineup spots.
Neely said regardless of what happens with Chara, the Bruins do want to take a closer look at what they have in the younger players -- Lauzon, Zboril and Vaakanainen -- on that list.
Lauzon has the most NHL experience of that group, having played 35 regular-season NHL games over the last two seasons, plus six playoff games this summer. Zboril was a 2015 first-round pick who finished last season strong with AHL Providence, while Vaakanainen is a 2017 first-round pick.
"We do want to take a look at some of these young left shot D's that 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," 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, so it's really just a matter of what his desire is 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."
According to @bruinscapspace, the Bruins are projected to start the season with about $3.6 million in cap space as of now.
Neely said the team could get involved in free agency again and still spend some of that money, whether it's for Chara or someone else. And defense remains the obvious area of need for the team.
"I still think we'd like to explore our back end a little bit," Neely said. "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. I think you’re never really satisfied with your lineup, so I'm sure Don [Sweeney] is still looking at potentially tweaking or adding, but we'll see what happens the next couple of weeks here."