NHL shutdown not affecting Zdeno Chara's long-term plans with Bruins

NHL shutdown not affecting Zdeno Chara's long-term plans with Bruins

There have been times in the past when a prolonged NHL absence can prematurely push older players into retirement.

The NHL lockout following the 2003-04 ended countless careers of veteran players unable to return after a year away from the ice. There may even be a few players who never come back from the current suspension of the NHL regular season depending on how long it lasts and what’s eventually in store for this season.  

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Don’t count on 43-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara being one of those players, however, as he plans on rolling through no matter how things play out over the next few months. Chara was one of the first NHL players to participate in Zoom conference calls with reporters a couple of weeks ago and Don Sweeney reinforced Chara’s desire to keep playing in last week’s Zoom call with the Bruins media.

None of it is a surprise given Chara’s ability to still play at an elite level into his mid-40s and his willingness to push just how long his legendary longevity can last.

“Even Zdeno himself has reported that he would like to continue to play. It’s a really unique relationship with Zdeno [and the Bruins], and this started a bunch of years ago. But the last three or four years in particular, Zdeno has exercised the ability to show some patience and that has allowed us to plan accordingly,” said Sweeney. “He has adjusted his own contractual situations. You saw him do two consecutive one-year deals and that was important to us for planning. It’s an extension of the relationship that Zdeno and his agent Matt Keator have afforded us and his legacy with the organization’s impact with us.

“How much he wants to continue to play and how much he’s motivated to continue playing has allowed him to take the time that’s necessary. Athletes always have to do that, but you get to a certain age where you have responsibilities to your family and you want to do that. Last summer was a good example of that. The ongoing dialogue is very healthy with Zdeno. He exhibits all that passion and loyalty to us. I think it’s unique in the fact he’s able to communicate effectively with us and it puts us in a better situation to plan accordingly. Then we make decisions in mutual fashion for what’s best for us and what’s best for him.”

One thing Chara has maintained all season is that his contract will be taken care of once the Bruins take care of things with a few of his teammates, which could be read as the captain saying he wants the B’s to get something done with Torey Krug before he signs anything. Regardless, it’s expected to be a one-year, incentive-laden deal in the $2 million neighborhood he signed for the current 2019-20 NHL season.

Chara has been a great bargain this season as a premier shutdown defenseman averaging 21:01 of ice time per game along with five goals and 14 points in 68 games with a plus-26 rating. The 43-year-old has also consistently said he’d like to keep on playing, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he had a goal to keep on going in the NHL until he was 45 years old.

Playing two more seasons would allow him to become just the sixth player in NHL history to hit the 1,700 games played mark and would put him within shouting distance of the 1,767 career games that the legendary Gordie Howe played.

Who knows?

Maybe there’s a goal there for Chara to become the all-time games played leader in NHL history as a testament to his longevity, his lifelong dedication to conditioning and fitness and his love for the game of hockey. What we know for sure is that he wants to continue playing once the NHL regular season pause is over and that’s more than enough for now.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Tuukka Rask's comments after the Boston Bruins' Game 2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night rubbed some the wrong way, but head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn't fazed.

Rask raised eyebrows when he said, “To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey out there. There are no fans, so it’s kind of like playing an exhibition game." That isn't exactly what B's fans want to hear from their goaltender after a playoff loss, but Cassidy downplayed Rask's remarks Friday during a video conference with reporters.

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“I didn’t speak to him after his comments. Tuukka, I think the Boston media knows him well enough — he answers his questions the way he feels,” Cassidy said. “It is a unique environment, but to me, there’s playoff intensity on the ice. You’ve just gotta control what you can control when you’re a player. In my situation, as a coach, the way I look at it, at the end of the day, they’re gonna hand out the Stanley Cup this year. So we’ve gotta play our best hockey if we want to be that team.

"That was our goal at the start of the year. We didn’t anticipate it would end up in an environment like this, but here it is, right? You play the hand you’re dealt, and you prepare yourself — and in my case prepare the team — in this case, for Game 3, to play our best hockey game and that’s what my focus is on right now, plain and simple. That’s what we’re gonna do tonight and puck drop tomorrow at noon, we’re gonna put our best foot forward.”

While Rask's comments may have been off-putting, they weren't unfounded. The NHL's bubble environment is unlike anything these players have experienced before. Matching the level of playoff intensity that's in the arena when fans are in attendance is virtually impossible.

Regardless, Rask and the B's will have to be on their game if they're to regain the series lead on Saturday. Puck drop for Game 3 vs. the Hurricanes is set for 12 p.m. ET. on NBC.

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

The Bruins are expecting to make some lineup adjustments headed into Game 3 after the Hurricanes evened the series 1-1 apiece in Thursday night’s 3-2 loss in the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena.

Bruce Cassidy said the B’s have some banged-up players that will also have to be factored in as well, but it sounded like he was looking to go a little smaller and faster with his group to counteract some of the speed and aggressive pressure that the Hurricanes are throwing at them.

“We’ve thought it through. There are always day-to-day bumps and bruises, but we’ll be making changes both at forward and at [defense]. Some of that is getting some energy in the lineup and changing the look of our forward group,” said Bruce Cassidy of his Game 3 lineup vs. the Hurricanes.

“Overall [Anders Bjork] did what he could with his skill set to help that line. Nobody is going to replace Pastrnak, but if guys can go in there and complement Bergeron and Marchand and help them create some offense, then they’ve done a good thing. [Bjork] may not go back there, but I don’t think that’s why we feel a goal short [in Game 2].”

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Cassidy said he “anticipates” that Rask will start Game 3 on Saturday at noontime and that David Pastrnak “could possibly play” as a game-time decision after he didn’t practice on Friday with small optional group.

Ideally, the B’s would like to have Pastrnak be able to test out the injury in practice ahead of trying to give it a go in a game, but they won’t get that chance with a noontime start on Saturday after the 24-year-old Pasta didn’t skate on Friday.

“There were some good goals and good saves, but in those one-goal games each goalie needs to make one more save along the way [if they hope to win],” said Cassidy of Rask, who has a “meh” .899 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in two games vs. Carolina.

“We didn’t get it and they did, and the opposite was true the game before. I think [Rask’s] game can grow like all of our games. The goalie position is probably a tougher one to get up to speed with not a lot of room for error.

“All of the goalies coming back are all in that same position. Hopefully he’ll be better [in Game 3] and we’ll be better in front of him.”

The bet here as far as the lineup changes go? One would expect that Nick Ritchie would be coming out after he was a non-factor in Game 2 with just 10:45 of ice time, and Jeremy Lauzon as well after playing just 13:16 of ice time and taking an early undisciplined penalty chasing after Carolina players after a clean hit laid on Karson Kuhlman.

If Pastrnak can’t play Game 3 and the speedy, responsible Kuhlman stays in the lineup that could open up a chance for rookie Jack Studnicka to play right wing on either the first or third line with Anders Bjork swinging over to his natural left wing side.

Studnicka is the only player the Bruins have among their current reserves that could really make a significant offensive impact with the kind of upside where the 21-year-old could be a difference-maker in a possible one-goal game. So it would make sense that the kid gets the call if the Bruins are looking for energy and a little offense with Pastrnak’s skill set potentially missing from the Game 3 lineup. 

Studnicka played in the first game of the round robin and didn't do much beyond some nice hustle plays on the back-check, but it's pretty clear he has top-6 skill and goal-scoring abilities. 

On defense, it might be time for Cliffy Hockey and Connor Clifton after he played a gritty, agitating game in the round-robin finale against the Washington Capitals. Clifton could play a role similar to the one that Haydn Fleury has played very well for the Hurricanes as a D-man that’s been unafraid to stir things up physically against the Bruins.