The Boston Bruins blue line will look a lot different when the 2020-21 NHL season begins next month.
And by different, we don't mean better.
In fact, the Bruins' defensive corps has been weakened quite a bit during what has been a horrible offseason for the franchise.
It all started with the departure of Torey Krug -- a legitimate top-four defenseman and a tremendous leader -- leaving the Bruins to sign a seven-year deal worth $45.5 million with the St. Louis Blues in free agency. The latest gut punch to the B's blue line came Wednesday when Zdeno Chara left the team to join the Washington Capitals as a free agent.
Bean: Cheap? Incompetent? Either way, B's are worse without Chara
Chara noted in his farewell Instagram post the Bruins informed him "that they plan to move forward with their many younger and talented players ..."
Bruins president Cam Neely also talked about the team wanting to see what the younger defensemen could do at the NHL level when he was asked about Chara earlier this month.
"You know, 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 during a video conference call.
The Bruins absolutely should give some of their younger defensemen and prospects at the position a chance to prove themselves this season. This group includes players already on the roster, such as Matt Grzelcyk and Jeremy Lauzon, in addition to guys with very little or zero NHL experience, including 2015 first-round pick Jakub Zboril, 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen and former St. Cloud State standout Jack Achan.
Tom Brady, Milan Lucic among athletes reacting to Chara's departure
Boston could have given these players a shot with Chara also on the team. It didn't have to be one or the other. In fact, there is no better mentor in the entire sport for young defensemen than Chara. Players such as Charlie McAvoy, Dougie Hamilton and many others benefitted early in their careers by playing alongside Chara and being able to learn from his experience and knowledge of the game.
Chara isn't a Norris Trophy-caliber player, but he certainly could have done a good job in a second or third pairing role on this year's team. He's also still a quality penalty killer. Assuming the Bruins make the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs -- which they should, even in a tough East division -- their back end will be lacking in size, toughness and experience at the most important time of the season.
The Bruins haven't made any notable additions to their blue line in the offseason. They re-signed Kevan Miller, but he hasn't played since April of 2019 due to knee problems. The B's reportedly are among the teams interested in free agent d-man Ben Hutton, but he's not a top-four defenseman on a contender.
Here's what the Bruins' blue line looks like now that we know Chara isn't returning.
Matt Grzelcyk--Charlie McAvoy
Jeremy Lauzon--Brandon Carlo
John Moore--Kevan Miller
Also in the mix: Connor Clifton, Steve Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jack Achan
McAvoy and Carlo's spots are cemented. They are the two best defensemen on the team. Grzelcyk is the best left-shot defenseman on the roster, and Lauzon is a better option than Moore for the left side of the second pairing.
Chara's agent on split from Bruins: 'There was no gray area'
The third pairing could be put together in so many different ways. Miller, if healthy, probably has the best chance of carving out a consistent role on the right side. Although, Connor Clifton is younger and deserves an increased role, which also could come in that spot. Zboril has failed to meet expectations since being drafted No. 13 overall in 2015. He's played in only two NHL games in the last five years. Vaakanaien has exciting potential but he's played only seven NHL games. Moore is signed for the next three years but hasn't played well enough to earn consistent ice time.
This blue line is not one that a Stanley Cup contender puts on the ice. Unfortunately for the Bruins, there is not a legit top-four defenseman still on the free agent market. The only way for Boston to acquire this kind of player is via trade, and the B's system isn't overflowing with elite prospects.
The puck will drop on a new Bruins season Jan. 14, and unless major upgrades are made before that date, the team's blue line will be the weakest it has been in many years.