Zdeno Chara's future with the Boston Bruins remains unclear despite the fact we are just a few weeks away from the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The veteran defenseman is an unrestricted free agent following his 22nd NHL campaign -- the last 14 of which came as Bruins captain.
Where do things stand between Chara and the B's?
"Well we still have to flush that out," Bruins president Cam Neely said Monday during a Zoom call with reporters. "You know, I think Zee was waiting to see what the schedule looked like, how it may impact his decision, so we’re still flushing that out."
Chara is no longer an elite player at 43 years old. He can't be relied on to consistently shut down the opposing team's top forwards anymore. However, that doesn't mean Chara lacks value. Quite the opposite, actually. The Bruins need experience on their blue line, especially after Torey Krug departed in free agency over the offseason. Chara is still a good penalty killer and a tremendous leader. He could definitely thrive on the third pairing next to a younger defenseman who the Bruins want to develop this season.
What exactly would be Chara's role if he returned? Neely isn't so sure.
"For me, it's tough to say," Neely admitted. "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.
"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, you know, 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."
If the Bruins plan to give players such as Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril the opportunity for an increased role, would there even be a roster spot available for Chara?
"Well 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 said. "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."
It would be smart of the Bruins to give the kids a chance to earn a consistent role on the blue line this season. Zboril was a 2015 first-round pick. It's time to see if he can be a regular NHLer. Vaakanainen was a 2017 first-round pick but only has seven games of experience in Boston. It's also time to see what he can do against better competition.
Developing these young defensemen, and others, is going to be really important for the future success of the Bruins. But it doesn't have to come at the expense of Chara, who the Bruins would be wise to bring back in a lesser role if he's OK with that.