Bruins

Zdeno Chara 'grateful for the opportunity' to play, not focused on NHL playoff format fairness

Zdeno Chara 'grateful for the opportunity' to play, not focused on NHL playoff format fairness

In the aftermath of this week’s NHL announcement about the 24-team playoff format, there has been plenty of talk about fairness, asterisks and whether this plan will even come to fruition this summer as NHL players begin working to get back into playing shape.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara could have complained about the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins being forced into protecting their top seed during a round-robin tournament despite pretty much winning it fair and square during the regular season with a month left.

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Chara could have openly wondered about the safeness of an NHL return or talked extensively about whether the Cup champs will be considered regular champions despite so many oddities with this year’s proposed postseason.

Instead, the wise 43-year-old Chara simply showed gratitude that the NHL players might be able to get back to work, and perhaps in doing so can restore some sense of quasi-normalcy to sports fans eager to see games resume.

“The Players' Association with the player reps worked extremely hard to get to this point and come up with something that will be hopefully entertaining and exciting. I think the fans will enjoy it for sure. It’s never a perfect scenario. It’s not going to be set in stone like it would be after an 82-game regular season,” said Chara while speaking with B’s reporters on Zoom call on Thursday morning.

“It’s not going to be perfect. Anytime you’re going to have an unexpected kind of stoppage with teams at different peaks in their season, you had to come up with some sort of solution. What we see is probably the best [solution]. It’s one of those things where you can’t blame anyone or feel that it’s unfair.

For us, we have to be grateful for the opportunity we’re getting. When you look at the real-life perspective at what other people’s families and businesses are going through, we’re getting the chance to basically start back up where we ended the season. A lot of people aren’t getting that same chance. A lot of people lost financial support and businesses went down, and they will never get the same opportunities. We have to be grateful for the opportunity and take it as a huge motivation [and] excitement. [We need] to be grateful and embrace it.

As with most players focused on winning, Chara knows the Bruins will need to overcome all obstacles if they hope to lift the Stanley Cup, and a newfangled playoff format that was a little unfair to them is nothing compared to what’s happening in the world.

Chara is going to be a slam dunk Hall of Fame defenseman when he eventually retires from the Bruins even if that’s probably at least a couple of seasons from now.

But the 6-foot-9 D-man also showed in his answer why he’s a Hall of Fame person with the way he’s still got everything in proper perspective even as fans get a little excited about progress being made toward a return for the NHL season.

Bruins' David Pastrnak, Ondrej Kase might not practice until Thursday

Bruins' David Pastrnak, Ondrej Kase might not practice until Thursday

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Another day passed without David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase on the ice at Bruins Return to Play camp, and now it looks like they may not skate with the full group until Thursday at the earliest.

Both players are in the midst of going through quarantine and COVID-19 testing before being cleared by the B’s medical advisors and staff to practice with the rest of the group, and it’s ending up taking more than the one or two days the B’s expected in the first place.

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Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy couldn’t say for sure if Pastrnak and Kase would be on the ice with the smaller group on Wednesday, or if they might skate on their own at Warrior Ice Arena at some point during the day. The expectation is, however, that Pastrnak and Kase will be part of a full practice group on Thursday that should also include Trent Frederic, who skated on his own with Bruins skating coach Kim Brandvold at Warrior on Tuesday morning.

The expectation is that missing the first three days won’t be too detrimental for Pastrnak and Kase provided they are taking part by the end of the week.

“Let’s just assume they get back into the mix Thursday with the group. I don’t think they will be too far behind. I think some European players were in countries where they were free to skate earlier, so they might have had the benefit of skating while guys couldn’t here,” said Cassidy of Pastrnak, who was skating with Czech pros as of a few weeks ago before heading back to Boston. “But the rules were that when you come back you had to quarantine for ‘X’ amount of time, so I don’t hold it against them. Those were the rules in place and they were kind of fluid as we went along.

“Now if they came back the day before [camp started] and were told they needed to sit for 14 days, then that probably wouldn’t have been the wisest move. If they’re in with the group on Thursday and they look good, healthy and fit and [good] conditioning, then I think they’ll catch up in a hurry and we’ll be fine.”

Urho Vaakanainen, Anton Blidh and Daniel Vladar all joined the B’s camp group on Tuesday for the first time and Anders Bjork was bumped up to right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand after really popping in Day One of camp.

Here are the line combos and D-pairings for Day 2 of Return to Play camp with the Bruins going for more than an hour after a quick 45-minute practice on the first day:

NHL players need to follow Patrice Bergeron's advice: 'Be smart and use common sense'

NHL players need to follow Patrice Bergeron's advice: 'Be smart and use common sense'

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Now that the Bruins are back practicing together as a group after the first day of Phase 3 training camp, the biggest challenge still waits patiently in front of them.

Quite frankly, it sits in front of the entire NHL as the league attempts to get 24 teams through a two-week training camp, a week of practices in a hub city and then several months of playoff games without enduring any back-breaking COVID-19 outbreaks along the way.

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It’s certainly not going to be easy, as we saw on Monday as more than a handful of Penguins players were kept off the ice in Pittsburgh due to secondary exposure with somebody who ended up testing positive for COVID-19.

We’ve also seen in Major League Baseball where the demand for testing has already overwhelmed the private labs that MLB hired out to provide them with an essential element of returning to play.

Over the weekend Don Sweeney said that he fully expects the Bruins to be forced into navigating through positive cases in the future, even if the internal belief among the Black and Gold is that the one and only COVID-19 positive Bruins player to this point was a false positive result rather than the real thing.

“Individual positive tests are going to happen and we have to act accordingly,” said Sweeney. “It’s going to be a real test for our group, but I think our group is really strong in that regard. We can lean on resources and tap into people that they do during the year, and really go through these things as a group. Team structure is going to be really important.”

If any pro sports league in North America has a shot at getting through it over the next six months it’s got to be the NHL, which has a thorough set of safety protocols, a group of 700-plus players who are fully on board after voting by an 80-20 margin to return to play, and a plan to take the game up to Toronto and Edmonton, where the COVID-19 outbreaks have been contained. All of these add up to the essential things that are needed for a successful return to play.  

Still, it’s going to take a full buy-in from NHL players and personnel to persevere all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in October. The NHL released numbers on Monday that 30 out of 600 players had tested positive in Phase 2 (5 percent) and 43 of the roughly 720 players worldwide tested positive over the last few months.

It's fairly encouraging considering there were no restrictions on off-ice activity for players during Phase 2 and that there was zero growth in positive cases when the NHL upped the allowed player participation numbers from six to 12 players a couple of weeks ago. But it still means there is going to need to be buy-in across the NHL where each team will only be as strong as their weakest links in terms of players.

The bottom line: The NHL's Return to Play means getting all players on-board in terms of behavior and being both safe and smart away from the rink no matter what their personality, maturity level or beliefs about the very real dangers posed by COVID-19.

It seems like just a few years ago that the Bruins reportedly needed a security guard outside Tyler Seguin’s hotel room during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs to make sure the youngster wasn’t sneaking out at night. That kind of thing absolutely can’t happen over the next few months and the players all seem to understand the gravity of the situation.   

The Bruins, in particular, are uniquely poised as example-setters given their strong veteran leadership group headed by Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, so it’s no surprise the message sent to the rest of the team was a strong, resonant one.

“Professionalism is going to be huge. We need to rely on everyone for this thing to happen and for this to work. We're not going to babysit [guys] on their whereabouts and whatnot, so it's about trusting one another to do the right thing and being committed to this thing to work and to go forward,” said Bergeron. “I think that’s the most important thing is to be professionals about it. Be smart and use common sense.”

Honestly, every NHL team would probably feel a lot better about their chances of keeping things together from start to finish this hockey postseason if they had somebody like No. 37 doling out the wisdom inside the dressing room. It will be particularly difficult once the Bruins settle into the Toronto hub city without their families for most of August and September. The challenge there will be to steer clear of any risky behavior once boredom sets in, when a few positive cases could end up shutting the entire operation down.

Using good judgment was part of the message passed down from Bruce Cassidy to the players on Monday prior to getting on the ice. The Bruins coaches practiced what they preached by donning masks for the entirety of practice and the B’s players did the same by wearing masks inside the dressing room before getting out on the ice.

Let’s hope every other NHL team does the same thing across the league.

“I addressed the guys. My message is that I’m not looking at this as training camp. I’m looking at this as ‘Return to Play camp’ or ‘Return to Play’ practices. To me training camp is a different mentality where it’s the beginning of a long marathon,” said Bruce Cassidy. “This isn’t that case. This is the beginning of a quick return comparable to a sprint and that’s the way we want to look at it. The timing and execution of our practices needs to get up there as quickly as possible. That needs to be our focus every day.

"We have a group of hard-working guys. The conditioning part is something you normally monitor during camp and make sure guys are where they need to be. We need to find our game in a hurry. That was my message. Our health coordinator, our medical staff and Donnie [Sweeney] talked to our guys a bit in terms of the procedure. I think they’re getting used to it a bit. They’ve seen it now recently.

And the last message was about being responsible away from the rink. It’s not just you that you could [impact]. In essence, you could affect up to 40 or 50 guys, so let’s do our best to social distance and wear our masks when we need to be out. Try to limit contact. That was it and let’s get back to work.

Those are the kinds of messages that should have been passed around in each of the 24 dressing rooms on Monday morning ahead of “Return to Play” camp.

The Bruins had a feel-good moment on Monday while finally getting back out on the ice together for the first time in four months. They hope to experience a few more of those along the way, obviously. The really good news is that the Bruins sound like they are ready to do everything humanly possible to see this NHL season through to the very end as safely as possible.

Doing that will be almost as satisfying as winning the Cup. Right, Bruins fans?