Zdeno Chara wants to be a Boston Bruin. He’s made that abundantly clear.
But it sounds like right now the Bruins have a few other items to tackle before they can make that a reality.
The B’s longtime captain is a free agent for the first time since 2006, which was when he left the Ottawa Senators to sign with Boston. Chara, obviously, is a Bruins legend and bound for the Hall of Fame upon his retirement. But at 43-years-old, he wants to continue to play.
But according to Pierre LeBrun, Chara is receiving some league-wide interest as a UFA. So, where do things stand with the Bruins?
It’s not entirely clear publicly, but one thing seems certain: Chara, his agent Matt Keator and Bruins general manager Don Sweeney are communicating often.
“There’s communication between the two sides and again I’ve had a great deal of communication with Zdeno and his representative Matt Keator, to make sure there is no ambiguity in terms of that. And whatever Zee decides to do, ultimately, he’ll tell us,” Sweeney said Saturday afternoon over Zoom. “We’ll react accordingly to that. We have our own feelings as to where these things will go. We’ve certainly relayed them. We’ll continue to relay them. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s an iconic player, a person and a leader, and things that we want to make sure that we’re dealing with this with the utmost respect as we try to treat all our players with and communicate it as effectively as possible.
“Like I said, we take a lot of pride in that, making sure that there is really, no really unanswered questions in that regard or ambiguity. I would say that Kevan Miller falls into the same category of making sure that we understood where Kevan’s health was, where he felt he was going to be coming back to our lineup. And we’re excited that he’s healthy and he’s so motivated and looking to finish the job that he was watching from the sidelines. And all of our players, hopefully feel the exact same way. That ambiguity is not part of the equation.”
Chara the last few seasons has taken one-year, incentive-laden deals with the Bruins. It’s quite possible the Bruins are hashing out other things before they again arrive at a similar agreement with Chara.
Here are some other notes from Saturday.
— The highlight of the afternoon for the Bruins was the signing of veteran winger Craig Smith to a three-year deal, which carries a $3.1 million annual cap hit.
Smith is one of the most stable third-line wingers in the NHL. His shot-heavy game has led to him creating tons of chances for linemates while potting 20-plus goals for himself with relative ease.
The 31-year-old has spent the entirety of his career with the Nashville Predators, and a return was not out of the question.
“Obviously, that option was in the back of my mind,” Smith said Saturday over Zoom. “Just going through the season, I talked with my agent and we kind of set things aside until the end of the season. I was still with Nashville at the time. We still had some business to take care of and let’s just play it out and we’ll see where things kind of shakeout here.
“Looking forward, I’m just excited to have another opportunity and especially to come into a great organization like this. Nothing but good things to say from Nashville, had a great time there, a good run. But it was time for us to move on and my wife and I feel that this is the best step for us.”
— The NHL has formally announced a target date of Jan. 1, 2021 to start the upcoming season.
That, obviously, will make it challenging to get in a full 82-game season, especially if the league wants the campaign wrapped up by the time the rescheduled Summer Olympics start (the league’s national television partner in the U.S, NBC, also has the Olympic broadcasting rights).
“That’s totally into the Commissioner Bettman and Bill Daly’s hands as to what we’re going to be able to do,” Sweeney said when asked if he believes the league can get 82 games in. “We only hope that we can play a full schedule. Again, total speculation on my part, I think the compression will make it difficult but that’s just speculation on my part and I don’t want to comment further.”
— With Torey Krug joining the St. Louis Blues, there’s a job up for grabs on the left side of the defense.
Assuming Chara returns, he and Matt Grzelcyk will be the returning regulars. Jeremy Lauzon played mostly on the right side last season, but he is a left shot. The Bruins also have John Moore entering Year 3 of a five-year deal, and prospects Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen presumably will get a shot in camp to compete for a roster spot.
That’s not precluding Sweeney from seeing what else is out there, but he does like the personnel the Bruins have.
“We’re continuing to explore external options. We feel that we have some young players, not unlike a few years ago where (Brandon) Carlo came on to the scene,” Sweeney said. “Vaakanainen, Zboril, John Moore and the collection of the group is what it is at this stage, while I continue to explore external options and it might be by committee in some of those situations. And I think some of the younger players are excited. And Zdeno is part of that equation. We’ll continue to have the conversations with his group and allow him the latitude to make those decisions accordingly.”
— Krug’s departure also leaves a vacancy on the top power-play unit.
That too is a need Sweeney thinks could be addressed in a few different ways.
“You always want somebody ready-made. Replacing the component of that player is within a couple ways. As I said, Krejci moved on to that unit, so you know you have four players that are returning and you have to institute a new player,” Sweeney said. “Whether that again, from internal group that we currently or while I continue to look outside for a player that might have that identity and acumen as a player. That remains to be seen. I don’t have that on our roster right now, we have some flexibility to continue to explore it. But I can’t tell you I’m going to guarantee I’m going to do that. On the same token, we feel comfortable that somebody is going to get a hell of an opportunity to go in and have the yeomen minutes and playing with four elite players in the National Hockey League that have had a lot of success on the power play.”
And, finally, here are some other Bruins stories on NESN.com right now: