Don Sweeney, Bruins Had ‘Integrated Role’ Plan For Zdeno Chara Had He Re-Signed

The Bruins envisioned an "integrated role" for Chara


December 31, 2020

As clearly as he outlined that the Bruins offered Zdeno Chara a contract, Don Sweeney made another thing exceptionally clear Thursday.

There was no guarantee Chara was going to return to the Bruins and walk into the same role he’s always had.

Boston intends to give youngsters like Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and Jeremy Lauzon the opportunity to prove they belong in the NHL. Sweeney and Co. apparently were forthright with Chara that it could mean his role — which had been a heavy-minute, top-pairing defenseman with Charlie McAvoy that also spent plenty of time on the penalty kill — could change.

“Make no mistake about it, (our internal plans) did include looking to integrate some of the younger players that have had an opportunity to develop in our system and us trying to see whether they were capable of handling minutes and situations that they had not been exposed to,” Sweeney said Thursday over Zoom. “We describe it as an integrated role and just didn?t make a categorical promise that he would have the exact same role that he had had in certainly his 14 — a historic career with the Boston Bruins.”

In a clear effort to not make promises they couldn’t keep, Sweeney indicated that the Bruins didn’t flat-out say to Chara what pairing he would be on and how he would contribute.

“We did not put any parameters on,” Sweeney said. “We?re going to ice the best team we possibly can each and every night. The coach has his decisions that he has to make. We looked at what the potential schedule might look like. We looked at an opportunity to expose some of our younger players minutes and situations. So we didn?t carve out in stone. We just laid out in a forthright manner, in a clear, concise and hopefully communicative manner that we may experiment in some of these situations where it has not been possible with Zdeno occupying all of those minutes in years past — and doing it in a remarkable fashion. And again, there is some exposure associated with that.

“We looked at it from an integrated aspect to blend those situations together. But we wanted to be clear and concise going into it, what our intention and hope was, but also with a clear intention that we were going to ice the absolute best team we could with the expectation to win.”

Had Chara returned, the Bruins would be looking at 10 defensemen, including the three aforementioned prospects, vying for an opportunity.

Does that mean healthy scratching Chara on occasion was on the table had he re-signed?

“We were making no promises in terms of what our roster and lineup would be and what the minutes were every night. We never have,” Sweeney said. “Situations that I?ve had discussions over the years where we were paring back some situational minutes, and hard minutes. And preservation. No different from days I?ve had talks with Patrice (Bergeron) on and trying to spread that around and trying to be a complete hockey club and have depth in our lineup, again from a penalty killing situation. I don?t think any player is immune to that as they go through their career. It depends on what trajectory they?re on, the start, the middle, the end. And we just wanted to look at it as pragmatically as we possibly could in an integrated fashion.”

So now, the Bruins have two vacancies to fill on the left side with Chara and Torey Krug out of the picture. If the plan is to give the young guns a look, then things certainly are falling into place for the Bruins.

Thumbnail photo via Sarah Stier/USA TODAY Sports Images
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