So, Where Do Bruins Go Now After Zdeno Chara Signs With Capitals?

Expect to see plenty of young blueliners

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December 30, 2020

It always seemed like a possibility, if a distant one. But now it’s happening: Zdeno Chara is leaving the Boston Bruins.

The B’s longtime captain is off to Washington, where he joins the Capitals on a one-year deal. Chara had been with the Bruins organization since 2006, so navigating life without him is, well, unfamiliar territory.

So, where do the Bruins go from here? There are a few routes.

Chara indicated in his Instagram post that the team told him they were moving on to give younger players an opportunity. That seems to eliminate the possibility of a big trade to bring in a guy like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Noah Hanifin. That probably wouldn’t be the wisest move anyways.

Maybe there’s a move somewhere for a veteran depth defenseman, but going after a *big* guy in free agency like Sami Vatanen — who is not *big* but is the top blueliner left — seems somewhat unnecessary. Boston was linked to Ben Hutton, and that seems like a more likely path.

But external moves aside, here’s what the Bruins are working with.

Left side: Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen

Right side: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, Kevan Miller

Truthfully, the only lock on the left side of the Bruins defense is Grzelcyk, who probably moves up and takes Chara’s spot beside McAvoy on the top pairing.

Torey Krug is gone too, so now Boston is left to find a partner for Carlo. It seems like the best path would be to put Lauzon with him for a shutdown, if offensively capped, second pairing.

Then, it basically becomes a free for all on the bottom pairing. Moore can play on the right side in a desperate situation, but in all likelihood, it’s going to be true righties in Miller or Clifton on a given night on the right side.

Moore should be the top option on the left side, but he’s gotten played out of the lineup many times in his first two years with Boston that he shouldn’t be considered a lock.

Providence coach Jay Leach raved about Zboril’s progression last season in the AHL, so theoretically he would be a good fit on the third pairing. However, in limited NHL experience he hasn’t looked totally comfortable, so he has to prove he’s ready to make the jump to the next level.

Then there’s Vaakanainen, who is the B’s highest-ceiling defensive prospect. He’s only 21 and has shown some good flashes in the AHL, but his time in the minors has been mired by occasional inconsistency. He’s gotten a limited look in the NHL and has been fine not great. Regardless, the sample size is too small to properly judge him.

To sum it all up, the answer isn’t clear. If the Bruins are hellbent on playing young guys, then Lauzon, Zboril and maybe Vaakanainen should get preference over Moore for two of the three vacancies on the left side.

But now more than ever, Moore is an interesting piece. He’s a stable enough player and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy trusts playing him whenever — even after long stretches as a healthy scratches. If young guys play a lot, there are going to be growing pains and bad stretches. That means Moore is going to get his opportunities to play.

We’ll stop short of saying it’ll be a “third pairing by committee” situation, but those jobs are wide open until guys start staking their claim. That’ll take time, and whoever is in that spot come Jan. 14 against the New Jersey Devils very well might not be there weeks or even days later.

The Bruins have been logjammed on the left side of the defense for a few years now, and in a way it seems the writing was on the wall — eventually these guys were going to have to get a shot. Boston needs to know what it has in these prospects, and now it’s certainly going to get a chance.

Thumbnail photo via Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports Images
Former Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara
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