Legendary Boston Bruins defensemen have a history of ending their careers in other teams’ sweaters. Bobby Orr, the most storied Bruin, played his final two seasons as a Chicago Blackhawk. Boston traded five-time Norris Trophy winner Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche so he could chase a Stanley Cup.
Zdeno Chara might join them as the unrestricted free agent remains unsigned. Returning to the Bruins for a 15th season isn’t a guarantee. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun relayed a conversation with Chara’s agent Matt Keator on Thursday’s episode of Insider Trading.
“Hey, I’m hearing that it may not necessarily be Boston as a slam dunk if he decides to play another season.’ And Keator’s answer was ‘looking at all options,'” LeBrun said. “Now, I have to say the Bruins are probably the frontrunner, but other teams keep calling.”
This hasn’t been a great year for the Bruins as frontrunners. The notion of keeping options open or being open-minded sounds a lot like how Tom Brady spoke about his free agency before the quarterback left the New England Patriots for Tampa Bay.
If Chara does leave the Bruins, it’s a bad look for the organization and a bad idea for the player.
He Wants to Be There
Boston didn’t exactly kill it in free agency. The Bruins missed on every top-tier free agent and let Torey Krug go to the St. Louis Blues. If you’re having trouble attracting outside players, it doesn’t make any sense to rebuke someone that wants to stay in black and gold.
“I want to stay in Boston. I want to be a Boston Bruin. I want to continue to lead by example and share my experiences and my game skills with the younger players and my teammates,” Chara said on Sept. 14. “That hasn’t changed. I’m committed. We’ll see what’s gonna happen next.”
Bringing Chara back wouldn’t cost much. He signed one-year deals before the previous two seasons and made $2 million last year. That dropped from $5 million the year before, so it stands to reason that he might accept another pay cut entering a season where he’ll turn 44. The Bruins have a little over $10 million in cap space. Who else is left to spend that money on besides Chara?
After a lackluster free agency period, the Bruins could gain some immediate goodwill with the franchise by re-signing their longtime captain. He’s played more than 1,000 games for the team over 14 seasons after signing as a free agent in 2006. That time includes a Stanley Cup in 2011, two finals appearances and a Norris trophy.
Chara’s scored 148 goals and amassed 333 assists. The big guy is more than a ceremonial figurehead, too. Though his scoring numbers have declined, Chara has played in at least 60 games over each of the past seven seasons.
He’s been synonymous with the Bruins for most of this century. The man played through a broken jaw for Boston. If anyone should be allowed to leave solely on his own terms, it’s Chara.
Bruins Will Need Leadership
Starting next season will be challenging for Boston. Both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak will miss time at the beginning of the year after offseason surgeries. That’s the Bruins’ top two scorers missing for a month or two. They’ll already have to shuffle their defensive pairings without Krug. Replacing Chara would add another wrinkle and move a player who might not be ready into a prominent role.
Imagine going through those changes all while figuring out a new captain. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci were the alternate captains last season, so one would inherit both the burden of increased scoring pressure during the injury absences and new responsibilities of captaincy.
Chara would be a stabilizing force on the back end of a defense that will likely have to keep games tighter, as the offense will suffer without those top-line contributors. He’d also be a calming voice in the locker room during potential struggles.
Holding the team together and avoiding an early season crisis has to be worth at least $1 million to ownership worth several billion dollars.
Don’t Have That Weird Chiefs Year
Chara would look unnatural in another sweater at this point. We’re talking Joe Montana on the Chiefs weird or Hakeem Oulijawon on the Rockets. Yes, hockey players change teams. He played for the Islanders and Senators before making his way to Boston. But Chara shouldn’t go anywhere else.
Is there a player in the NHL that feels more connected to and synonymous with Boston than Chara? He is a 6-foot-9 towering presence that works hard, focuses on the fundamentals and isn’t afraid to erase the opposition if necessary. Sounds a hell of a lot like Boston.
Fans will cheer for goals. They’ll dedicate their lives to a player like Chara. And he’s dedicated himself to the city of Boston. All three of the longtime North End resident‘s children were born there. He’s unlikely to want to uproot his life and his family for a year or two.
Chara has a chance to score his 150th goal and 500th point as a Bruin this year; those are important milestones not many reach with any franchise. He can move into fourth on the team’s all-time games list with another 31 appearances. It would be third, but Bergeron will likely continue playing for Boston, as well, and remain behind Bourque and John Bucyk.
He deserves that opportunity. The Bruins needs everything he can bring. Keep Chara in black and gold, for both your sakes.