Last night the Boston Bruins lost their captain Zdeno Chara to reported knee injury. The list of accolades and accolades for the man passed over fifty five times in the 1996 draft doesn’t need to be repeated. But they do impact what happens in his absence. Chara vacating the lineup for two to three weeks is probably good for development of the other defenseman, namely Hamilton, Krug and whoever gets called up.
There are three questions:
- Is it a short term injury or a long term injury?
- If its long term, will he return at all?
- What type of replacement should the team go for in the medium to long term?
Currently the Boston Bruins say he’ll be out four to six weeks with no surgery needed. That means December, early in the month if things go well. But given all the complications possible in joints that endure much less stress than a 24 minute a night nearly seven foot tall bruising NHL defenseman, the probability it will take Chara more than six weeks to return is very real.
But, given that the man has played through broken fingers to the point where he no longer has feeling in two of them, he might not even have felt the injury given all the other damage to his body over the years. That monstrous hit he laid on John Tavares could just be the last time he’s seen on the ice until his jersey is hoisted into the rafters. Let’s not forget that while he’s a physical fitness freak, two weeks after the trade deadline he’ll be 38 years old. While the evidence shows Father Time does play favorites, being a top player in a physically demanding collision sport means everyone leaves the sport younger than they want to.
A laundry list of the Boston Bruins prospects in college or in the minors won’t turn up anyone who can contribute even 75% of what Chara does. Rob O’Gara is tantalizing, Linus Arnesson has more than a few admirers, and Joe Morrow was actually taken just a few picks after Dougie Hamilton. One or more of those young men may have to be part of a package to bring back a viable top three defenseman to fill in for any period longer than seven or eight weeks.
The list of who might be both useful and available isn’t that long. Marc Staal has been supplanted by Ryan McDonagh on the New York Rangers depth chart, but he’s still a pretty damned effective defenseman. He’s also a UFA on July 1, and the Rangers will likely not have room to sign him. As a pure defensive defenseman, Mark Stuart might just be the answer. Like Chara he plays over three minutes a night of short handed time on ice, he is familiar with Claude Julien’s system, the Boston fans and media, and he’s a leader, he’s not a top three defenseman but given the market for defensemen, he might be a good fit.
Luke Schenn is another intriguing possibility. The Flyers season isn’t going any better than Boston’s and while the Fyers have less in the way of young building blocks they also have a new general manager who has yet o really put his stamp on the team. With another year on his contract, and then a raise due after that he’s more than a rental. He’s only slightly older than Hamilton and Krug but has more NHL experience than both put together. The Arizona Coyotes might be convinced to part with Zbynek Michalek. He’s a solid 21 or so minute a night guy who plays hard and reliably.
Whatever the Boston Bruins do, short, medium or long term the post-Chara era must be planned for, and planned or now.