By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
As we all say our farewells to 2020 and say hello to 2021, I decided to put the pen to paper or should I say fingers to keyboard (that doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it), and put down my thoughts on a variety of Boston Bruins and hockey topics.
Before we proceed, this is just a reminder that the opinions that are about to follow are just that – my opinions. You may agree or disagree on any or all of the topics and if you wish to have a more in-depth discussion, feel free to follow me on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj.
D Zdeno Chara signs with Washington Capitals
After his contract expired at the end of the 2019-2020 season, defenceman Zdeno Chara officially hit the free-agent market. After months of debating on playing hockey for another season, potentially re-signing with the Bruins, or even signing a new contract with another team in the NHL, the now 43-year-old Chara ultimately agreed to a one-year, $795,000 contract with the Washington Capitals.
The move ended a 14-year tenure with Boston that began when the 6-foot-9 blueliner signed a lucrative five-year, $37.5 million ($7.5 million AAV) in the 2006 offseason. Before that, Chara had spent a combined eight seasons with the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators.
Now, following 481 points in 1023 regular-season games, seven All-Star appearances, a James Norris Trophy and and Mark Messier Leadership Award along with 150 playoff games and one Stanley Cup ring as captain of the Boston Bruins, Chara leaves a permanent legacy as not only one of the best Bruins of all-time, but one of the best NHL free-agent acquisitions as well.
Father Time is undefeated and sooner rather than later Zdeno Chara was going to no longer be a Boston Bruin. With that said, no matter when it was going to happen, it was going to hurt the organization on many levels. Chara, while not as his once-elite form, was still a competent defenceman on the backend and brought a physical premise even into his early-40s that intimidated the opposing team. Above all that, Chara was the definition of a leader and captain. Players not only listened to the giant on skates, but they respected him too.
With the departures of Chara and Krug this offseason, the left-side of Boston’s defense is looking a bit weak. Not to mention, it also takes away the number one power-play quarterback and one of the top penalty-killers on the team. Bruins management seems adamant about utilizing some of the younger players in the system to break them into the league, but it, in my opinion is a gamble.
There are reports that Chara was offered a contract to stay with the team but on a reduced role. He would often be a healthy scratch and most likely the “7th defenceman” and that offer was not something he wanted, even at his age. While I personally feel even a limited role Chara, perhaps a top-four role with penalty-kill time, would have been enough and is a better option right now than the other players in the depths of the organization. Although, as I said, Chara wasn’t staying forever so that is not my biggest problem – which brings me into our next topic.
Is Don Sweeney On The Hot Seat?
Don Sweeney became the Bruins’ General Manager in 2015 after the Bruins had just missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign. It was clear Boston needed changes and the upper management believed a new GM would help solve some of those problems.
Sweeney entered the picture with a bang, trading Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton in a pair of separate trades, then drafted Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn with three consecutive first-round picks in the 2015 Draft – selections that are often criticized by fellow NHL fans today considering the talent that was selected immediately afterwards.
Since then, Sweeney has brought the team a Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20 and a Stanley Cup Finals berth in the 2018-19 season but has also made some questionable moves at the helm. Moves such as signing Matt Beleskey and David Backes in free agency and making moves for older players like Rick Nash.
This past offseason was the time for Sweeney to prove how good of a GM he is. With expiring deals to key roster players, Sweeney was tasked with either bringing them back on new contracts or potentially bring in new talent to keep the team contending for the Cup as the core continues to age.
Instead, both Krug and Chara left the team for another while no other defenceman has been signed. Craig Smith was brought in and while that is a solid move, the Bruins were in desperate need of a bonafide top-six winger for David Krejci’s right-wing, and Smith has never eclipsed 25+ goals in a season.
The season has not officially started, no. But the Bruins, in my opinion, got slightly worse from last season and are not in a position to contend for another Cup run right now. It seems management is in a difficult spot where the team is not quite Cup-contending, but they aren’t a lottery team either. It is a very similar feeling to 2015 – when the last GM was fired.
Young players do, of course, need time to play in the NHL. However, in the few glimpses we have seen of them, they have not been standouts and made a strong case for the job – hence the reason Chara continued to play so many minutes at that age for the last few seasons. The team is likely to lose more games with the trial of these young guns – so does that confirm the window is closed? I personally would like to see an attempt to give Bergeron, Marchand, and Krejci a shot at another Cup while they are still top players in the league.
If Don Sweeney doesn’t improve the team with a signing/trade and the Bruins fall short in another first or second-round exit – or even worse – miss the playoffs in a tough East Division, I’d be willing to bet Sweeney’s job is on the line.
World Juniors Don’t Need Changing
At the time of me typing this, the quarter-finals of the 2021 World Juniors are finishing up. Earlier in the tournament, Canada defeated Germany by an obliterating 16-2 score. Following the game, many people criticized having a team like Germany participate due to the embarrassment they had to deal with.
However, those Germans stormed back, defeating Slovakia in overtime and Switzerland in what will likely go down as one of the best games of the tournament so far, clinching the quarter-finals for the first time in country history.
In their quarter-finals matchup, Germany made Russia work for every single puck, narrowly losing to the Russians, 2-1. While their 2021 World Juniors is over, their never-give-up attitude and underdog spirit earned the respect of hockey fans everywhere – or at least they should’ve.
It’s that and the fact that these teenagers WANT to be here. For many, representing your country is the biggest dream. It is such an honour, just being in a tournament with these powerhouse countries is an accomplishment. Removing some of these teams not only takes that honour away, but it stunts the growth of hockey globally. The goal is to grow the sport – not prevent it.
Bruins/Flyers Outdoor Game
As first reported by Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the NHL is planning to have a pair of outdoor games at Lake Tahoe in Nevada in February. The reported teams are the Colorado Avalanche against the Vegas Golden Knights on February 20th and the Boston Bruins taking on the Philadelphia Flyers the next day on February 21st.
I have mixed thoughts about this one. At first, I’m a sucker for seeing the Bruins in special events like the Winter Classic and I’m also a big fan of the Bruins/Flyers rivalry – a rivalry that saw the two play in the 2010 Winter Classic over a decade ago.
At the same time, no fans will be permitted at the event. According to Friedman, roughly 400 people including players, staff, and broadcasting members will have permission to attend the games. No fans at indoor arenas due to the pandemic is one thing – but no fans outside in a special event like that just feels pointless.
Instead, start the next season with the Winter Classic and have the Stadium Series games as done in the past with the fans attending if health officials allow it. It just seems like an extra hassle at this time in a season already filled with hurdles and challenges and leaving the outdoor games out of the schedule would make more sense.
For more of my bold (maybe?) opinions, make sure to toss a follow on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj!