Kalman: What Chara’s upcoming absence really means for Bruins

Matt Kalman
November 17, 2018 - 7:52 pm

Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

We’ve been here before with Zdeno Chara, so we know that the injury absence of at least four weeks the Bruins announced Saturday for the star defensemen after he injured his left MCL in the first period Wednesday in Denver is a minimum estimate.

The Bruins announced that Chara will be re-evaluated after those four weeks are up.

When Chara was four years younger, he tore ligaments in his knee Oct. 23, 2014 against the New York Islanders. Without surgery he was expected to miss four to six weeks; he needed seven before he got back in the lineup Dec. 11.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing as soon as he got back into games. Chara had to adjust to wearing a brace and had to make some changes to it along the way. And two months after his return, in February 2015, he admitted he had many periods of struggle and doubt after he started playing again. He didn’t clear several mental hurdles for weeks after his initial game after the injury.

“But again, it’s one of those things that you might have a good game and then the next game, or next day, you’re like ‘OK, symptoms are not completely gone. The flexibility or the stiffness is coming back,’” Chara told me back then for a feature for NHL.com. “But that’s something that I deal with internally and I don’t need to go out and talk about it. But I’m glad it’s feeling better now. Hopefully we won’t have any setbacks. But again it took probably 10 to 12 weeks until I started feeling much, much better.”

What does this mean for the Bruins in 2018? Well first of all, Chara’s still in extraordinary shape for a 41-year-old, but normal biology tells you that at his age it may take him longer to recover. We also don’t know what the impact of his plant-based diet will be on his recovery. And then there are the mental hurdles, which for a proud athlete like Chara could be the most difficult. He has such high expectations for how he plays, he’ll have to find a line between trying to be the Bruins’ (and maybe the NHL’s) No. 1 shutdown defender and doing just enough to help while he recovers his timing, his strength and his confidence.

As for how the Bruins make do without Chara, they’re in big trouble (obviously) if they don’t get out of injury hell even beyond their captain’s latest injury. They can make up for Chara’s loss with internal options if they can get at least half of their other injured veteran defensemen back in the lineup. Kevan Miller is supposedly going to be back within the week. If Charlie McAvoy is still skating through the NHL concussion protocol, he might not be far off. If McAvoy, Brandon Carlo or John Moore can join Miller in the lineup, then the Bruins should be deep enough to limit opponents’ ability to exploit their Chara-less defense corps.

We saw Miller and Matt Grzelcyk shut down top-two lines last season and we’ve seen Grzelcyk and Moore do the same this season. If Carlo can return and pick up where he left off as far as playing strong defense, he could combine with Krug or Grzelcyk to form a solid pair. Without Chara the Bruins may not have a traditional No. 1 pair but they would at least have two strong second pairs if they could get a little healthier.  More responsible play from the forwards (rarely an issue) and some tweaks to coach Bruce Cassidy’s system – although they still want to stay on the attack and make sure they’re playing less in the defensive zone – will also come in handy to make life without Chara better than the disaster it could become.

The Bruins might not have a fully functional Zdeno Chara until February or even March. A less-than-100-percent Chara, though, will be more than helpful assuming he returns in late December or early January. As far as getting from now to then, the Bruins’ ability to survive will be determined by how healthy the rest of their defense corps gets in the days and weeks ahead unless these fill-ins from Providence take their game to a level no one could’ve predicted. In other words, cross your fingers for better health.

Related: Bruins notes: Injured Bergeron, Moore sent to Boston to be re-evaluated