EDIT: I got crossed up on my Olympic times; the opening ceremonies are tomorrow night, not tonight.
With Bruins captain Zdeno Chara heading over to be the flag bearer for his country of Slovakia, the Bruins are left state-side to play two games without their best defensive presence.
photo via Boston.com
Let's get this much clear: I have no gripes with Zdeno Chara missing two games in the NHL in return for heading to Sochi to participate in the opening ceremony of the Olympics (which has already happened, we just need to wait until 8 p.m. to see it).
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Chara to represent his country, where the binds of communism ruled over the regions of Western Europe for decades, on a world stage. For Chara to fly the flag of Slovakia in the nation that suppressed his home for years makes it all the more special for Big Z.
So with that out of the way and understood, there still remains the side-note that the Bruins will play tonight in St. Louis and Saturday at the Garden vs the Senators without their franchise defenseman. What will they look like?
The Bruins sit with Chara in the same boat as the New England Patriots do with their franchise player, Tom Brady. Both players have played for a long time. Both players are invaluable to their respective teams. And both players are on the back-nine of their careers. It's O.K. to say it.
It's almost that time to start forecasting what life will look like for the Bruins when Chara decides to hang it up. Chara is 36 years-old (will be 37 on March 18) and has played in 1238 regular season and playoff games in his 16-year-NHL career. He's logged 30,316 minutes on ice. He's got some tread on the tires.
He may player another four or five years. But will he be the same shutdown, Norris Trophy candidate that he has been for the time he's been in Boston? Probably not.
The Bruins are 320-197-62 with Chara in the lineup. They are 7-6-3 without him. Tonight is a good test for the B's, as they will get a small glimpse into what the franchise may potentially look like when Chara is no longer logging 25+ minutes on a nightly basis.
Johnny Boychuck, Doug Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug and recently-called-up David Warsofsky will shoulder the load vs the hard and heavy St. Louis Blues. Boychuck is the most experienced of the corps, so expect him to slot into Chara's #1 position.
What the Bruins will have for these next two games is youth, speed and skill on the blueline. But they will not have a shutdown defensive player.
The tides of the Boston franchise turned when Chara was brought in via free-agency in 2006. The 'Big Bad Bruins' were reborn from Chara's intensity, strength, attitude and leadership.
photo via sunbelthockey.com
Whenever the day comes that the Bruins will be without the services of their fearless leader is a day many Bruins fans don't want to think about. But that day is closer than many think.
Chara will most likely finish his career in Boston. He will undoubtedly have his number retired to the rafters.
And when Chara does retire, the franchise will again experience an evolution, and it remains to be seen whether it'll be for better or worse.
For tonight and Saturday, we can pretend that Chara has taken his ride off into the sunset. We will see how the Bruins operate under the dynamic of not having Chara to anchor the defense and bear the weight of the other team's best attack shift after shift.
How the defensive unit performs under the circumstance will go a long way to showing how good they really are. It'll also go a long way to show just how important Chara is to the Black and Gold.