Bruins president Cam Neely hinted Wednesday that Zdeno Chara was on his way back from Florida, where he was riding out the coronavirus pause with his family.
No word if he was so excited he rode his bike to Massachusetts.
OK, that clearly wouldn’t be the case, even though Chara is an avid cyclist with physical endurance that has become legendary in NHL circles. The Black and Gold captain, like many of his peers, was likely eager and energized about Tuesday’s announcement of a return-to-play format. The prospect of playing hockey again sparked interest all across the league, no doubt so in its oldest active player.
Even though Chara has been tirelessly pedaling and pushing himself in Sarasota (his workouts have been “intense, as always,” said agent Matt Keator), he surely will have a hard time getting those 43-year-old legs to fire with playoff vigor in the time of COVID-19.
He won’t be alone in that regard.
Neely, speaking on a Zoom call with local reporters, offered more detail on what the first stage of the Bruins’ comeback could look like. To begin the voluntary workouts, the Bruins must be compliant with the 29 pages of regulations the NHL circulated last weekend.
Essentially, surfaces in the rink, gym, and dressing room must be cleaned and disinfected before, during, and after use. Players and staff must practice social distancing as they train in rotating groups. They must have their temperatures taken upon arrival, and self-report symptoms on an app. They will be there to train, not mingle, and are expected to go home after.
“We’re walking through it, making sure we have everything we need in place, from sanitizing to [taking] temperatures and making sure the groups are spaced well enough apart so we can clean in between each group,” Neely said.
If and when the NHL gives teams the go-ahead in the coming weeks — possibly by mid-June — staff will flood the rink at now-dormant Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton. The NHLers who live locally will be first on the ice. Again, these workouts are voluntary, but it’s likely Chara and others who arrive from out of state — who must self-quarantine for 14 days — will return this week to satisfy that request.
“We feel we could potentially, by the time we’re ready to go, maybe have three groups of six rotating,” Neely said. “We don’t know the full extent of the numbers, for how many guys are going to be here when we’ve got ice up and running.”
After a few weeks of informal skates — players and the league will work together on timing — competitive training camps will begin (Phase 3), possibly by early July. With that will come a sharp increase in COVID-19 testing, which is “not necessary” for Phase 2, Neely said. He echoed numerous NHL and team executives and players in stressing that the league does not wish to use tests that should go to front-line workers and people who are at high risk to the virus.
Training camp, which could include two exhibition games per team, will be a sprint to the playoffs. The 24 teams competing in the restart have been off 77 days as of Wednesday. A typical summer break for a healthy NHL player is two weeks before serious training, and up to a month off the ice in many cases. The NHL playoffs, typically rife with attrition, could be a mess of aches, pains, strains, and pulls.
The Bruins’ hopes depend largely on how quickly their veteran stars — Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask — can return to form. They were No. 1 in the league at the time of the pause (44-14-12, 100 points). Can they regain that sharpness?
As far as we know, everyone save for defenseman Kevan Miller (knee) will be available. Defensemen Torey Krug (undisclosed) and Brandon Carlo (concussion), both injured when the league paused, have said they are good to go.
Teams will be allowed 50 people in their traveling party to the “hub” city, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday, but he did not specify a player limit. The regular 23-man roster will be expanded.
Among forwards, the 13 locks are Bergeron, Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, Ondrej Kase, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Nick Ritchie, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom, and Par Lindholm. The eight defensemen most likely to travel are Chara, Krug, Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore, and Connor Clifton. The obvious pair of goalies: Rask and Jaroslav Halak, with Dan Vladar, Maxime Lagace, and/or Kyle Keyser in reserve to guard against injuries.
Spares could include forwards Anton Blidh, Karson Kuhlman, Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Paul Carey, Zach Senyshyn, Brett Ritchie, and Cameron Hughes. Defensemen Urho Vaakanainen, Steven Kampfer, Jakub Zboril, and Alexander Petrovic would seem to be in the mix.
If it all happens, it will be a fascinating finish.
Ever run a long-distance race and then suddenly stop a few miles from the end? It hurts. Getting back on pace is brutal on the legs.
But someone will do it — and the Bruins were outpacing everyone when the race was paused.