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When Don Sweeney told Zdeno Chara he may not play every game, Chara decided to join the Capitals

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is going to give some young defensemen a chance to "move forward" in their careers.Barry Chin

The Bruins have had difficult conversations with Zdeno Chara in recent years, centered around trimming the responsibilities — power play, ice time, important matchups — of an aging franchise cornerstone.

When general manager Don Sweeney told the now-former captain that he may not play every night, Chara joined the Washington Capitals.

“I just felt that I had more to offer,” said Chara, who spoke to the media on a Zoom call from a D.C. hotel, where he is quarantining in advance of training camp. “I respect their decisions and wish them the best.”

Chara, who fielded more than 20 NHL offers according to agent Matt Keator, said Sweeney “negotiated in good faith” and treated him with respect, but said it became “very clear to me I would not be in the starting lineup for the season, or starting some games, or playing some back-to-back games. I would be more of a reserve-type of player.”

That was not his role last season. Chara logged 1,428 minutes of ice time during the regular season, ranking 48th among defensemen. He was first over the boards on the penalty kill. The Bruins used his 6-foot-9-inch, 250-pound frame, reach, and poise to protect third-period leads.


Replacing Chara, even though he will turn 44 in March, comes with risk.

“We’re going to do it by committee, and allow some of these guys a little bit of trial and error and potentially fail as a result of it,” Sweeney said. “But also succeed as a result of it and not look over their shoulder in any way, shape, or form because they have to gain that experience.

“You’re not going to move forward in your career if you’re not put in those situations. Sometimes you fall flat and other times you rise up.”

How will Don Sweeney and coach Bruce Cassidy navigate the first season of the post-Zdeno Chara era in Boston?Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Matt Grzelcyk, already pegged for first-unit power-play time after Torey Krug’s departure, is the leading candidate to replace Chara as Charlie McAvoy’s partner during five on five. Over the last three seasons, the Bruins have outscored (25-18) and outshot (282-196) teams by a significant margin with the former Boston University duo on the ice.


Grzelcyk, who averaged 18:04 of ice time last season, has feasted on third-pair matchups in his three-year career, denying zone entries and starting transition with his quick feet and sharp stick. Nightly success against the largest and fastest forwards in the East Division is no guarantee, particularly for someone a foot shorter (5-9, 174 pounds) than his predecessor.

“Whether he can handle that increased role and beyond, whatever it is, that 19-20-minute threshold, remains to be seen,” Sweeney said. “We have to be careful there, in terms of breaking down — where players begin to break down and inefficiencies start to arise. We do monitor that with all of our players.

“But again, the opportunity is in front of Matt and we’ll see how far he can run with that.”

On the penalty kill, Chara (3:11 per game) averaged the 12th-most ice time among defensemen. Grzelcyk (1:01) will remain in a secondary role as Jeremy Lauzon takes more shifts. The 2015 second-round pick is willing to engage physically, at 6-1 and 205 pounds, though his skating and puck skills have held him back.

Without Zdeno Chara in the lineup, could Jeremy Lauzon be in for more work?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Lauzon, a left shot, cracked the lineup last season on the right side, beating out righthanded-shooting Connor Clifton (who was slowed by injuries but should be healthy for camp). John Moore, a spare part since signing with the Bruins in 2018, and former first-round picks Jakub Zboril (2015) and Urho Vaakanainen (2017) are hoping for a shot. If healthy, the righthanded Kevan Miller is a quality penalty killer.


“I don’t think we’ve ever not acknowledged we have some players we’d like to try and integrate and see whether or not they can handle things,” Sweeney said. “If not, then we may have to pivot and move in another direction.”

Regarding the latter solution, several teams are still above the salary cap and must shed salary by opening night (Jan. 13). Vegas (Alec Martinez, $4 million hit) and St. Louis (Carl Gunnarsson, $1.75 million) have veteran left-shot defensemen on expiring contracts.

Still-unsigned Ron Hainsey, 39, could be a depth option. He averaged slightly more PK time than Chara did last season. There are no better defensive defensemen on the free agent market than Travis Hamonic, though he plays the right side.

Perhaps the Coyotes could be persuaded to trade Alex Gologoski or Niklas Hjalmarsson, both experienced left shots, as trade-deadline rentals.

That’s all conjecture. What is concrete: The Bruins have no Chara, and a fleet of unproven potential replacements.

“Some of them have been sitting, percolating, as we say, in the development process and playing all those key integrated minutes in Providence and getting opportunities up here but being sheltered at times,” Sweeney said. “And they’re hopefully ready to take that ball and run with it.”


▪ Sweeney also said the Bruins would name a captain before the season begins, and that it will be “an obvious decision.” In his Zoom call, Chara made it even more clear.

“There is no question Patrice Bergeron is going to be the next captain of the Boston Bruins,” he said. “I think everybody knows that.”

Patrice Bergeron figures to follow Zdeno Chara as Boston's new captain.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

▪ Brad Marchand is expected to be on the ice when the Bruins open camp Sunday in Brighton. David Pastrnak is not.

“Marchy is doing really well,” Sweeney said of the No. 1 left wing, who had sports hernia surgery Sept. 14 and was expected to return in mid-January. “He’s been on the ice pretty much every day.

“It’s more of a volume and comfort level for him. He’s done a lot of work on and off the ice, and finding his hands and his timing and such now, and his overall conditioning. We’ll be careful with it, but he’s made a nice progression.

“Remains to be seen where we are as we move through camp and how he feels as a result of that as he introduces contact and such.”

Pastrnak, who had hip surgery two days after his linemate’s procedure, was expected back in mid-February.

“He won’t initially integrate into the main practice group,” Sweeney said. “It’s unlikely he starts the opening couple games, but we’re going to monitor week by week.”

Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.