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Sweeney Discusses Departure of Zdeno Chara

General manager calls Boston's 14-year captain 'one of best to wear a Bruins uniform'

by Eric Russo @erusso22 / - Being the general manager of the Boston Bruins certainly has its perks. But on some days - perhaps, even, many days - it's far from the most enviable position on the planet.

Don Sweeney acknowledged as much as he discussed the departure of the club's 14-year captain, Zdeno Chara, to the Washington Capitals on a one-year contract.

"The single most unrewarding phone call I had [on Wednesday], to hear from [agent] Matt [Keator] and speak with Zdeno in what his decision ended up being," Sweeney said during a video conference on Thursday morning. "Zdeno…he walks in his own shadow, literally and figuratively. It was extremely difficult to go through the whole process…this extended over months and we gave him all the latitude in the world to make what was ultimately his decision, he and his family's decision alone.

"I wanted to make sure that we did that with the utmost respect that we possibly could…Zdeno is forever a member of the Boston Bruins and will be enshrined in both the Hall of Fame and, in my humble opinion, in the rafters amongst the greatest to ever wear a Boston Bruins uniform."

Sweeney made clear that the Bruins offered Chara a contract "months ago," but acknowledged that they were firm with the blue liner when discussing that he could be taking on a role that he was not quite used to during his 14 seasons in Black & Gold.

"I want to make sure it's abundantly clear that we had multiple, multiple discussions with Zdeno and Matt Keator," said Sweeney. "Very appreciative of all the dialogue and both sides being honest in terms of where they were. We had certainly offered a contract to Zdeno months ago and he indicated he wanted time to continue to work through, again, where he felt he was at, where the league was at and the return to play protocols, and the role we were describing and hoping to integrate him into with our hockey club."

Video: Sweeney addresses media after Chara's exit

Sweeney added that the club was up front with Chara about its desire to "to integrate some of the younger players that have had an opportunity to develop in our system and us trying to see whether they were capable of handling minutes and situations that they had not been exposed to." He also said that the Bruins did not lay out any specific parameters during the negotiations in regard to a number of games or minutes that Chara would be assigned moving forward.

"We describe it as an integrated role and just didn't make a categorical promise that he would have the exact same role that he had had in his 14 [seasons] - a historic career with the Boston Bruins," Sweeney went on to explain. "I was very sad. It's an unrewarding aspect of the job to see a player like that choose to leave."

Among the young blue liners that Sweeney mentioned as potentially having increased roles this season were Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Urho Vaakanainen. The latter two, both former first-round picks, have just seven games of NHL experience between them and will be competing for a more permanent place on the Bruins roster.

"I think it's really about the coaching and the encouragement aspect of these players getting their bearings and understanding the situations they're going to be put in," said Sweeney. "They have to rise up and take that challenge. 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. And they're hopefully ready to take that ball and run with it.

"It's no different than when Brandon Carlo came on the scene. He did not come in with the expectations that he was going to play with Zdeno in a top pair. He just emerged to be able to do that."

Charlie McAvoy - Chara's top-pairing partner since joining the team during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs - and Matt Grzelcyk will also be looked upon to take on more of the minutes that are now available. Veterans John Moore and Kevan Miller - who is returning from missing the entire 2019-20 season due to injury - will provide depth on the back end.

"We do have to spread those minutes around," said Sweeney. "We're going to do it by committee and allow some of these guys a little bit of trial and error…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…the competition will begin and there are no guarantees and we understand that."

McAvoy averaged 23:10 of ice time in 2019-20 to lead the Bruins - Chara was second at 21:01 - and is likely to take on the title of Boston's No. 1 defenseman.

"We don't want Charlie to change the way he plays in regards to who he's playing with," said Sweeney. "I do believe he plays a lion's share of the minutes and has puck possession. He leads our hockey club in those areas and we don't want that to change. He shouldn't feel that he needs any undue pressure on him to change.

"He just has to go out and play the way that Charlie is capable of playing…Charlie really shouldn't have any increased or added pressure. He's been at that level."

Video: A tribute to Zdeno Chara's fourteen years as a Bruin

Captain Obvious 

Sweeney confirmed that the Bruins would have a captain - the 19th in the club's history - for the upcoming season, saying it was an "obvious decision" but one they will not rush to make out of respect for Chara. The betting favorite to take the title is Patrice Bergeron, who has worn the 'A' since 2006. David Krejci and Brad Marchand also donned the 'A' last season.

"Yes, we expect to have a captain," said Sweeney. "We will allow this some time to breathe for Zdeno and his decision. We'll make a decision moving forward, I think it's an obvious decision and one that we'll make in a respectful manner at an appropriate time. But I think it is important to allow this moment, as raw as it is, to let it play out for the time being as we get on the doorstep to training camp. But we will do that in the right and appropriate manner."

Ultimately, regardless of who's next to wear the 'C', Sweeney believes that the team's leadership will require a collective effort.

"It's a little bit to be determined," said Sweeney. "I do believe we have a strong leadership core still in place and we have other players that would like to assume a larger responsibility in that, on and off the ice. And they have to grow into that. That's learned, that's not a born ability, in my opinion. And we're going to allow for some of that latitude."

Making Progress 

Sweeney provided updates on Brad Marchand (hernia) and David Pastrnak (hip), both of whom have been recovering from offseason surgeries. Marchand has been skating nearly every day and is expected to be with the team from the start of training camp.

"Marchy is doing really well," said Sweeney. "He's been on the ice pretty much every day. He will start to integrate into the main group of players from Day 1 of training camp. 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, meanwhile, is continuing to rehab off the ice and is likely to miss the start of the season. His progress will be updated on a weekly basis.

"David is certainly a longer timeline to return to play and be back on ice in a regular fashion," said Sweeney. "He won't initially integrate into the main practice group as he increases the volume in his own return to play. It's unlikely he starts the opening couple games but we're going to monitor week-by-week and we'll continue to give you updates as they progress."

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