Boston's leader suffered a tear in the ligament in the back of his left knee (posterior cruciate ligament) during Thursday night's game against the New York Islanders. He won't require surgery, as of now, and could be back sooner than four weeks.
But that leaves at least a month that the Bruins will have to make due without their go-to defenseman.
On Friday, the Bruins called in reinforcements from the Providence Bruins, recalling Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow on an emergency basis.
Kevan Miller is still sidelined by a dislocated right shoulder. He is progressing, but there is no timetable on his return.
Trotman and Morrow both joined the Bruins for practice at TD Garden, before the team traveled to Toronto.
Trotman made his NHL debut with Boston in 2013-14, and has played in two career games. Morrow has never seen NHL action. This marks his first recall with the Bruins. He was acquired on July 4, 2013, in the seven-player trade with Dallas that also brought in Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser.
With Trotman and Morrow in the mix for the foreseeable future, that give the Bruins seven healthy defensemen on their roster.
Dennis Seidenberg is now the most veteran player (624 games played), followed by Adam McQuaid (229), Dougie Hamilton (115), Torey Krug (91) and Matt Bartkowski (87).
There was plenty of talk about the Bruins' defensive depth throughout training camp and the preseason. While there was not much mention at the time of Trotman or Morrow, with the focus on the other blueliners, Head Coach Claude Julien believes both are nearly NHL-ready.
"Absolutely. Absolutely," Julien said following Friday's practice. "Both those guys I think are going to become regulars in the NHL very soon, so this is how close they are and they've had good camps, so it's an opportunity for them to step in there and get some experience and help us out."
"They’re both strong kids. They’re both good skaters. They both can find seems, can find lanes," GM Peter Chiarelli said during a press conference Friday, when he announced Chara's injury.
"Joe’s been a consistent performer down there. Zach just lately has been picking up his game. So they’re both strong kids that can skate."
Both Trotman and Morrow have had plenty of grooming in the AHL.
Trotman is in his third season pro with Providence after three years at Lake Superior State. The 6-foot-3, 219-pound blueliner - whom the Bruins drafted last overall (210th) in the 2010 draft after trading for Chicago's final pick - has suited up in 110 AHL games.
"Any time you get a chance to come up and play, it's another step forward in your career, and you just kind of live in the moment and make the most of it," Trotman said following Friday's practice.
The 24-year-old's first NHL experience was a whirlwind last December, taking a cab several hours from Glens Falls, New York to Ottawa, and arriving seven minutes into warmups.
That game, on December 28, was the last time Chara missed a game due to injury, and the only game he's missed a game due to injury in the past three seasons.
"Obviously, you never want to hear about a guy getting hurt, especially a guy like Zee, someone you look up to and everything," said Trotman. "So my first thought was, that's terrible. But I didn't really think too much about being called up or anything you're just kind of preparing as usual for [Friday night's game] in Providence obviously. So when I got the call, I was excited to come up but it's sad to hear about Zee."
Trotman signed a new two-year deal with Boston this summer, with a one-way contract kicking in for the 2015-16 season. This presents an opportunity for him to prove himself at the NHL level.
"Well obviously, the first year is a two-way deal, so that means I've still got some work to do to prepare myself for next season, but it's nice that they showed some faith in me and they believe that I can play up here the following year," he said. "So obviously I want to try and make it tough on them, coming out of camp and trying to play my way into the lineup before it's not given to me so to speak, but more expected."
During Friday's practice, Trotman practiced mostly on a pairing with Bartkowski. Though pairs always rotate during skates, Seidenberg was mostly paired with Hamilton, and Krug with McQuaid.
While those will likely be the pairings for Saturday night in Toronto against the Leafs, Julien hasn't yet indicated his plan for inserting Trotman or Morrow into the lineup.
Morrow could get the nod for a game soon, given his consistent start to the season down with Providence.
Like Trotman, the 6-foot-1, 204-pound Morrow is in his third season pro, having played 122 career AHL games, including 56 with Providence.
"I had a mindset coming into this year that I would start strong and put myself in a good position that if anything like this did happen, that I would kind of be that guy and I felt like I just played really consistent," said Morrow. "We only played four or five games, but throughout that, I played way over 20 minutes a game, I was kind of the go-to guy and it felt good for once to be relied on in defensive situations and things like that and a lot of positive reviews, so it's a good confidence boost."
The 21-year-old hasn't spent much time thinking about where he fits into the organization, or when he might get the call. He's just been focusing on his game, and trusting that the rest will play out.
"You just go out and play as hard as you can in the American Hockey League and wait for your opportunity," he said. "And hopefully you're prepared to show them that you can prove your spot here."
With Morrow and Trotman joining predominantly strong skaters like Hamilton, Krug and Bartkowski, the Bruins' defense corps naturally has a different look than the one with Chara and Miller.
"Yeah, those guys are big, strong, shutdown guys," said Chiarelli. "The two guys that we’re bringing up they’re younger, less experienced players that don’t have the resume that the guys that are hurt have, so you make do with what you have at this point. They have their assets, they have their good parts of their game."
"They’re both strong skaters, and they’re strong. While they’re not pure shutdown guys like a Miller or Zee—he’s more than just a pure shutdown guy — but they have their things they can bring to the table and excel at. So it’s not a change of identity. These guys are strong and they can defend. I think that’s what the consistent thing is."
Bruins Preach 'Team Game' with Chara Out
With the absence of Chara and Miller, the game will go on. The emphasis will not be on young players slotting in on the back end, or players like Seidenberg and Hamilton assuming larger roles.
The Bruins are stressing that it's going to take a collective effort to make up for the loss of Chara.
"It is a team sport, right?" said Julien. "So again, I just said, the loss of Zee shouldn't mean that we can't win hockey games, and I don't think one guy should be the guy to replace our captain here."
"This is about a team, it's about our team playing well and that's up to us to show that [Saturday] in Toronto, that we can play a good team game."
"It doesn't matter if he's in or he's out, we still have to play the same way," said Tuukka Rask. "And it's a good chance for the young D to really step up and show what they can do, especially defensively - we know there's some offensive talent out there for us, but now we really have to be focused on our defense and take pride in that."
The Bruins have been very vocal about their defensive game not being good enough to start the season, and that applies to everyone in the Spoked-B.
"I hope this is the last wakeup call for us, to really fight with each other and play as a unit out there," said Rask. "Because when we get away from that, it doesn't go our way at all and when we're missing him, everybody has to recognize that it becomes more important, and maybe something clicks in our heads and we start working as a unit, and eliminating those mistakes."
Practice Lineup 10/24
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Seth Griffith
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Simon Gagne/Matt Fraser
Dennis Seidenberg - Dougie Hamilton
Torey Krug - Adam McQuaid
Matt Bartkowski - Zach Trotman
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg