Pondering Boston’s defense without Chara

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If multiple reports are correct, the Boston Bruins will be without defenseman Zdeno Chara for at least four-to-six weeks. That’s a scary thought considering the fact that Chris Kelly described the blueliner as “irreplaceable,” according to the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa.

Head coach Claude Julien seemed a little less dour about the situation, although it’s important to note that his comments came before the update dropped. (Granted, he may have been aware that it was a significant injury already …)

While discussing life without the 37-year-old defenseman, Kelly said that they’ll have to replace Chara as a group. That’s probably the best way to approach the situation, as “The Big Z” ranks as one of the NHL’s few do-everything defenseman.

He headed into Thursday averaging just a bit less than 24 minutes of ice time per game, which is a shift or two lower than his 2013-14 mark but is still the workload of a No. 1 defenseman.

Counting Thursday’s game, only Torey Krug has logged more power-play time on ice while Chara towers over everyone else in penalty kill work. He’s the kind of player you match up against an opposing team’s top line on a night-to-night basis.

Many point out the cruel coincidence of Chara going down on the night of Johnny Boychuk’s return to Boston, and it’s easy to see why. Boychuk’s versatility would have been especially valuable in a time like this.

Shouldering the burden of Chara’s loss may come down to the combined efforts of veterans like Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid (each averaging about two minutes of PK time per game) and young upstarts Dougie Hamilton and Krug.

While those defensemen may absorb the loss collectively, others face potential opportunities to prove that they deserve more reps. Matt Bartkowski has been a frequent healthy scratch, yet Julien may need to lean on him on a nightly basis.

Shinzawa discusses the players who might get called up with Chara on the shelf:

If he can’t play, the Bruins will call up a defenseman from Providence. If they need a left shot, David Warsofsky and Chris Breen are options. If they want a third right shot to complement Hamilton and McQuaid, they could tab Zach Trotman or Chris Casto.

On the bright side, NHL.com’s Arpon Basu believes that Boston’s schedule is pretty merciful:

Of course, Basu provided a grim glimpse later on Thursday, too:

Much has been written about how Boston will move on without Chara. The Bruins probably don’t want this to be a lengthy sneak peek at that future, yet we could learn a lot about this team in the next month or more.