A brand new season presents a clean slate for NHL players in many ways, but injuries can linger from 2018-19 (and before that).
The odds of something carrying over into 2019-20 only grow when you consider a team that played all the way through Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, as Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins did. Along with the figurative pain of falling to the St. Louis Blues, Chara is still recovering from the literal pain of a broken jaw and issues with his elbow, which prompted offseason surgeries.
It’s to the point that Chara isn’t absolutely sure he’ll be able to play in the Bruins’ season-opener (against the Stars in Dallas on Oct. 3), as the Boston Globe’s Matt Porter reports.
“I’m not sure,” Chara said. “I think I should be, but it’s a process of making sure there are no setbacks or any discomfort.”
The Bruins must be disappointed by that idea, yet honestly, maybe this is an opportunity as much as it is an obstacle.
Chara is 42 already, and has put a ton of mileage on his body already. The Bruins have to know that he’s close to the end of the line, so it might be wise to rest Chara in strategic ways, anyway. Even if he can play in Game 1, maybe you make it a policy to only have Chara play half of every back-to-back set, or continue to scale down his minutes. After all, the Bruins aren’t that far from seeing the Big Z retire (we think?), and at that point they’d need to replace those 20+ minutes on an 82-game basis.
And, really, the Bruins would be wise to occasionally rest many key players.
After all, that deep playoff run meant a shorter offseason, which meant less time to recover and/or train for 2019-20.
Chara’s the most obvious example of a player who should stand as an example of the Bruins following the NBA’s lead with “load management.” Patrice Bergeron has been in the NHL since he was 18, so you could call him an “old” 34 (even though he turned 34 in July), and he’s suffered through the sort of ghastly injuries that make you cringe once playoff runs end. David Krejci‘s odometer is up there at 33, and Brad Marchand‘s even sneaky-old at 31.
Yes, resting star players during the regular season might mean slipping in the standings a bit, which could mean playing a Game 7 against, say, Toronto on the road instead of at home. But, honestly, that extra freshness might be the difference in a tough series, and winning the Atlantic Division doesn’t look like an easy task in 2019-20.
No, Chara limping (or at least holding his jaw) through the beginning of this season isn’t a “good” thing. Still, if the Bruins take this as a catalyst to be forward-thinking, there could at least be an element of it being a blessing in disguise.