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Who should play if Chara is out?

There are some choices to be made. All are options. It’s up to you to decide which is best.

Finland v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Now, I know you’re reading this and probably sitting there getting a bit pale at the thought, but we have to consider this a pretty strong possibility. Even if Chara shows up in a full-on cage so thick a bullet couldn’t break through, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll play any longer than a few minutes at most, and even then it’s unlikely the Bruins would subject their ancient-by-hockey-player-standards veteran captain to possibly making his list of potential offseason medical procedures and recovery time even worse than it probably already is.

So that puts the B’s in a slightly bigger pickle than they already were in after Matt Grzelcyk went down due to Oscar Sundqvist braining him. They need to possibly fill a gaping void. And that could be...problematic.

Who do they have on hand?:

Well, they have...

Already at practices:
  • Steven Kampfer - RHD
  • Urho Vaakanainen - LHD
  • Matt Grzelcyk - LHD
Probably a call away:
  • Jeremy Lauzon - LHD
  • Jakub Zboril - LHD

The issue can be largely summed up in one of the few Family Guy bits to actually be genuinely funny:

And let’s be clear. The boat in this case isn’t a Pontoon or a Runabout. It’s not replacing the slow-but-reliable, way-bigger-than-it-needs-to-be boat you just lost after two decades of having it, at least not all the way. If you’re being nice about it, it’s a smaller boat with character that has shown to be quite useful in a pinch and has proven to be very recently! But if you’re being objective, which would require you to be kinda’s a sheet metal row-boat with a dirty engine strapped to it that, if you overwork even slightly, will spell disaster for you in these treacherous waters.

That’s Steven Kampfer. A guy who was in 2 playoff games this year: one where he did almost nothing in his 11 minutes on the ice and another where he got the ball rolling in burying the Hurricanes in their own gore in the second. During the regular season, he had a clearly defined role: Eighth defender who could play in limited roles, never seeing himself finish top four in defender ice time. Of the 35 games, 14 of them saw him 5th in ice time, and 21 games as last in ice time. You know what you’re going to get with Kampfer, and its not as much as other options, though this could make sense should Cassidy opt for 7 defenders.

Urho Vaakanainen: And then you get to the mystery box. The box could be anything! It could even be a boat! You know how much you’ve wanted another one of those! It could be a better boat, but it could also be pretty bad!

The higher upside of the two who practiced Wednesday, however experience and rust is against him. Vaakanainen has not played a game in 41 days (4/26 in the Calder Cup playoffs). His NHL experience is also limited, having seen just under 33 minutes in 3 games, including one where he sustained a concussion which kept him out for almost two months. Both of these have led to Cassidy saying that Vaakanainen playing would be a “Long shot”.

Matt Grzelcyk: Another injury question involves Clifton’s third pairing partner for most of the playoffs, currently in concussion protocol. He participated in practice, and while there were bad signs - practicing in a red no contact jersey - there were also promising signs, with him playing on the second power play unit. His return could make this all a moot point, as long as he doesn’t have symptoms stemming from practice today. He would still have to pass a Neuropsychologist’s evaluation to be cleared for contact, though he could have already been halfway through it by the start of practice.

Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol
Return to contact stipulations

Zdeno Chara: While its very much a long shot, a 42 year old Chara, who knows this might be his last best shot at another cup, could be doing all he needs to do in order to play Thursday night. In 2013 he played through an unspecified injury in the finals, while not at 100%. What percentage Chara is better than Kampfer? 60%? 70%? Can (and more importantly) does Chara want to play through the pain and risk further injury for the glory of raising the Stanley Cup? It wouldn’t surprise me to see him take warmups, just to get the Blues thinking he can and will play.

Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon: While both are with the team, neither participated in practice today, making them longer shots than even Vaakanainen. Lauzon did have an decent stint with the Bruins, including 5 games playing over Kampfer. However, his play faded, and ice time dwindled until he was benched, and then sent back down to Providence.

The last option involves something the Bruins have yet to do this year: Sit an under-performing forward and go with 11 forwards and 7 defenders, in the situation that Chara’s condition deteriorates during play, or as insurance in case one of the young defenders can’t hang. Part of the reason the Bruins have yet to play with an 11 and 7 lineup has been health: They have only had their top 7 (Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Carlo, Grzelcyk, Miller, and Moore) healthy for 14 games. Even with Kampfer, as well as the emergence of Connor Clifton, dressing 7 defenders becomes a headache for forwards too, with the bottom six being the only lines producing, the Bruins are limited in who to take out of the lineup to insert the extra defender. David Backes would be the logical choice, having averaged 9:36 per game against St. Louis, and 11:13 per game during the 2019 playoffs. It would definitely be A Story™...but if the B’s want to make the most of this? They can’t leave any option off the table.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs need to be a shining moment not only for players, but for coaches. The Bruins have a tied series, but they’re in a tight spot. The right move can either make or break this series.

They have to get it right.