The news that broke Wednesday about Zdeno Chara leaving the Boston Bruins was stunning. There’s no other word for it.

In a way, it felt just like the gut punch New England fans got when Tom Brady announced he was leaving in March. Brady won more and played longer in town than Chara did in Boston, but Brady’s final year was marred by speculation every day that he was leaving, whereas Chara’s announcement snuck up on the Bruins faithful.

It’s not easy when this happens. Bruins fans should feel sad. Chara became an institution in Boston, one of the game’s best defensemen and one of it’s best leaders. He embodied the team’s blue-collar nature, he was tough, he was durable, he was reliable.

They shouldn’t feel mad, however. At least, not at the team for letting the Chara era come to an end. It was going to end at some point. All the Bruins did was pick the year.

If fans are upset because letting Chara go makes the Bruins a worse team for 2021 than they were a week ago, especially considering Torey Krug had already left, then that’s fair. And if they feel the team should have given its longtime captain more of a heads-up about where it was heading, that’s fair too.

But that doesn’t seem to be why fans were beside themselves when the news broke. It would seem the reason words like “travesty” and “ridiculous” and “embarrassing” were used across social media was because the Bruins had the gall to let Zdeno Chara, the captain of the team, the face of the franchise and future Hall of Famer, play somewhere else.

In that regard, the Bruins deserve a pass. They didn’t trade him, they didn’t low-ball him. They simply went another direction. They have that right.

This was going to happen at some point. It was either this year or next year. Or the year after that. Had it been either of those years, there would have been just as strong a reaction. If fans are mortified to see Chara in another uniform, that feeling wouldn’t have been made easier with time. The Bruins just chose now as the time to rip off the Band-Aid.

And what’s the alternative? That Chara has a spot on the Bruins’ roster as long as he wants to keep playing? That if he wanted to keep coming back at 44, 45, 46, 47, the team would have to reserve a spot for him regardless of whether or not his play warranted one?

Sports don’t work like that. They’ve never worked like that. To hope it would happen for Chara would be a unique scenario, not a common one.

Think of the players who were icons with their franchises and retired with the only organizations they ever knew. Steve Yzerman with the Detroit Red Wings, Joe Sakic with the Colorado Avalanche, even Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers or Derek Jeter with the New York Yankees. Yzerman tallied 51 points in 75 games at 39 years of age, showed his age at 40, and retired. Sakic scored 100 points at 36 for Colorado, and was done two years later. Bryant was an aging and injury-prone, but still effective player up until the end. Jeter batted .316 at 38 years old, and didn’t show age over a whole season until his final year in pinstripes.

The point is, those players didn’t force their teams to keep them on board even as their careers declined. They remained All-Star caliber players and assets to their team, and once they got to a point where their teams were going to have to make a hard decision about bringing them back, they called it quits. Had Yzerman tried to hang on into his mid-40s, would the Red Wings have been obligated to save a spot for him? Same with the Avalanche and Sakic if he kept playing?

No. Teams move on. It’s the unfortunate nature of sports, but it is nature nonetheless. And those players might very well have seen that for themselves.

The unique thing with Chara is that he has tested Father Time better than the vast majority of athletes. At 43, he’s still a capable NHL defenseman. And that’s why the Bruins have kept him on board for as long as they have, and why Chara has every right to stick around in the league. If you can still do the job, why retire? Just because your age says you should?

But the Bruins were faced with the same predicament the Patriots were. With a player in his 40s, the odds increase exponentially that he’s going to wake up one day no longer able to do it. The player who seemingly yesterday could hold is own is now too slow, too frail.

The Bruins knew this. They had seen Chara’s physical skills take a hit, and his role diminish over time. So, faced with the decision whether or not to bring back a 43-year-old defenseman for an even smaller role, they concluded it was time for a change.

Maybe it wasn’t the right move. Maybe the 2021 Bruins would be better with Chara than without.

But to insist that the Bruins should have done differently because of who Chara is and has been is to insist that they should have treated him differently than so many other aging athletes we’ve seen.

Players get old, and teams move on. It’s never easy to accept when it happens.

New England fans saw it for themselves in March. And now they’re seeing it again.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.