Here I was thinking the only thing to look forward to over the next eight days while the Bruins are overseas is the season-opener in Prague against Phoenix.
Now it turns out Oct. 9 might also be a deadline for the Bruins to get captain Zdeno Chara signed to a contract extension.
The news hit me with full force today despite coming across the Web all the way from Belfast. On Sept. 7, Chara broached the subject of his contract talks and basically seemed unconcerned about those negotiations carrying over into the season. Today Chara seemed a lot more committed to getting something done before the games count.
“We’re not on the exact same track,” Chara told Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com and the assembled media at Odyssey Arena. “But we’re talking and we’ll see how it goes. Obviously I don’t want to have it bother me during the season, so we have a few days left.”
I immediately wondered if there was suddenly a race on that no one previously told us about. In response to an email on the matter (specifically the hard deadline), Chara’s agent Matt Keator had the following response to TheBruinsBlog.net:
“We will see where things go in the coming days. We have been talking but are apart.”
So then let’s all assume the starting gun has gone off. Of course, the Bruins aren’t in a do-or-die situation to prevent Chara from becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1. General manager Peter Chiarelli would still have exclusive negotiating rights from the end of the season through June 30 to keep the star blueliner off the market. But the Bruins would run the risk that feeling unloved could hinder Chara’s play or serve as a distraction not just to the captain but to the team. In a perfect world, the Bruins get this deal done. But there are obvious hang-ups, as expressed by both Chara and Keator.
When Chara and Keator talk about the sides being apart, it’s pretty obvious by piecing together what they’re willing to say publicly that the biggest disagreement probably is related to term. In Belfast, Chara floated the idea of playing past age 40 and maybe even making it to 45. He’s 33 now. Slow down, big boy. There’s no precedent either way for a 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman in the NHL because he is the first.
Yes, with his rigorous workout regimen and unheard of natural physical attributes, Chara might last that long. Or he could break down at a normal human rate with age, or maybe even slow down faster because of both his size and the amount of mileage on his odometer. All the years in the NHL, skating in Olympic Games, World Championships and World Cups undoubtedly take their toll on everyone, and players that rely on physicality and intimidation the way Chara does are more susceptible to being caught by Father Time.
Even if the Bruins want to grant Chara the confidence that they think he can play until 40, it’s still unlikely the team could get him signed for that long, keep him happy financially and allow for the necessary cap flexibility to put a competitive team around him. Assuming that any deal signed under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement would still fit under a new agreement by the second half of a hypothetical seven-year deal, the Bruins can no longer take the controversial front-loading approach in the aftermath of the Ilya Kovalchuk saga and the investigation into four other similar contracts.
Owner Jeremy Jacobs this week was adamant that the Bruins will be very careful when it comes to loopholes and circumvention, and no one can blame him. He saw what the NHL did to punish loyalist Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey organization, so Jacobs knows that his past devotion to the commissioner and his current perch of power wouldn’t prevent a similar fate for his club if Gary Bettman and company smell anything fishy with a Chara contract.
There’s also the matter of a no-movement clause, which has became a hot-button issue this week in light of the Wade Redden and Sheldon Souray situations in New York and Edmonton, respectively. Even if Jacobs was willing to foot the bill, the Chara camp will want to make sure that a possibly disintegrating Chara (one that can’t make it to 40, never mind 45) doesn’t get buried in the minors.
“You now have examples of guys being moved who don’t have (a no-movement clause),” Keator told The Sporting News. “Obviously, it’s going to be an important issue in the Chara negotiations.”
While there might be some vital stumbling points that still need to be overcome in these talks, all seems amicable at this point. The only way to iron this all out is to keep talking. The Bruins might need Chara — the centerpiece of their perennially stingy defense — a little more than he needs the Bruins. I’d hate to be Chiarelli if forced to try to replace one of the league’s premier backliners.
But there’s no telling what the financial landscape will be for Chara on the open market next summer, to say nothing of his expressed desire to stay with Boston and finish his career in black and gold. If both sides have the same goal, to get Chara signed and remain with Boston, then there’s no reason to stop talks just because the official games are on.
The only deadline that should be placed on these talks is stop talking when a deal is done.