Just hours before the Bruins got back to work in their season opener against Phoenix in Prague, the club took care of one final bit of offseason business.
The Bruins announced Saturday morning that they had signed captain Zdeno Chara to a seven-year extension. Terms were not disclosed, but the Boston Globe reported that the deal is worth $45.5 million, which would eclipse the franchise record set with the five-year, $37.5-million deal Chara signed when he first came to Boston as a free agent in 2006.
While the total dollar amount of this new deal is higher than the last, it also spans two more years. So Chara's cap hit will actually decrease to $6.5 million when the extension kicks in next season, down from his current $7.5 million. Chara will carry that cap hit through the 2017-18 season.
"In the end, both sides gave a little to get it done," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "I was pretty confident that we'd get it done. I think it's a huge commitment from both sides, from Z's side and from ownership's side to enter into this type of contract."
The contract follows on the heels of Friday's three-year, $15-million extension for center Patrice Bergeron, as the Bruins have successfully avoided allowing their two most important impending free agents from hitting the open market next summer.
After Bergeron's deal was announced, Chara expressed optimism that he would finalize a new contract as well despite time running out before the start of the season and Chara's preference not to negotiate during the season. But talks hit a snag in the summer after the league rejected the Devil's initial long-term deal with Ilya Kovalchuk, making any lengthy multi-year deals more difficult to hammer out.
"I was very confident and positive about getting this deal done before the season," said Chara after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Phoenix. "Obviously Kovalchuk's situation was a little extreme and maybe put negotiations on hold for a little bit, but I just knew we would get this done and I would be a Bruin.
"As soon as I arrived in Boston it was my goal to establish this team and be contenders," added Chara. "I want to be a big part of it. It's a solid organization. I feel very proud to be a part of it. I feel very comfortable around the whole team, coaching staff and management. My first priority and goal was to stay in Boston."
Chara's optimism proved well founded. Now the only question is whether this was the right deal for the Bruins.
There is no doubt that Boston needed to keep Chara in the fold. He's just one year removed from winning the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman in 2009 and remains the team's leader on and off the ice. He's annually among the league leaders in ice-time and is Boston's top offensive threat from the blue line as well as one of the league's premier shutdown defenders.
"He's been, obviously, a big part of our team," said Chiarelli. "He's our captain. He embodies a lot of what we stand for. Works hard on and off the ice. Incredible desire to win. He's probably the hardest working person I've seen on and off the ice. So he's leads by example."
But Chara is also 33, and this deal will take him past his 40th birthday. He's a noted fitness fanatic and has proven very durable throughout his stay in Boston. Despite a serious hand injury that hampered him much of last year, he missed just two games all season, including the regular-season finale when Claude Julien rested several of his veterans after clinching the sixth seed in the East. In four seasons in Boston, he's missed just 11 total games despite logging so many minutes and playing such a physical style.
"He's still growing as a player and we think he can probably play beyond this contract," said Chiarelli. "So it's our pleasure to extend him and we're happy to have him for many more years."
Still, there is risk in signing Chara to that long of an extension at such a high cap hit. But it would have been an even greater risk to let him reach free agency and potentially sign a deal to play out the rest of his 30s in another city.