Editor’s note- After a bit of a hiatus, we’re firing up the What’s Next series with Dominic Tiano addressing what could be considered by some as the “elephant in the room” with the Bruins- Zdeno Chara’s future- as he enters the final year of his contract, signed back before the B’s won the Stanley Cup- a seven-year extension on October 10, 2010. He’s not the bell cow defender he once was, but Dom tries to present a balanced case for both sides here, and so we leave it to you, the reader, to decide…- KL
It was January 7, 2017. The Boston Bruins were facing the Florida Panthers in the Sunshine State, a game they would win 4-0. But the biggest news from that game came when Panthers color commentator and Hall of Fame Defenceman Denis Potvin announced that he had a conversation with Zdeno Chara. Potvin stated Chara said he would like to play beyond his current contract and that he looks to Jaromir Jagr as inspiration. We now know, as reported by several media, that is the case.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Bruins and Chara can sign an extension as of July 1, 2017 for the 2018-2019 season. The question is: what is an extension going to cost the Bruins? Big Z is scheduled to earn $4 million in the final year of his contract and brings the same cap hit thanks to the “Kovalchuk Rule.” The Kovalchuk rule explained here
It’s hard to imagine Chara earning more than the $4 million he will for the upcoming season. Perhaps he’ll receive a bonus-laden contract as Jagr did at the same age where he earned $2 million in base salary and $2 million in bonuses. In this case, the Bruins would probably make the bonuses attainable, while at the same time protecting themselves in the event of a severe injury or a “bad season.”
At the same time, the Bruins must be weary that any deal would be a 35-plus deal and any contract remains on the books until it expires. Chara “could” decide after the upcoming season he “can no longer play at a high level” and thus call it a career, and he would remain on the books.
There are many, many fans who believe father time has caught up to Chara and it’s time for the Bruins to move on and the Bruins should begin the search for a replacement. Others feel that there are enough teams in a position where they have to deal away talent or lose that talent to the expansion draft, and that’s where the Bruins should be looking.
Is it possible the Bruins could acquire a top-end defenceman by that route? Sure, it is. But it’s more probable that a team like the Minnesota Wild makes a deal with the Las Vegas Golden Knights to not select one of the defencemen they must leave unprotected to meet the exposure requirements.
Now, we’re not about to argue Chara is the same player he was just a few short seasons ago. But there is no doubt from what these eyes have seen that Chara is the biggest piece of the d-corps (no pun intended) but we’ll allow for the argument by others to be made that he is no longer a core member of the Boston roster. As such, no one can really predict what his performance will look like for the 2018-19 season. This is the challenge that Don Sweeney and the Bruins front office faces, and it goes back to the David Backes debate- if you allow for the higher probability of more regression in Chara’s overall game/production in his age 41-42 season, then how much is his leadership and the dressing room presence he brings worth?
Chara had a good regular season. He raised his game to another level in the playoffs. He is still one of the premier shut down defencemen in the NHL. He is an ace on the penalty kill. He never possessed top-level foot speed, but he made up for it with his reach, smarts, experience and other abilities, so there is nothing to suggest he can’t continue that, even if his best days are behind him.
But what makes Chara more valuable to the Bruins than a rival club? Well, the influx of young d-men over the next couple of seasons, for one. He helped Brandon Carlo tremendously throughout the season, and that is something that Carlo himself observed numerous times throughout the season. Charlie McAvoy also benefited from being around Chara after he was forced in during the playoffs. We saw him time and time again absorbing every word Chara had to say to him. The captain “coaches” while he plays, and there is no one more respected for his Hall of Fame-worthy body of work or better to learn from when it comes to the finer points of playing the position.
Signing Chara to an extension isn’t a priority this offseason, but something I suspect will be addressed at some point before the season begins. Sure, we expect there will be a movement opposed to extending him, but we’re not in that category given how things came together this year.
If Chara wants to give it another go, it probably means Patrice Bergeron will have to wait just a little bit longer before he gets to wear the “C,” but in our eyes- the duo has been the face of the franchise’s leadership for more than a decade. For the right value on an extension beyond 2018, we’re all for letting that continue, because when Chara is gone, we may not ever see another like him in Boston again.