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.
The link to the “Kovalchuk rule” didn’t work. Here it is here http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/bruins-chara-extension/
Looking at what he did in the playoffs and the benefit he has had on players like McAvoy and Carlo, I think it is almost a no brainer that he should be extended. I say ‘almost’ only because I would not be shocked if his market value around the league is still high enough to make signing him to an over 35 deal a legitimate risk.
Many elite NHL players are able to maintain significant value well into their 40s, and Chara strikes me as that kind of player. I would bet on him still being a quality top 4 guy at age 45.
While I agree that Chara can be effective into his 40’s, the Bruins have to realize that he is Nicholas Lidstrom. They have to reduce his minutes and allow him to be a mentor to O’Gara, Carlo, and McAvoy etc. I have no problem at having him on the team for 4 million a year.
I am a huge Chara fan, but if I am Sweeney, I wait as long as I can before making the decision to extend Chara. As we have seen with Carlo and McAvoy, these young D have an uncanny ability to jump in and eat up huge minutes. If Lauzon, for example, has a dominant camp and proves he is NHL ready THIS year, does that have an impact on whether you extend or trade Chara? It might. One thing is for sure – the swift emergence of Carlo and McAvoy puts the Bruins in a position of relative strength at D coming into 2017-18. How cool is that!?
Would have said ‘no’ a couple of months ago, but now I think if both parties were to go year-to-year as this teams weens itself off of their reliance on Chara — it would be a good situation for both parties. He is slowing down, but he did have a good season and a good playoff. We all know he is a beast.
I agree with everything Kirk has written, great stuff. I think we have to be cautious and we can’t just show loyalty here. I think we don’t talk extension until the end of next season. If we do extend him we should go year by year after that. Also find a way to respectfully slid the captaincy over to Bergeron at the end of next season. I think he’s a good shut down guy still but his role will diminish and if he can be okay with sliding to 2nd pairing and eventually 3rd pairing I have no problem with keeping him around.
I think some of the speculation comes from the fact that the two major left shot defense prospects (Lauzon and Zboril) may not be ready for primetime just yet. We have Kevan MIller playing the left side as a righty, and Torey Krug as the established NHL left side “D”. Extending Chara for a year buys time for Zboril, Lauzon to maybe play in Providence for a year, and then if they come up thereafter and not to be thrust into Top 4 minutes right away. I think we have been spoiled by having Carlo and McAvoy integrate into Top 4 roles off the bat. That is the exception and not the rule.
I’m not discounting O’Gara and Gryzleck, but they project as more bottom pair guys from what I’ve read (I could be wrong). If you extend Chara, and then Zboril or Lauzon flash early, you now have a valuable trade chip during the trade deadline in the next year or two in Chara. If I were the Bruins, I would insist that an extension doesn’t include a full no trade clause. You could sell to Chara that if things don’t go well in Boston, he would have one last chance to play for the Cup on a contending team.
One other minor consideration. Signing Chara for one more year allows you to integrate Zboril or Lauzon a year later than earlier, and you can push off the expiration of their entry level deals. Their second contract would coincide closer to the expiration of the Krejci and Backes deals. As it is, for at least 2 years, you are going to need to have second contracts for Carlo and McAvoy, while still carrying the back end of Backes and Krejci (and dare I say Bergeron). Tight fit for a cap number that doesn’t seem to be rising if history tells us anything. We don’t want another Johnny Boychuk situation where we like the player, but just don’t have the room to pay him.
This past year Chara was roughly 30th in ES and SH TOI/G, and 38th overall in total minutes. This year his cap hit will put him 70th(!!!) in the league for defensemen.
Add in that he can be an anchor for a young defenseman’s development and you absolutely bring him back.
Like some suggested, if some kids show they are ready for the show sans training wheels you can entertain moving on from him, but a better scenario is mid- or post-season extension that sees him earn upwards of $4M based on GP bonuses.