By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Back in late November, the NHL was in an uproar because Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson made comments about how they planned to max out in unrestricted free agency when they hit the open market in July 2019.
That got me wondering what a then-40-year-old defenseman, with a Norris Trophy win and Stanley Cup championship on his resume, who was still dominating as a top-pair defenseman, might be worth if he hit the open market in July 2018.
“Oh, I have no idea. You tell me,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara responded back then to a question about his value.
“Obviously you’re playing the game, at my point, where I’m at, I play the game because I really enjoy the game. I love the competing level, but at the same time you want to be valued properly and you just want to be treated with respect and where you belong,” Chara continued after he was pressed to think more about the situation. “Money’s not the most important thing but at the same time you have to be aware of … where you belong.”
The Bruins and Chara announced where he belongs Wednesday, when the team signed Chara to a one-year extension worth $5 million (with $1.75 million in potential bonuses). Chara is in the final year of a seven-year contract that had an average annual value of just under $7 million but counted against the Bruins’ salary cap for $4 million. He signed it before the 2011 Stanley Cup championship season when he still had one year left on the deal he initially signed with Boston on July 1, 2006.
Chara said at the start of the 2017-18 season his priority was to keep playing and to do it for the Bruins, and his performance this season, during which he turned 41, made it impossible for the Bruins to play around in negotiations.
Chara is the Bruins’ leader in average ice time (23:00 per game) and third-leading scorer among defensemen with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists).
“He’s been a dominant player this year. He takes all the hard matchups still, doesn’t shy away from any situations and has embraced the role that he’s kind of emerged into,” general manager Don Sweeney said, referring to Chara’s lack of power-play time the past two seasons. “You see his minutes are still way up there, and some nights probably a little too high where it makes us a little nervous about it. But he’s still the one saying ‘open the door, I’m going.’ Again that just speaks to his preparation and it also speaks to the fact that he wants to continue to play and that’s part of it.”
Chara will be paid fair market rate and won’t hinder the Bruins’ ability to re-sign free agents (like Anton Khudobin) or extend their young stars (like Charlie McAvoy). He’s always been a team player, and now Chara will be a fairly compensated teammate (relative to the rest of the league) on a roster that should continue to keep him young with blossoming talent on every line and defense pair.
And he’ll continue to nurture that young talent both as a captain on the ice and a mentor off it. Sweeney spoke of the “high bar” Bruins players young and old know they have to strive for with Chara running the room and pushing himself to the limit. But there’s a side of Chara that often gets overlooked in helping the Bruins succeed: his role as team encyclopedia.
Whenever a teammate has a question, his best bet to get the most complete, accurate answer is to turn to Chara, whose extensive reading on long flights and bus rides pays off for everyone in black and gold.
“I like that,” Chara told me earlier this season. “I like to be always on my toes when people ask questions, whether it’s housing related or financially related, nutrition related, I like to have the answers for them. It’s fun too because it keeps me also kind of like I have to be always updated, updating myself and getting information and learning stuff and following the news.”
Everyone saw what Chara did for Brandon Carlo as a rookie partner on the ice last season. Carlo had a fine first professional season and now has been able to play on his own defense pair, with Charlie McAvoy learning from the captain. But off the ice, Chara also aided Carlo in life’s twists and turns.
“Definitely we’ve had some conversations about different things,” Carlo said. “Obviously it’s a league where you’re making a little bit of money. So conversations like that, financially, things like that, because he’s obviously got a lot of experience over the years with his contracts and stuff like that.
“Just little conversations on where you should maybe put your money and where you shouldn’t, things like that.”
The Bruins didn’t have to think twice about where they wanted to put their money, and for the second time Chara decided staying with the Bruins was more important than testing the open market. It’ll be up to Doughty and Karlsson to try to raise the going rate for No. 1 defensemen, because Zdeno Chara is staying in Boston, looking to make sure the Bruins’ youth reaches its potential and the Bruins achieve maximum results.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.