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Chara contract makes perfect sense for him, Bruins

Captain, 41, is unique fit in Boston

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- There is a risk in just about every free agent signing, in every contract extension and new deal. Will the player perform up to expectations? Will his play be commensurate with his salary? Will he still be the same player in three years or five years or eight years?

That is particularly true as players age, as the years grow long on their knees and their quickness drips away. In general, a 41-year-old defenseman might fall into that category, one of proceeding with caution. 

Zdeno Chara is different.

In a move that makes complete sense for everyone involved, for Chara and the Boston Bruins and his family and his teammates, the Bruins signed Chara on Wednesday to a one-year contract with a base salary of $5 million and $1.75 million in performance-based incentives. It was, as general manager Don Sweeney said, a very important day for the Bruins.

 

[RELATED: Chara signs one-year contract with Bruins]

 

Chara is in his 12th season in Boston and 20th in the NHL, having captained the Bruins since signing with them as a free agent July 1, 2006. That makes him the longest-tenured captain in the League, a player who won a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and one who has set the tone for the Bruins, along with center Patrice Bergeron.

"I think it starts with performance," Sweeney said, in terms of how the Bruins looked at the contract for Chara, who could have been an unrestricted free agent July 1. "He's been a dominant player this year. He takes all the hard matchups still. He doesn't shy away from any situations and has embraced the role that he's kind of emerged into, peeling back a little bit of situational things and being very open-minded to that. 

"You see his minutes are still way up there -- some nights probably a little too high, he makes us a little nervous about it. But he's still the one saying, 'No, no, no, open the door. I'm going.'"

And though no 41-year-old defenseman can ever be what he was 12 years ago -- at 29 he was a premier player in the NHL -- Chara remains crucial to the Bruins. He plays the most among their defensemen against the highest quality of competition at 5-on-5, at 29.6 percent of the time. He ranks second in the NHL in shorthanded time on ice (251:13), trailing Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey (291:22).

Video: Bruins sign Zdeno Chara to one-year extension

Chara is 16th in the League in 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (53.27), between Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators (53.62) and John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars (53.25) among defensemen with at least 1,100 minutes played. He ranks second in average shorthanded time on ice per game (3:41) to Hainsey (3:56).

It goes on and on. 

And it's not just defensively. Chara has 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) this season, notable because he ranks last among Bruins defensemen in 5-on-5 zone start percentage (with at least 15 games played) at 50.3 percent. 

"He's indicated that he wants to perform at a high, high level. He expects to perform at a high level, and he's backed that up," Sweeney said. "So, for me, it was a very easy decision."

It's what Chara expects of himself, and what the Bruins have come to expect of their captain.

"Just keep pushing myself, every year, every season, every summer, to be better," Chara said. "It's as simple as that. If you don't do that, everything else will catch up and you're going to be just one of too many. I don't want to get to that. I want to be always pushing myself to be better."

It's about keeping up with his skating, with the pace of the game, with the League as it gets younger and he does not. 

It was, apparently, a negotiation that was not without its bumps. But Chara ultimately agreed to the one-year contract, enabling him to continue leading the Bruins on and off the ice.

Of course, it is likely not a coincidence that Charlie McAvoy, Chara's defense partner and the heir to his No. 1 defenseman title in Boston, is due to become a restricted free agent after next season season, when Chara's contract is set to expire.

Video: BOS@CHI: Chara wires wrist shot past Forsberg

"Looking at this from a bunch of different angles, for us, we have some forecasting to do in the next couple years, and we think the young group is emerging for our hockey club and wanted to be able to be able to explore some of the possibilities of signing some players," said Sweeney, whose team is one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division and hosts the Lightning at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, NESN, FS-F, NHL.TV). "That was relevant in all of our conversations."

Sweeney acknowledged that had Chara decided to become a free agent and test the waters, he was likely looking at a longer contract. So they found a compromise, helped by, as Sweeney said, "him understanding what we're trying to do as an organization and commit to our guys as the next core group while this core group leads us to where we are today." 

But Chara's priority was always to remain in Boston, and it made sense for the Bruins to keep him.

For how much longer? How many more one-year contracts are in his future? 

Chara said he believes that he will be playing beyond this new contract, beyond a season when he'll turn 42, and into one when he'll turn 43. But it's not as simple as desire.

"It goes by performance. I have to perform," Chara said. "The rest of it, it will fall into place."

NHL.com fantasy editor Rob Reese contributed to this report.

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