By Mary Paoletti
PRAGUE -- Zdeno Chara wanted contract negotiations done by the time the regular season started. It came down to the wire, but he got his wish.
The blueliner agreed to a 7-year, 45.5 million extension on the morning of Boston's season opener. This contract and the extension of Patrice Bergeron are huge in terms of the Bruins locking down their future.
Boston's captain was never worried.
"I was very confident, positive about getting this deal done before the season.''
"As soon as I arrived in Boston with general manager Peter Chiarelli, that was my goal; to establish this team and become contenders, and obviously I want to be a big part of it,'' Chara said. "It's a very solid organization. I'm very proud to be a Bruin. I feel very comfortable around the whole team and coaching staff, management and players.
"My first priority and goal was to stay in Boston,'' he repeated. "I'm very thankful to the Jacobs family, Peter, team president Cam Neely and all the players.''
Chiarelli was happy to return the compliment. He said Saturday the organization was merely executing the obvious.
"It was obviously very important for both parties," said Chiarelli. "From our perspective, Chara and Bergeron are two very important pieces of our team, very important individuals. There's uncertainty as the season progresses as far as trying to retain these types of players as they get closer to the free market. You never know what's going to happen.''
This uncertainty, coupled with the yearn to keep Chara in Black and Gold, created an atmosphere of fair play in the negotiations.
"It's an extreme showing of good faith from both sides to get it done now,'' Chiarelli said. "It's a typical thing; when both sides want something, it usually happens. We had made enough progress, had enough significant discussions. At the end, both sides gave a little to get it done.''
Gently bending wills isn't much trouble when an organization thinks so highly of its prize. And the Bruins only see potential in the already successful 33-year old.
"He's probably the hardest-working person I've seen on and off the ice. He leads by example,'' Chiarelli said. "He's still growing as a player and he'll probably play beyond this next contract. It's our pleasure to extend him and we're happy to have him for many more years.''
There was one minor snag. But it actually didn't have anything to do with Chara himself.
Blame 27-year old Ilya Kovalchuk.
The league put it's foot down on "lifetime" deals this offseason by rejecting the proposed 17-year, 102 million contract agreed upon by Kovalchuk and the Devils. The NHL's worry that player and team would so blatantly try to circumvent the salary cap spurned an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement to halt such deals.
Chiarelli admitted that it wasn't something the Bruins could ignore.
"Certainly it was something that we looked at,'' he said. "When you go into the longer term you have to see how that ruling will impact your negotiations. But this is a seven-year deal, it's a long time and we're happy to have Zee for that long.''
Since Chara's extension will take him through his 40th birthday he has a cap hit of 6.917 million in the first six years. He will receive 4 million in the last season.
Chara acknowledged the Kovalchuk impact . It just didn't faze him at all.
"Obviously, his situation was a little extreme, maybe put the negotiations on hold for a little bit,'' Chara said. "But I just knew that we would get this done and I would be a Bruin.''