Senators re-sign Chara
OTTAWA (CP) - The Ottawa Senators re-signed Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $9.5-million US contract Tuesday, avoiding salary arbitration.
"He's a premier defenceman," GM John Muckler said in announcing the deal.
Chara, who was paid $2.4 million last season, will make $4.6 million in 2004-05 and $4.9 million in 2005-06.
"I'm very, very pleased the deal got done," Chara said from his native Slovakia. "I think both sides are happy."
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An arbitration hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday. Last week, the Senators reached a two-year contract agreement with Chris Phillips hours before his scheduled hearing.
"It's healthy for the organization," Muckler told reporters. "Arbitration is not the nicest thing to go through.
"It's nice to solve all our problems within the family and that's what we did."
Chara, a six-foot-nine blue-liner, was runner-up to the New Jersey Devils' Scott Niedermayer for the Norris Trophy last season after recording career highs in goals (16) and points (41) in 79 games last season. His plus-33 rating was third-best in the NHL.
The 260-pound hulk is an intimidating roadblock to opposing forwards and also is a fixture on Ottawa's power play.
"Chara, Phillips and (Wade) Redden are the core of our defence and we think they're as good as any three in the league," said Muckler. "All three of them can get better and, for us to be successful, they have to get better."
Keeping the core of the team together, and signing unrestricted free-agent goalie Dominik Hasek, gives the Senators reason for optimism, said Chara.
"Ottawa probably has one of the best back ends in the league," he said. "It's a young defence but, for its age, it's quite experienced.
"Bringing in Dominik will help, too. The next couple of years should be our years. We feel strongly about it. Everybody can't wait to start the season and go for the (Stanley) Cup."
Chara said one of the reasons his reputation has grown is that he's never satisfied.
"I always want to get better," he said. "I am committed to work hard to improve every year.
"The other factor is that I'm surrounded by great players and great teammates."
Since joining the Senators for the 2001-2002 season, Chara has a league-best plus-92 rating. He was acquired from the New York Islanders on June 23, 2001, with Bill Muckalt and the second overall draft pick (Jason Spezza) for Alexei Yashin. He was the Islanders' third-round pick, 56th overall, in the 1996 entry draft.
Matt Keator, Chara's Boston-based agent, described the new contract as "a bridge to a longer-term deal."
Chara will be in Slovakia's lineup for the World Cup of Hockey, Aug. 30-Sept. 14. His country's training camp opens in Ottawa late next week.
"Having camp in Ottawa is a big plus," said Chara. "I can't wait to see my friends there."
The deal came together late Monday, said Muckler.
"He was almost on the airplane (to Toronto) for arbitration," he said. "He'll be happy he didn't have to pay for the ticket."
Said Chara: "I was on the way out the door when I heard the phone ring."
The arbitration process results in one-year contracts and many players opt for the security of multiyear deals and re-sign before their hearings.
"One thing that has really helped us is the type of team we have," said Muckler. "It shows the players want to be part of the organization and we're very proud of the fact that's the way it is.
"In the two years I've been here, the co-operation we've received from the players is tremendous and it seems to be continuing this season."
Forward Martin Havlat remains the most prominent Ottawa player yet to be re-signed, and Muckler said "he'll be the next one we have to concentrate on."