On a day when the Blackhawks organization and its fans look back at history, the future entered the conversation yet again.
Hours before their season opening game overseas, the Boston Bruins announced a seven-year, $45.5 million contract extension for defenseman Zdeno Chara. This is an intriguing contract on a number of levels for hockey fans, specifically in Chicago.
The initial level of interest is that the deal for the Bruins’ captain is longer than five years. In the wake of the Ilya Kovalchuk trainwreck in New Jersey, the agreement reached between the League and the Players’ Association strictly indicates that a “long-term contract” is now defined as anything longer than five years. It also stipulates specific cap consequences for players crossing the magic age of 40. This deal is seven years for a 33-year-old defenseman; Chara will be 41 when the deal expires.
The salary cap number for Chara’s deal is $6.5M per season.
Then there’s the player that received the deal. Listed at 6’9, Chara is the tallest player in NHL history and is starting his 13th NHL season (fifth with Boston). He won the Norris Trophy in 2008-09, and is the Bruins captain. He is a physical player that has not played in all 82 regular season games since 2000-01, and has played in fewer than 80 in five of the last eight seasons. The four-time All Star and two-time Olympian has played in 847 regular-season games, scoring 111 goals with 252 assists.
BlackhawksGM Stan Bowman’s top priority this season is trying to work out a new contract with defenseman Brent Seabrook. His partner on the blue line, Duncan Keith, received a 13-year extension last year worth $72M ($5.539M cap number). However, Keith’s deal is front-loaded with money and is one of the contracts that the amendment to the Collective Bargaining Agreement would likely void if presented now.
Despite the similarities on their resumes (Norris Trophy winners, Olympians, Chara’s a captain while Keith is an alternate), Keith and Chara are almost nothing alike. Keith is generously listed at 6’0 and 189 pounds, and is more of a puck-moving player who’s sense of spacing and acceleration ability are almost without peer. Though his dentist might argue otherwise, Keith is not physical in the typical definition; he is never among the team leaders in hits. What makes Keith special is his ability to make space disappear for opponents quickly, whether it’s with a poke-check or by laying out on the ice.
The enforcer on the Hawks’ blue line for the last few years has been Seabrook, who is the muscle next to Keith’s elegant speed.
Seabrook is listed at 6’3 and 220 pounds. He was credited with 208 hits and 153 blocked shots last year to go with his 30 points (four goals, 26 assists) and plus-20 rating. He is also a former first round draft pick (14th overall in 2003).
Chara was a third round draft pick by the New York Islanders in 1996 who was credited with 151 hits and 104 blocked shots in addition to 44 points (seven goals, 37 assists) and plus-19 rating.
There are so many levels on which a contract for Seabrook is going to be a tough decision for Bowman that adding Chara’s deal (in the context that Chara is eight years older than Seabrook) only further complicates the issue.
Both are physical players. Their statistics indicate that they bring similar games to the rink each night, and both have missed games in their careers because of this style.
Chara is more accomplished. But he has also been the primary force on Boston’s blue line for the last few years; Seabrook would be a top defensemanon many teams in the league, but happens to skate with the current reigning Norris Trophy winner.
Seabrookis younger. This cannot be stressed enough. When you play a physical style, as both of these players do, age is a critical factor. The fact that Boston ventured past five years on this deal, something many analysts thought would be a dead idea until the CBA was renegotiated in 2012, opens Pandora’s box for Bowman again. Especially when his wingman, Keith, is signed up for the next 13 years.
Perhaps the most overlooked part of this situation is the Blackhawks’ organizational depth. Consider the following prospects currently in the Hawks’ system:
- Dylan Olsen: 6’3, 220 pounds, 19 years old
- Shawn Lalonde: 6’1, 200 pounds, 20 years old
- Stephen Johns: 6’3, 215 pounds, 18 years old
- Ryan Stanton: 6’2, 205 pounds, 21 years old
This is a list of just the bigger, more physical defense prospects in the system. Nick Leddy is obviously already in Chicago, while Ivan Vishnevskiy and, further out, Justin Hollare both more puck-moving defensemen that are matriculating through the system.
While Boston has a need to keep Chara around for a while, and as hard as it is for Blackhawks fans to hear it (especially for someone to write who’s favorite player on the team wears #7), the Hawks could replace Seabrookwithin the next five years with one of these prospects.
Add to this organizational depth the fact that Niklas Hjalmarsson received a four-year, $14M deal this past summer and Brian Campbell has six years left on his deal for over $7.1M per, and the Blackhawks are facing a situation where they have good young players getting ready to make the jump to the next level but could have nowhere to put them.
All of these factors will play a big part in Bowman’s decision making process when he offers Seabrook, currently making $3.5M, a longer deal. The paper Boston gave Chara is only going to provide supporting evidence to the value that Seabrook provides.