Sens say Z ya later to Chara

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

It's that time of year in the NHL. Marriages and divorces, all in the same day.

The Senators hooked up with Wade Redden for another couple of years yesterday, but lost the other oversized bookend as big Zdeno Chara is headed for free agency today at noon.

As in most parting of the ways, there was disappointment, maybe a touch of bitterness and two sides of the story.

And questions.

Lots of them.

How hard did the Senators work to keep Chara?

As hard as Redden?

How much did Chara even want to stay?

Is money more important to Chara than winning a Stanley Cup here?

Redden, who was frustrated after the Senators were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Sabres, made it sound back then that if he didn't get the answers he wanted from management, he might hit the road himself.

But he wound up putting his money where his mouth was to try and fit both himself and Chara in the Senators' payroll structure.

As near as can be figured, the Senators had about $12 million (all terms US) to spend on both of them.

Redden apparently offered the Senators this deal: He would take $6 million if they could convince Chara to do the same.

That's maybe at least $1 million a season less than what they are each worth on the open market, but Redden was willing to take the hit to make the Senators as competitive as possible.

WAS WILLING TO TAKE SAME

Redden instructed his agent, Don Meehan, to convey that message to Senators president Roy Mlakar, GM John Muckler and assistant GM Peter Chiarelli (who's actually the GM of the Bruins, sort of, but, like we said, it's a weird time of year around here).

"My instructions in all this from Wade were to work with Pete and John and Roy to the extent of allowing his team to be as competitive as it possibly could be," said Meehan yesterday as he was on hand for the Redden press conference.

"A large part of our time was spent working within the new CBA to allow the Senators to be as competitive as they could be and have everybody be here.

"He really made every effort from the very beginning to understand the whole CBA and how the upper limit would work. His view was, 'How do I allow the Senators to be as competitive as they can be and have everybody on board and willing to make it work?' You knew who that was going to involve.

"Very early on, Wade made a determination that he was willing to accommodate the team to make that happen. The Senators knew where he was coming from a long time ago."

Redden said he called Chara near the end of May.

"I talked to him once ... I didn't get a feel what he was leaning towards. No hard feelings there," said Redden. "Whatever he decides that's great for him. I would have loved to have him back here, but it's tough to make it all fit.

"Z is a great player and there's not too many like him out there. What he brings to the table is pretty special. Obviously guys are going to be moving around a bit. Whoever is on the team, it's going to be a committed bunch of guys this year."

The $6-million offer was rejected by Chara's agent, Matt Keator.

"Had we been offered more than what Mr. Muckler put forth, things might have been different," said Keator in an e-mail yesterday. "We had one offer. We did not accept it and they moved to sign Wade at a higher number than Zdeno."

That wasn't bad faith negotiating by the Senators; it was the deal they had with Redden. When Chara didn't take the $6 million a year, all bets were off. Redden got a bump to $6.5 million in each of the next two years.

Muckler said he will now turn to using the money earmarked for Chara today when free agents come available at noon.

There's a pretty good list of free-agent defencemen available including the type of guys the Senators need: Some hard-nosed guys who will play the price with playoff experience like Rob Blake and Ed Jovanovski at the top end and medium market guys like Jay McKee or Gloucester's Aaron Ward. There's also Brendan Witt, Jaroslav Spacek and Pavel Kubina.

The way it looks -- not to be confused with the way it is -- is Chara was more interested in getting "market value" than taking less and keeping the Senators' core intact.

That's his right as a free agent.

Everybody has to do what's right for them.

GREAT LEADERSHIP

Redden was willing to stay and play for less for the chance to keep the team together and take another run at the Cup.

"The money is going to be great whether it's five or six or seven million at that level," said Redden, showing remarkable leadership.

So the Senators have managed to keep half of their golden twins and some Senators fans will argue now it's the better half.

They've got Redden and Muckler's got some money to spend.

Today at noon, the fun really begins.


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