Future now for Chara

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Getting Zdeno Chara signed before the end of the season is going to be a tall task for the Senators.

While the Senators defenceman told the Sun yesterday that his agent Matt Keator is willing to hold contract talks, Chara was also quick to add that his top priority is winning the Stanley Cup.

And Chara understands -- as a free-agent to be -- if he doesn't have a new contract in place by the March 9 NHL trade deadline, the Senators could trade him.

"I believe the focus right now has to be on winning a Stanley Cup for my team," Chara said yesterday. "I have no comment on any contract negotiations. Keator is dealing with that issue so I can focus on my team."

But, Chara added: "I don't want to think about comparing myself to anybody else or wondering what kind of money I'm supposed to make. I really believe right now the No. 1 focus has to be on winning a Stanley Cup. This isn't a time to think of yourself. You have to worry about getting the job done on the ice. I'm really leaving everything to (Keator) and he's going to handle it."

Senators GM John Muckler told the Sunday Sun he is confident the club will be able to get Chara and Wade Redden, the team's other potential unrestricted free agent, under contract if they come at the right price.

Muckler admitted his discussions with Keator have only been exploratory.

"I have had preliminary discussions with the Senators," Keator said from his Boston office last night. "They want to sign (Chara) and have said they will make every effort to do so.

"We'll see how it goes in the weeks and months ahead. (Chara) is an excellent team player and he is concentrating on winning a Cup first and foremost in Ottawa."

Redden said he's willing to talk, but doesn't believe anything is close to being done in his case, either.

"I know they've had some preliminary discussions, but I don't know what's going to happen next," said Redden. "It's been pretty quiet on that front. Sure, I want to get something done because I want to stay in Ottawa and be part of this."

But the Senators are facing a conundrum: They want to keep both blueliners and believe with them in the lineup it's the club's best chance to win a Cup, but Muckler doesn't want to lose them on the open market.

LEAFS IN SAME BOAT

"Even if nothing is done (before the end of the season), I'm going to give Ottawa every chance to sign me," said Chara. "I want to stay here. I want to be part of this. I enjoy playing here and I really like being part of a successful team."

The timing is a big issue for the Senators and every team with players in this situation.

The Maple Leafs are facing a similar situation with defencemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle, both of whom are unrestricted free agents this summer.

While Kaberle has indicated he wants to wait until the end of the season before negotiating, the word is Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. might not like that timetable and could make a deal.

Chara said he's not concerned about getting moved.

"Anything can happen in hockey, but we've got a good chance to win a Stanley Cup here and that's what I'm thinking about right now," he said.


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