Chara deal a tall order

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Zdeno Chara hasn't given up on the possibility of returning to the Senators.

But it's looking like a long shot.

Only four days before Chara can test the lucrative unrestricted free agent market, the towering blueliner still has no deal in place and talks are moving at a snail's pace.

The Senators did free up some money yesterday by announcing they won't be giving centre Tyler Arnason a qualifying offer of $1.5 million (all figures US).

Matt Keator, Chara's agent, maintained -- as he has for the last 12 months -- that his client's top priority is to return to the Senators and remains hopeful a deal can be done.

"We're going to continue to talk," said Keator yesterday. "He has not changed on his mind on where he wants to be next season."

It's believed Senators GM John Muckler is willing to go to owner Eugene Melnyk to see if there is more money in the bank to keep Chara in the fold. That move could take place in the next 48 hours.

There is no question Chara would be one of the most valuable free agents on the open market, along with New Jersey's Patrik Elias. There are whispers the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs are eagerly awaiting a chance to sign Chara away from Ottawa.

It won't stop there: Florida, Boston, New Jersey, Phoenix, Vancouver and Los Angeles are are looking to add blueliners. They will be in the market for Chara, who could command up to $8 million from a contender.

However, Chara isn't Ottawa's only headache. The Senators also have to sign defencemen Wade Redden and Brian Pothier before they hit the market as well.

REDDEN DEAL CLOSE?

The Senators believe they're close to a deal with Redden. Muckler is planning more discussions with agent Don Meehan to finalize a deal.

But more than one NHL source asked this on the weekend: If the Senators don't sign Chara, will Redden want to stay in Ottawa? He wants a shot at winning a Stanley Cup and losing Chara would be a blow to those chances.

"We've had talks with both agents and I guess we'll know better by July 1. Talks are progressing and we'll see where they go," said Muckler in a conference call yesterday.

If the Senators do lose Chara or Redden, they're expected to make a pitch for Vancouver's Ed Jovanovski. He'll be seeking about $6.25 million per season and played for Senators coach Bryan Murray when he was the GM of the Panthers.

There is talk both Redden and Chara want to see the direction the club is taking before committing to stay here. They'd like to see what the club does at centre and in goal.

As for Arnason, the Senators didn't want to have his contract on the payroll. He is welcome to come back at a lower price, but refused to take a pay cut. "We offered him less money and he wasn't interested in taking it. If he wants to come back later, there's a chance there for him," said Muckler.

The Ottawa GM defended his decision to ship winger Brandon Bochenski to Chicago, along with a second-round draft pick, in exchange for Arnason at the trade deadline.

"Who said (Bochenski) was a good prospect?" said Muckler. "He had a good training camp and he had other opportunities when he was called up from (Binghamton), but he was a guy that we deemed to be expendable."


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