When the Bruins introduced Peter Chiarelli as their new general manager May 31, executive vice president Charlie Jacobs said the front office was committed to winning and getting the Original Six franchise back on track.
Yesterday, the Bruins took a very large step in that direction -- 6 feet 9 inches to be exact -- when they signed mammoth defenseman Zdeno Chara away from the Ottawa Senators, giving him a five-year, $37.5 million contract. The 29-year-old Chara, who was considered the prize unrestricted free agent when bidding opened at noon yesterday, also has a no-trade clause in the deal.
In addition, the Bruins signed center Marc Savard to a five-year, $20 million pact. Savard played for the Atlanta Thrashers last season.
``I think all along we felt like if we could get Chara, some other things might fall into place," said interim GM Jeff Gorton. ``And teams might say, `Hey, these guys are serious.' We were aggressive, this was a guy we wanted. There aren't many people in the game who we felt this number [salary] was something we would do but [Chara is] a guy who can play against the very best players every night and play 30 minutes and also have an offensive flair to his game.
``He's a dominating player in the game that gives us so many things, including toughness, including leadership . . . he's in his prime for a defenseman. Our hockey group felt like he was a guy we had to have and we had to make a play for him if we were going to get better soon."
Chara had career highs in goals (16) and points (43) last season, finished fourth in Norris Trophy balloting, and was named a second-team NHL All-Star.
Gorton said the organization made its best sales pitch to convince Chara that Boston was a fit. Don Sweeney, the former defenseman who is now director of player personnel, and former Bruins great Cam Neely, who defined the position of power forward in the NHL, spoke to Chara, as did new coach Dave Lewis. Gorton said Hall of Famer Ray Bourque would've been in the equation, too, but he was on vacation.
``I got the feeling from talking to him that he loved the city," said Gorton. ``He liked an Original Six franchise. He liked the fact that there were young players. He mentioned [Patrice] Bergeron, [Brad] Boyes, and [Marco] Sturm by name. He mentioned Brad Stuart. He mentioned [Hannu] Toivonen. He knew all of our players. I can't tell you how happy we are to get a guy like this."
The feeling is mutual .
``I was very impressed with how professional and straightforward Boston was in pursuing me," said Chara through his agent, Matt Keator. ``I want to lead this team by setting a good example with my work ethic, drive, dedication, and discipline. There is a lot of work ahead of us but I look forward to having this team compete for a Stanley Cup in the future."
Keator said the personal touch contributed in swaying Chara.
``That definitely helped in terms of `Z' getting a feel for it," said Keator. ``He was really impressed with Dave Lewis."
Keator said 15 clubs called in the opening moments of the free agent signing period and six offers were in the right salary range. One team offered more than Boston. Keator said it came down to the Bruins and a Western Conference team.
``I think being in the East was important to him," said Keator. ``He also has a longstanding relationship with Peter Chiarelli and that helped a lot. This is the richest contract in the salary cap era. You can't fault these guys for making a run at it. You want to go where you're wanted and the Bruins were very aggressive. I give them a lot of credit."
Gorton believes Savard, who turns 29 July 17 and had career highs in goals (28) and assists (69) last season, will fill a large void.
``If you look at our lineup, we really needed someone [in the middle]," said Gorton. ``We had one line that could score last year and if you looked with [Glen] Murray after the trade [of Joe Thornton] it was tough to get him going without a second-line center. Marc is a guy who had 97 points and we feel he's one of the very best playmaking centers in the game."
Savard said the Chara signing certainly helped him make up his mind.
``It was big," said Savard. ``I had some other interest from other teams. Obviously with the signing of Chara, probably the best defenseman in the National Hockey League, it just fit perfect. With the addition of Chara, it's going to be time to win there and I'm looking to win."
With Bergeron, Savard, and Wayne Primeau penciled in as the top three pivotmen, Gorton was asked if he would encourage first-round draft pick Phil Kessel (taken No. 5 overall) to return to the University of Minnesota for a second year.
``He won't be rushed," said Gorton. `` We're not going to count on him for anything right now. We won't put pressure on him either way."
Defenseman Hal Gill officially bid farewell to Boston yesterday, signing a three-year, $6.3 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Gorton said he wouldn't rule out bringing back any of the team's unrestricted free agents, such as defenseman Brian Leetch.
``I wouldn't say it's out the window," said Gorton, ``but obviously in a salary cap era, there is only so much to go around. If we could work Brian in, that is something we would definitely discuss."
Chara and Savard will be on hand for a press conference at the Garden Wednesday morning.