With the NHL in mothballs, star Bruins Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron have decided to keep their games fresh and tuned in Europe. The two veterans on Tuesday struck separate deals, Chara with Prague in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League and Bergeron with Lugano in southern Switzerland.
Chara’s deal is with HC Lev Praha and Bergeron’s with HC Lugano. Like all NHL players who have defected to Europe with the NHL in lockout, both Chara and Bergeron can return to the Bruins immediately if/when NHL league owners and players finally craft a new CBA.
“He’s flying out of Boston tonight,” said Chara’s longtime agent, Matt Keator, confirming that the defenseman has signed with HC Lev Praha, a club that operated last season in Slovakia. “There’s every reason to expect that he’ll be playing games this weekend.”
According to Kent Hughes, agent for Bergeron, the Bruins center will drive to Boston Wednesday from his home in Quebec City, then fly to Europe Thursday or Friday. He likely will play his first game in the Swiss League late next week.
Chara and Bergeron are not the first high-profile Bruins to bolt for Europe.
Only days after signing his six-year contract extension, worth $5.75 million per season, young star winger Tyler Seguin agreed to play for Biel, Switzerland. A handful of other Bruins also have headed to teams overseas or said they will do so in the near future, all as a means to stay in shape during what is the third lockout in NHL history. Seguin and Bergeron now will face off against each other on opposing teams.
Chara, 35, grew up not far from Prague in Trencin, Slovakia, which Keator estimates is three hours from his new team’s home. As a teen-ager in the months leading up to his draft year (1996), Chara moved from home to play in Prague, an experience he often credits with helping him catch the eyes of pro scouts.
“It’s a comfortable fit for Z,” said Keator. “He loves Prague. He knows some of the guys on the team, like [captain] Jiri Novotny and Marcel Hossa [brother of Marian Hossa].
“So, good city, good guys, and a way for him to keep his game at a high level so he can step right into it when the NHL gets back in business.”
According to Hughes, Bergeron also had an offer to play in Finland, but was more intrigued by the Swiss offer, in part because of a more accommodating travel schedule.