Patrice Bergeron removed himself from the summer's UFA market after agreeing to a three-year, $15 million extension Friday.
You can expect another big-name center, Joe Thornton, to follow suit. I've been told that unless something drastic happens, the San Jose Sharks captain should have an extension signed within the next couple of weeks.
In a perfect world, the Sharks would have taken care of this over the summer, but Thornton put all his focus on becoming a first-time father in July and that sort of shelved the contract talks. He's got the right priorities.
Thornton, whose agent is his brother, John Thornton, is also in the process of building a new home in San Jose; that should be a clear indication he had zero intention of playing the UFA market July 1. Imagine if he did. When was the last time a center of Thornton's stature was on the market? In any case, won't happen. He loves it in San Jose and his new deal will get done soon enough.
Once Thornton signs, Brad Richards will really be the only star center eligible for UFA status next summer. Because of the Dallas Stars' ownership situation, contract talks between Richards and the team have been quiet. Richards would fetch big-time attention as the only bona fide center on the market.
Bergeron contract and the CBA
The breakdown of Bergeron's contract is interesting: $4.9 million next season, $3.55 million in 2012-13 and $3.55 million in 2013-14 season with a $1 million signing bonus paid each year. But here's the clever touch: His Year 2 signing bonus is payable Aug. 1, 2012, before the current CBA expires.
So if there's a work stoppage, he still gets the $1 million bonus. And if there's another salary rollback in the new CBA, as some people suspect, the $1 million bonus for 2012 will not be affected. Plus, he gets his highest salary in Year 1 before the expiry of the CBA and a possible salary rollback. Nice job by Bergeron's agent, Kent Hughes, with this contract.
Chara signs, too
The Bruins were busy this weekend, weren't they? They also locked up captain Zdeno Chara to a seven-year, $45.5 million extension. On Friday morning, I spoke with Chara's agent, Matt Keator, and was given the impression no deal was imminent.
"When I talked to you yesterday, it didn't look like it would happen at that point," Keator told ESPN.com on Saturday. "These are sensitive, delicate discussions and, at a certain point, it really didn't look like it would happen. But it came together and he's happy."
Chara will be 41 in the final year, but this is no cheat deal. He'll be earning $4 million that season. There's no half-a-million fake year here. A league source confirmed to ESPN.com on Saturday that it has no problem with this contract. And when you factor in what a fitness freak Chara is, you know he plans on playing at 41 and likely beyond.
"He's planning on playing beyond this deal," Keator said.
This is also the first contract affected by the Ilya Kovalchuk rule. Since Chara's deal brings him past the 40-year-old threshold, the Kovalchuk rule introduced in the CBA last month does apply because Chara will turn 41 before the deal's expiration on June 30, 2018. That means the cap hit will be $6.917 million in the first six years of the deal and $4 million in the last season. Under the old rules, the cap hit would have been $6.5 million throughout.
Here's the extension breakdown:
2011-12: $8.5 million
2012-13: $6 million
2013-14: $8 million
2014-15: $7 million
2015-16: $7 million
2016-17: $5 million
2017-18: $4 million
Solid job by Keator to get Chara front-loaded money. Again, with a possible labor disruption in mind, Chara will put $8.5 million in the bank before a possible lockout and/or salary rollback.
Shea Weber talks
I am told contracts talks with Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber will soon begin in earnest. The Preds did communicate with Weber's agent, veteran Don Meehan from Newport Sports, last month in terms of expressing their vision for the franchise and what an important part Weber is in that vision. The team showed that by making him captain in the offseason, too.
Talk about the most important set of contract talks in franchise history. Weber, a stud blueliner, will be a restricted free agent July 1, only one year away from being eligible for unrestricted free agency.
There are three clear scenarios here:
1. He signs an extension and life is good in Music City.
2. He does only a one-year deal to bridge himself to his UFA year and he can do this by going to salary arbitration next summer.
3. The Preds get nervous they can't sign him to a long-term extension and put him on the trade block over the summer.
Because he's RFA this upcoming offseason, there isn't the same kind of urgency as Atlanta had last season with Kovalchuk, but the Preds still want to start the process.
"Definitely sooner rather than later," Preds GM David Poile told ESPN.com on Friday.
Rob Blake update
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility of Rob Blake joining the NHL's front office. The feeling-out process continues and Blake was in the NHL's war room this weekend in Toronto to get a feel for what goes on in the hockey operations department.
"It's been good, it's been interesting," Blake told ESPN.com on Saturday. "A lot more goes into a game than you think as a player. Tonight will be a busy night in there."
Blake said he was slated to meet with NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell later on Saturday.
"Brendan [Shanahan, vice president of hockey and business operations for the NHL] has shown me around the hockey ops office," Blake said. "Really just trying to find a good fit. It's been interesting. Hopefully something will come out of it."
Now that NHL rosters have been finalized, players across the league will begin to vote on whether to endorse Donald Fehr as the new executive director of the NHL Players' Association. They will also vote on the new constitution.
The voting is expected to be completed by early November. Fehr has been touring with teams and will continue to do so this month. He just met with three of the six NHL clubs opening their seasons in Europe this past week. Most teams will wait until they meet with Fehr during his fall tour before they hold their vote.