Five-plus months without competitive hockey was enough for Zdeno Chara. The Bruins’s captain agreed Tuesday to return to Prague and play in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League.
“He’s flying out of Boston tonight,” said Chara’s long-time agent, Matt Keator, confirming the star 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.”
Chara becomes the highest-profile Bruin to bolt across the Atlantic with the National Hockey League’s lockout now having spanned a second month on the calendar.
Only days after signing his six-year contract extension with the Bruins, worth $5.75 million per season, young star winger Tyler Seguin agreed to play for Biern, 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.
Chara, like all NHLers who have signed with other pro teams in recent weeks, can leave his new team and report directly to the Bruins if/when the NHL and the players union come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. Negotiations between the two sides remain at a standstill.
Chara, 35, grew up not far from Prague in Trencin, Slovakia, which Keator estimates is only some three hours from his new team. As a teenager 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 to 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 Jiri Novotny (Lev’s captain) and Marcel Hossa (brother or 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.”