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The Ottawa Senators understood it would take some creativity to sign both Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara to new contracts before the start of unrestricted free agency today.

And while both defencemen said they were willing to take less than market value to help Ottawa pursue its Stanley Cup dream, apparently it was not enough to keep both.

On the same day Ottawa announced that Redden had signed a two-year contract worth $13-million (all figures U.S.), general manager John Muckler said yesterday that negotiations with Chara's agent, Matt Keator, had ended and were unlikely to resume.

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"I don't expect it to," Muckler said. "We made a proposal [last week]and [Keator]took it with him, thought about it overnight and then rejected the offer and told us he thought [Chara]would go to unrestricted free agency. As far as we're concerned, it was a competitive offer and it was rejected."

The Senators suggested strongly yesterday that Redden was the more accommodating of the two players, apparently telling the club from the outset of negotiations that he wanted to help it be as competitive as possible.

Redden's agent, Don Meehan, said that while his client's contract will pay him less than he would have received on the open market, Redden was willing to accept even less if it meant the club could retain Chara.

"His view was, 'how do I allow the Senators to be as competitive as can be to make it work,' " Meehan said. "And you know who that was going to involve. The first stage was in relation to saying how do we make this work for everyone? I will do this if others will do this for the benefit of the team."

Keator, agreeing that Chara's days in Ottawa were likely done, maintained Chara had been willing to make his own sacrifices to stay with the Sens.

"We were never offered what Wade's final number was but that's not to say we would have accepted it," Keator said. "They've moved in that direction, and we haven't talked to them in a while."

Redden, 29, is the second longest-serving Senator after captain Daniel Alfredsson and has been heavily involved in various charitable causes in Ottawa. Although at the end of last season he publicly suggested he might have played his last game with the Senators, he was apparently never interested in pursuing unrestricted free agency.

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After his most recent conversation with Chara in late May, Redden came away with no feel for which way his teammate was leaning.

"Whatever he decides is great for him," Redden said. "There's no hard feelings. We still have a great core of guys."

While Redden and Chara have both been important to Ottawa's success, the Senators seemed to have no doubt about their priority. That may be partly due to the perception that Chara's skills are less suited to the new National Hockey League game than Redden's.

"I think we saw a little bit of that in the Buffalo [playoff]series," Muckler said. "They have quick forwards and we didn't have the same success coming out of our end that we had against Tampa Bay or in the regular season."

Muckler maintained the Senators would be pursuing at least a couple of free agents, one of them likely a goaltender.

Among the goalies scheduled to hit the open market are Detroit's Manny Legace, Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson and Carolina's Martin Gerber.

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"We've got a couple of players we're going to try to move quickly on because we think they are the right fit for our hockey club," Muckler said. "But it's all about money."

The Senators have $24.8-million committed to 10 players for next season but must sign a goaltender as well as deal with several restricted free agents, including Martin Havlat, Jason Spezza, Peter Schaefer and Antoine Vermette.

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