OTTAWA - The Senators are likely to undergo more changes, in addition to those behind the bench.
GM Bryan Murray was busy before the trade deadline, shipping out veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Kovalev and Chris Campoli for draft picks to begin the rebuilding process.
“It’s hard to say exactly what exactly we’ll look like, but I don’t think we’ll have the expectations we’ve had in the last few years,”captain Daniel Alfredsson said.“We’re in a different phase.”
In addition to freeing up cap space—the team has a little more than US $43 million committed to next year, according to capgeek.com—the Senators stockpiled five picks in the first two rounds of this year’s NHL entry draft. Those could allow Murray to make further moves in addition to landing a top pick that could step into the NHL right away pending how Ottawa fares in Tuesday’s draft lottery.
The most significant of the Senators’unrestricted free agents are forward Ryan Shannon and backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney. Several others, including Colin Greening, Bobby Butler, Erik Condra and Zack Smith, who all played a significant part down the stretch after being recalled from Binghamton of the AHL, will be restricted free agents.
After being burned in the free-agent department in signing Alex Kovalev to a two-year, $10-million dollar two summers ago and Sergei Gonchar, who was a disappointment this year as an offensive defenceman with 27 points in 67 games and a minus-15 plus/minus rating, to a three-year, $16.5-million deal last summer, Murray said he won’t be looking to hit a home run.
Ideally, he’d like to find a goal scorer to play among the team’s top two lines, but he does feel the team is in good shape for the future because of its recent draft picks and prospects in the minors.
Star forward Jason Spezza is also in a much better position than he was a year ago after emerging through all of this with his reputation enhanced.
A year ago, he headed into the off-season under a cloud when Murray made it public that Spezza made it known in his year-end meeting that he wouldn’t oppose a trade out of Ottawa if the opportunity arose after he was booed by home fans during the team’s playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Spezza spent the summer downplaying suggestions that he wanted out and, after he appeared over the final third of the season as a better all-around player, he’s suddenly being lauded as Alfredsson’s successor as the team’s leader.
“He is on board, big time,”Murray said.“Not only point-wise, but in every role he was given, he stepped up.
“Not that anybody’s happy (with the season), but I think we’ve got a guy coming into camp that we feel much better about.”
After a slow start offensively, Spezza caught fire after sitting out with a shoulder injury and finished with team highs of 21 goals and 36 assists for 57 points in 62 games.
More importantly to the team’s chances of success, he showed improvement on the other side of the puck and became a penalty killer and key faceoff man.
“I think it’s a little more cut-and-dried for me what my role is on the team now,”said Spezza, whose season will continue as he competes for Canada later this month at the world championship in Slovakia.“I want to be a guy that’s counted on and I think I’ve been given that opportunity now.”
Spezza, who turns 28 in June, said he’s young enough to keep honing his game over the summer and the Senators will need more of the way he played over the final third of the season to help avoid a similar fate befalling the team again next season.
“It’s going to be an important summer for myself, for everybody, and everybody to come back better. We really have to get off to a better start and carry it through,”Spezza said.