Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery. (CPimages/Paul Chiasson)
He acquired from Boston what he viewed as much-needed grit and size for his checking line in veteran Shean Donovan while also clearing up valuable salary cap space in the process.
He'll need that space when signing restricted free agent Ray Emery to a new contract. Ottawa's starting goalie has a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for next Tuesday in Toronto and no matter what happens he'll get a big raise over the US$925,000 he earned last season.
Now the Senators have room to accommodate that raise, shedding Peter Schaefer's contract, which calls for a $2.1-million salary next season and $2.3 million in both the 2008-09 and '09-10 seasons.
Getting Emery done is Ottawa's top priority. The 24-year-old restricted free agent emerged as the Senators' starter last season and led the team to a Cup final appearance, going 33-16-6 in the regular season with a 2.47 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
"We've certainly talked to Ray and his agent, spent some time last week with the two of them together and negotiated a little bit with (agent) J.P. Barry," Murray said on a conference call Tuesday. "We're preparing to go to arbitration but we're open to continue our conversation.
"We'll do a little bit of that hopefully tomorrow and the early part of the week."
Both sides have comparable deals they can point to. On the one hand, the Senators can say that Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Carolina's Cam Ward each earn an average of $2.66 million a season and like Emery were young starting goalies and restricted free agents when they signed their $8-million, three-year deals.
But the Emery camp can respond by saying Miller's deal is a year old and the market place has changed dramatically since then. Ward, meanwhile, didn't have arbitration rights when he re-signed earlier this summer.
Instead, the Emery camp likens the $4.25-million, one-year contract signed by New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist last week, also a young starting goalie and restricted free agent who had salary arbitration rights. The Senators could turn around and say Emery isn't at the same playing level as Lundqvist.
So it appears the Senators will want to be in the $3-million salary range while the Emery camp will push for closer to $4 million.
"We had very good discussions last week about the goalie market," Barry said Tuesday. "We're going to start talking again this week. We'd like to see if we can head off arbitration but sometimes there is too much of a gap in the comparables."
Murray wasn't confident arbitration could be avoided.
"I don't know," said the Sens GM. "We talked, but it sounded like the numbers were such that we're probably going to have to prepare to go to arbitration. It doesn't look at this moment that we should be too optimistic to get a deal done."
Checking centre Chris Kelly and defenceman/forward Christoph Schubert also have salary arbitration hearings scheduled, Schubert for July 27 and Kelly on Aug. 1.
"I actually talked to Kelly's agent last night," said Murray. "We're going to talk again tomorrow. We hope that we can resolve it, but again, the numbers as comparables at this point seem to make them think they can get somewhat more by going to arbitration. If that's the case then we'll be prepared to do that.
"But we'll continue to talk to all of them over the next week."