OTTAWA – Bryan Murray wears two hats with the Ottawa Senators and while the GM role has been somewhat shelved over the last month to focus on coaching, it will be front and centre Wednesday night in what could be his team’s last game of the NHL season.
That’s because Murray is keen to see how some of his players will react with their season on the line and that could have a bearing on his off-season decisions. Some of which could be quite significant.
“That’s what I think about all the time – how are we going to make adjustments going forward to make sure that we’re not in this predicament in the second half of the year as we have been and in the playoffs,” Murray said Tuesday after practice. “We got to look at the players that come to play, work hard, and do everything in their power and to their ability level … to help this organization be good going forward.
“Tomorrow night is an indicator of that without a doubt.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins can close out their Eastern Conference quarter-final against Ottawa with a win in Game 4 (7 p.m. ET) in what would be the only sweep of the NHL’s first round.
For Senators fans, it could be the last chance to see some familiar faces, most notably Wade Redden, who has spent his entire 11-season NHL career in Ottawa. The 30-year-old defenceman will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. With the Senators having rich new contracts kicking in for players such as Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher, there may not be room for Redden on the payroll. It could be it Wednesday night for Redden.
“Yeah, it crossed my mind for sure,” Redden said after practice. “Not something I thought about a lot though. You don’t want to think that way this time of year. You only worry about one game at a time. That’s all I can look at right now.”
Backup goalie Ray Emery, who has started only once since Murray took over behind the bench in late February for the fired John Paddock, could also be gone. There’s talk his contract may be bought out. Other unrestricted free agents include Cory Stillman, Martin Lapointe, Shean Donovan, Mike Commodore, Chris Kelly, Randy Robitaille and Luke Richardson.
When and if the Senators are knocked out, Murray at some point will need to sit down and ask himself whether to keep going with his current core or make drastic changes. A team that began the year 15-2 came crashing down to earth and is one game away from being on the wrong side of a one-sided series sweep in the first round – just one year removed from an impressive run to the Stanley Cup final.
Murray has to ask the question and find the answer, what happened to this team? His own players aren’t quite sure.
“It just shows how crazy the game is and how tight it is in the league and how as a player you walk the tightrope between winning and losing,” said Spezza. “It seems like when you are winning it’s so easy to put the puck in the net and everything goes well. You score the late goals and every play you make seems to end up in the back of the net. When you’re losing it seems like everything goes against you and every play you make ends up in the back of your net.
“When you’re winning you’re getting calls, when you’re losing you’re not getting calls. It just shows how tough it is to win I think in this league and I think it gets taken for granted sometimes, even by us as players.”
Without a doubt, there will be calls by some to blow up the core and rebuild. Spezza doesn’t agree at all with that notion.
“I think we’re definitely good enough,” said Spezza. “We’re still a pretty good young core of guys and we’re gaining experience. We don’t like to see ourselves in this position and it’s frustrating to all of us. I know myself, I feel like I’m still learning a bit on the job. Last year we had the great run and scored a lot of big goals and made clutch plays and this year we haven’t been able to do that. Maybe there’s some things in my game I want to tweak. This maybe helps open up your eyes a little bit.
“The fortunate thing is you’re young still and can still learn from it. I think it would be a little drastic to blow up the core of guys we got. We’re learning together here.”
If there’s one single player Murray knows he doesn’t have to think about, it’s Daniel Alfredsson. The 35-year-old team captain once again showed why he’s one of the NHL’s premier leaders, coming back from injury way before schedule for Game 3 on Monday night and while he would never admit it, playing basically at 50 per cent capacity.
“Never seen anything like it before in all my years,” said Murray.
The question is, why risk Alfredsson for Game 4?
“I’ve said this forever with players – they are the ones that dictate if they are healthy enough to play or not,” said Murray. “I would never ask a guy to play, I never have. If he feels that he’s hurting to the point that it would further damage him I would not encourage him to play. And I didn’t encourage him to play yesterday.
“He feels, and I’ve talked to the doctors and the training staff about this, that the way he’s harnessed up right now that he can play and nothing further can really happen. He can be sore and all that afterwards but it’s not going to be something that’s going to be career-threatening or bring further damage.”
The cliches, meanwhile, were out in full force Tuesday as the Senators said all the right things down 3-0 in their series. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple leafs and 1975 New York Islanders came back from 3-0 series deficits to win. Murray pointed to his own minor miracle with a Tier II junior team he coached in Rockland in 1976 against a team from Guelph.
“We lost 7-2, 5-2, 7-2 in the first three games and came back and won the series four games straight,” said Murray.