OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators took a step toward improving their offensive struggles this season Friday with the acquisition of centre Mike Comrie and defenceman Chris Campoli from the New York Islanders.
With just 141 goals so far, the Senators, traditionally one of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams prior to this year, rank second last in the Eastern Conference and it’s a big reason for their 22-26-9 record and 11th-place standing.
“We haven’t been a very good offensive team and we’re getting two guys with that ability,” Senators GM Bryan Murray.
Murray sent veteran centre Dean McAmmond and San Jose’s first-round pick in the upcoming draft, obtained via a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, to Long Island.
Much of the talk around Ottawa this year has been about the team’s need for a puck-moving defenceman following the departures of Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros and the Senators think the 24-year-old Campoli, in his fourth season, fits the bill.
In 51 games with the Islanders, Campoli had six goals and 17 assists.
“Obviously, we feel we’ve acquired a defenceman that will give us the skill at the back that we’ve been talking about all year,” Murray said. “He’s young he’s mobile, he plays power play, he makes a good first pass. We feel he can bring some good play to our team.”
Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Comrie returns to Ottawa for a second tour with the Senators.
“I played in Ottawa before and I know what’s at stake and what it’s like,” Comrie said. “It’s an exciting place to play and a great group of guys and I’m obviously thrilled about the opportunity to play on a great team.”
He was part of the team’s run to the 2007 Stanley Cup final before leaving to sign with the Islanders as a free agent later that summer. In a season limited to just 41 games so far because of a hip injury, he has seven goals and 13 assists.
Comrie is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but Murray said there’s a good chance he’ll re-sign and be around to stay. He’s making US$4 million this season.
Campoli, who’s making $625,000 this season, is under contract through next season before he becomes a restricted free agent, so it’s also a deal that Murray expects will help the team for the future.
“I’m going to a place where hockey’s a big market and it’s a good hockey team,” said Campoli. “They’re trying to make a push for the playoffs and I’m going to add to that and Mike as well. We can contribute to that and hopefully put them over the edge or get them close.”
With the March 4 trade deadline approaching, Murray said more moves could still be coming.
“We have to decide with a few of our (unrestricted free agents) what they want to do and what we want to do with them,” he said.
The arrival of Comrie and Campoli, who are expected to be in the lineup Saturday when Ottawa is in Montreal to play the Canadiens, offers new coach Cory Clouston some new pieces to work with down the stretch.
The consensus around the nation’s capital is that the Senators are a much-improved team since Clouston took over from Craig Hartsburg earlier this month and Clouston hasn’t been afraid to push a few buttons in order to get the underachieving team to perform.
Just ask star centre Jason Spezza, who was benched during Thursday’s loss to Vancouver – only the Senators’ second regulation loss in nine games since the coaching change.
“As a top guy, you’re expected to outplay the other teams top guys and last night, I didn’t,” Spezza said Friday, the morning after he sat out most of the second period during a 5-2 defeat to the Canucks at Scotiabank Place. “Cory has to do what he has to do to get the team going and that’s part of his job, too, so he made the right move.”
Spezza, who’s been no stranger to blame for the Senators’ struggles that led to Hartsburg’s firing after just 48 games in charge, was on the ice for three goals against in the first period and saw a season-low 14 minutes 19 seconds of ice time, well below his 19:54 season average.
Hartsburg came under fire for arriving in Ottawa preaching accountability, but he took his kicks on his way out for failing to hold his players to it. Likewise, John Paddock, fired the season before under many of the same accusations.
With the new sheriff in town, it seems the 39-year-old Clouston is trying to change that by employing little more of a heavy hand.
“He’s got to be a little more consistent with the little things,” Clouston said of Spezza. “He’s no different than any other player. What we expect is certain structure. Obviously, he’s elite an player as far as offence is concerned, so we’ve got to make sure that we don’t break his creativity and turn him into kind of a robot, but he also has to be responsible defensively.”
Another of Ottawa’s big-name players, Dany Heatley, recently experienced a similar demotion, playing less than 13 minutes against Buffalo, and it seems the message is being received loud and clear in the Senators’ dressing room.
“It’s always tough to sit there, but I knew I wasn’t very good and it just makes you want to get better,” Spezza said.