OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators are in unfamiliar territory ahead of Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.
Instead of trying to add pieces with an eye on the post-season picture, Senators general manager Bryan Murray goes into deadline day with a willingness to unload players who don’t figure into next season’s plan.
With just one victory in the last six games, the Senators finally admit to being resigned to missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 1996, so Murray declared Monday he’s now in selling mode and it’s a position he’d rather not be in.
“Being the guy getting the calls, from a few managers, is quite different from making a call to get a player,” he said. “It’s quite different and I hope it doesn’t happen again. Certainly, you don’t like being in the position we’re in.”
Murray’s admission means that Tuesday night’s game against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Place could be the last in a Senators uniform for at least a couple of players.
“It’s a little bit of anxious moments right now. There a few guys having some restless sleeps,” coach Cory Clouston said following Monday’s practice.
“They hear rumours, most of them probably never amount to much, but they still hear that.”
Despite rumours to the contrary, one of those players on the way out of Ottawa won’t be star centre Jason Spezza, Murray said.
“Not one call about Jason, so you can put that to bed,” Murray said. “I read all kinds of rumours, too and some of them are way out of line. We just want Jason to play well here.”
Like the team, Spezza has had a disappointing season with just 22 goals and 50 points in 61 games this season. The no-trade clause in the seven-year, US $49-million contract extension he signed last season doesn’t kick in until July 1, so it was thought the Senators would be willing to unload him to free up salary-cap space.
“People need something to talk about around here, so I’m not too surprised,” Spezza said. “I’m not too worried. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here after the deadline.”
At the top of the list of those expected to be on their way out are defenceman Filip Kuba and right-winger Chris Neil, both of whom are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer.
Despite last-minute talks between the team and the players’ agents, the dollars don’t appear to be adding up and neither is expected to still be here after Wednesday.
“They’re the two biggest decisions to make, budget-wise,” Murray said. “It’s not only for next year when we’re talking about contracts of this nature.
“You have to have a plan two and three and four years out and we have next summer again some unrestricted people that have to be looked after.”
Kuba, a 32-year-old who’s making $3 million this season, has a no-trade clause, but is willing to waive it.
“If we can’t get anything done here and something comes up, I will probably just waive it,” Kuba said.
Forward Antoine Vermette and utility man Christoph Schubert are also thought to be on the block.
Vermette was also made available at last year’s deadline and is trying to not let the talk affect his play.
“I try to do my thing, try not to think about it and obviously try not to go on the Internet every time and try to follow what’s going on with the latest rumour,” he said.
Murray addressed a couple of Ottawa’s needs less than two weeks ago by acquiring offensive defenceman Chris Campoli and some secondary scoring help in forward Mike Comrie from the New York Islanders, although Comrie, a potential unrestricted free agent, will need to be re-signed in the off-season.
After initially playing well upon being called up from AHL Binghamton, rookie netminder Brian Elliott is struggling. Traditionally a sore spot in the nation’s capital, Murray said he’s not looking for an alternative to his current tandem of Elliott and Alex Auld before the deadline.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to give us the type of goaltender that we feel is regarded in any respect as a top guy. If they have him, they’re keeping him,” Murray said. “I want to see Brian play a little more. I think he’s got some qualities to be a real good goaltender in this league.”
Whatever deals the Senators do make, fans may have to be content without draft picks or prospects coming the other way since they’re not necessarily looking to pick up bodies for this season.
“Whatever’s available really,” Murray said. “In some cases, you’re being offered a pick or a prospect and in some a player from the NHL. It’s just a matter of making the call at the right time.”