OTTAWA – After four trades in eight days, Ottawa Senators fans may need a program to know who is playing for them.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray continued to make over the roster of a team that’s set to miss the NHL playoffs for the second time in three seasons on Friday, when he dealt out-of-favour starting goaltender Brian Elliott to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Craig Anderson.
It’s the latest move by the Senators, who have lost 18 of the past 20 games and are looking to clean house.
With veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu shipped off to Nashville, Boston and Anaheim, respectively, in exchange for draft picks, the Senators gained more flexibility over the off-season as the 29-year-old Anderson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
“I didn’t think our goaltending was good enough going forward,” Murray said.
“The good thing about it is we get a chance for 20-something games to look and watch (Anderson) and, during that time period, I would think that we’ll have discussions and we’ll see where we want to be and where he wants to be.”
The Senators were hoping Anderson would arrive in time to back up Swedish rookie Robin Lehner on Friday night when they welcomed Kelly and the Bruins to Scotiabank Place.
Friday’s deal offers a fresh start for Elliott, a 25-year-old native of Newmarket, Ont.
His departure is just the latest in a string of goaltenders to pass through Ottawa’s room with his confidence shaken.
“Maybe we haven’t gone out and got the right goaltender,” Murray said when asked about the team’s bad luck with netminders.
“We haven’t had the high-end guy here that’s come and he doesn’t care about anything other than playing well and he plays well.”
Last season, Elliott helped the Senators put together a franchise-record 11-game win streak. This year he struggled, going 13-19-8 with a 3.19 goals-against average and .894 save percentage. Elliott, who is set to become a restricted free agent after this season, has won just one of his past 17 appearances.
Anderson has not had a great year in Colorado, posting a 13-15-3 mark with a 3.28 GAA and .897 save percentage. But he’s also been victim of a struggling team in front of him, so the Senators are hoping he’ll at least do the job temporarily.
“Everything goes hand in hand in this business,” Murray said. “Our defence would have been better if our goaltending would have been better and if we’d scored more goals our defence would have been better and our goaltending would have been better.”
The Senators feel Lehner will eventually be the solution to their years-long search for quality netminding. However, with Pascal Leclaire injured, Anderson’s arrival buys them time to ease Lehner into the NHL ranks.
Murray said that, with still more than a week to go before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, he may not be done making moves.
Among the other candidates likely to be out the door is veteran defenceman Chris Phillips. Murray intended to speak with Phillips’ agent, J.P. Barry, on Friday.
Phillips, an unrestricted free agent to be, holds a no-trade clause in his contract and has stated his preference to stay in Ottawa. But he likely holds some value on the trade market and would probably need to take a pay cut from the US$3.5 million he’s making this season to fit into the Senators’ rebuilding project.
Murray is open to trading any player except for 38-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson and 20-year-old all-star rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson.
That includes possibly parting with veteran right-winger Chris Neil and younger forwards such as Peter Regin and Nick Foligno.”We expected (trades) a little bit, but I don’t think we expected anything to happen this quick,” said forward Jason Spezza. “We’ve put ourselves in a situation where we have to deal with it. You lose a lot of friends, but it is what it is and you have to be professional and move on.”
Murray has said previously that he’d ideally like to be free of the contracts of forward Alex Kovalev and defencemen Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba, but those could be tough to move.
Kovalev, soon to be 38 and with a reputation for indifferent play, isn’t likely to attract many takers, even though his $5-million deal runs out after this season. Likewise, Kuba has had a poor season, becoming a healthy scratch at times, and still has another year at $3.7 million.
Gonchar, going on 37, is signed for another two years at $5.5 million per season. With 22 points and a minus-16 rating in 57 games, he hasn’t been the blue-line quarterback the Senators thought they’d be getting when they signed him last July 1.
In the meantime, with injuries to Alfredsson, Jesse Winchester, Gonchar, Chris Campoli and Matt Carkner, the Senators continue to fill spots in the lineup from their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, a trend that will likely continue for the remainder of the season.
It’s made for a revolving-door feel in the dressing room.
“I spoke with most of the guys this morning and they understand what’s going on and why things are changing,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston.
“We have nine guys (change in the lineup) whether it’s a week or so ago. It’s not easy, but we also stress the opportunity that it’s presented to some other players. The young guys, but also some of the other guys that have been around the last couple of years.
“We’re counting on guys like that to really step up their game and play in different roles.”