OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators took the first step toward parting company with Martin Gerber on Thursday when the goaltender accepted a two-week conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.
With the emergence of rookie Brian Elliott, who’s started the Senators’ past three games, including the struggling team’s first back-to-back wins in more than a month, the 34-year-old has been deemed surplus to requirements.
He hasn’t dressed in any of the past three games and, after meeting with Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray, was on his way to the team’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton on Thursday night, where he’s expected to suit up for the Baby Sens in games Friday and Saturday.
“The plan is to get him playing again,” Murray said during a conference call with reporters. “He felt that he would like to do this, to go down, take the voluntary assignment and play. In the meantime, I will continue to investigate if there’s outside interest for him.”
Gerber hasn’t dressed since the Senators recalled Elliott last week, with Alex Auld serving as the backup. After Elliott, 23, lost his first start of the season 2-0 to the New York Rangers on Saturday, he backstopped the Senators to 5-1 and 3-2 wins over the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
“We reached a point where we had to bring Brian up to help the team have a little more success than we were having,” Murray said.
In 14 games this season, Gerber is 4-9-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .899 save percentage with one shutout.
He doesn’t have to stay the full two weeks, but if he does, at the end of it, Murray will have a decision to make. Gerber could be dealt, waived or sent to the minors on a permanent basis. Murray said they’d also explore a lone option if any European teams were interested in his services and would pick up part of his salary.
Gerber, a native of Burgdorf, Switzerland, is still owed about US$1.67 million of the three-year, $11.1-million deal he signed in 2006 and will still be on the NHL team’s books while in the minors unless the assignment became permanent.
Murray refused to blame Gerber for the team’s woes, praising his work ethic, and said the move doesn’t necessarily mean Ottawa fans have seen the last of him, though it looks likely.
“As long as Martin Gerber is in the minors, (Elliott) is here to stay and talking to (coach) Craig Hartsburg today, I’m hoping that that’s a fact,” Murray said.
“(Gerber) is a man. He understands the business. He understands that when you play well, people like you and when you don’t play, well, they don’t like you.”