OTTAWA – With speculation swirling over the future of Ottawa Senators staff and players, general manager Bryan Murray insisted Monday that there will be no quick fix coming in order to save jobs.
“I can save my job by trading our first-round pick, probably, and making the team a little more competitive,” the under-fire GM said following the struggling team’s practice. “I would never do that to this franchise.”
At the midway point of the NHL season, the Senators rank 28th out of 30 teams before Monday night’s action, and are 15 points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into their clash with the Hurricanes on Tuesday in Ottawa.
With just one victory in the past nine games, rumours of a major shakeup continue.
Things got so bad that last week, when a report surfaced stating Murray and coach Craig Hartsburg were about to be replaced by Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson and gold-medal winning national junior team coach Pat Quinn, respectively, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk issued a statement to deny the claims.
But that didn’t stop reporters from descending on Scotiabank Place on Monday as Murray returned from a week of scouting meetings, asking about his future and that of his coach and players.
He stopped just short of saying he’s been told by Melnyk that his job is safe.
“That’s something I don’t have to announce publicly,” he stated. “That’s my not my concern at all … I’ve been managing one year with this club. I don’t know that I should have to worry about my job because of the performance of the club.”
The jobs of others, however, don’t seem so secure.
While Murray has discussed trades with other teams, he’s not prepared to mortgage the future to save this season. That means no blockbuster deal appears imminent, nor does the arrival of any big-name players to bail out his club.
Murray’s hands are somewhat tied by the salary cap. The Senators currently have about $54.54 million U.S. of the NHL’s $56.7 million cap tied up.
“I’ve been trying (to make a deal). I can give up our first-round pick and get a decent player, but that’s not the (right) thing to do,” he said. “It’s OK for me or the coach to do that now. For the franchise, it’s not the right thing to do and I’m not going to do it because of that. …
“I’ve talked to a lot of clubs and there are some things we could do that are lateral moves, maybe that’s worthwhile doing in the near future, but what I’m looking at right now acquiring a younger player or two, not a veteran with a big contract.”
Recently, centres Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher have both been linked with possible moves to the Edmonton Oilers while Antoine Vermette was the subject of a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but so far, there’s been nothing done.
“The thing that I can’t do right now is just move people out of here,” Murray said. “We’ve got a core of younger players here, for the most part. We’ve got a couple of veterans guys that at some point in time we’ll have to decide upon, but that’s not today.”
One player whose time appears close to being up is goaltender Martin Gerber.
The Senators recalled netminder Brian Elliott from Binghamton of the American Hockey League last week and he started Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at home by the New York Rangers.
Hartsburg said he’ll start again Tuesday night when Ottawa plays host to the Carolina Hurricanes, with Alex Auld serving as the backup, and a decision on the team’s goaltending will be made by the end of the week, according to Murray.
Gerber has about $1.8 million left on the three-year, $11.1-million deal he signed in 2006, so the Senators could send him to the minors and get the remainder of his contract off their books for the year at least.
Needless to say, Gerber isn’t happy about looking like the odd man out.
“It sucks, but there’s nothing I can do right now, so I’m just going to work hard and move forward,” said Gerber, who had yet to meet with the GM to discuss the situation.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Senators will be trying to find a way out of the mess.
“When you look at the whole year, most of it stems from not putting the puck in the net,” said left-winger Dany Heatley, who’s in the midst of an eight-game goal-less drought and has found the net just twice in the past 15 games.
His slump has resulted in Hartsburg bumping him from the team’s first power-play unit and Heatley admits it’s frustrating, but said the players aren’t paying much attention to the trade talk.
“This is a very good town for rumours all the time,” said Heatley, who has a no-movement clause in the six-year, $45-million extension he signed at the start of last season and wouldn’t likely be on the move.
The Senators last missed the post-season in 1996 and Murray hasn’t given up on making the playoffs yet. However, the next couple of games will likely determine how the Senators approach the rest of the year.
“We’re not in very good position for a playoff spot,” he said. “To be realistic, I think we can win some hockey games in the near future, I’m hoping, and get some confidence back in this club and get rid of some of the frustration for all of us. Then we have to determine what direction we’re going.
“I’m going to watch our team over the next two games here and then we’ll see if some players have to do something other than play for Ottawa.”