Despite helping the Senators to their first Stanley Cup final appearance in June, Redden’s US$6.5-million price tag and a sub-par season by the 30-year-old defenceman nearly spelled the last of his 10 seasons in Canada’s capital.
On Saturday, as the Senators returned to practice for the first time this season, Redden, Ottawa’s highest-paid player, was back too, and with a renewed commitment to regaining his old form.
He also isn’t carrying any ill feelings toward general manager Bryan Murray, who tried to offload the longest serving player after captain Daniel Alfredsson in team history during the NHL draft.
“I had an up-and-down year last year,” Redden said following Saturday’s skate. “I know decisions have to be made, tough decisions, every summer. Bryan was in a position and I’m sure he’s the type of guy who’s going to make his team better when he feels he can.”
Last summer, with both Redden and Zdeno Chara eligible for unrestricted free agency, Redden signed a two-year, $13-million deal while Chara joined the Boston Bruins in a situation that many fans and media felt came down to a choice between one or the other.
Redden struggled with a groin problem early that caused him to miss eight of the first 20 games and he never really got on track. A chest injury forced him to sit out a large chunk of December and he appeared in a career-low 64 games and managed just seven goals, the second-lowest total of his career. With he and new defence partner Andrej Meszaros falling behind Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov as Ottawa’s No. 1 defensive pair, the fans began to turn on him. With the final year of his contract coming up and given his salary, the Senators obviously felt the time was right to move him. While Redden vacationed in British Columbia during the summer, back in Ottawa, Murray let it be known during a conference call with reporters that Redden used the no-trade clause in his contract to veto a move to the Edmonton Oilers. The potential deal caught Redden off guard when proposed, but the fact that Murray told the media about it, unbeknownst to the player, also stung him.
Now he’s back in camp, looking to put the situation behind him.
“I’m a big boy. I guess I can handle the rumours and stuff,” he said. “I would have rather sat down with Bryan and talked to him about it. I haven’t had the chance yet, but I don’t take it personally. That’s part of the game.”
When Redden turned up for the opening of camp on Thursday for medicals and strength testing, he insisted his heart was still in Ottawa, regardless of whether he finishes the season as a member of the Senators.
“I always wanted to come back,” he said. “I never really had time to think about going elsewhere. I didn’t ever anticipate having that proposition. I’m here, we’ve got a great bunch of guys, a great team, that’s exciting.
“I’m coming in with a positive attitude and I think we’re going to have a good start to the year. After that, we’ll deal with things as they come.”
Murray, at least for now, says Redden still figures to play a big role in the team’s plans.
“I expect a real good season,” Murray said. “He looks great. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him, other than to say, ‘Hi,’ about his game or the year.
“We know for a fact this is a big year for him and the organization. I think (Redden) will play the way he can – that’s special teams and puck movement and be a real offensive force for us.”
New coach John Paddock, who took over for Murray behind the bench after Murray moved upstairs into the GM’s chair, called Redden during the summer to discuss last season and he’s expecting Redden to be better this time around.
“I think Wade understands and knows what kind of season he had last year,” Paddock said. “His place as a premier defenceman in the league – he wasn’t that last year, so that’s his challenge. Very initially, just taking a look at him, I think he’s more than ready for it and it’s up to him to regain that spot.
“Obviously he’s very capable of doing it and we need him to do it – very badly.”