UFA Tracker

Rumor Roundup: Ottawa Senators become buyers

Ottawa looking for scoring, physical forwards? Who’s on the move in Buffalo? Could Ryan Miller land in Florida with the Panthers? And is Brandon Dubinsky available in Columbus?

After struggling through the first half, the Ottawa Senators are surging in the Eastern Conference standings, winning six of their last seven games to move within a point of a wild card berth.

Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press reports the Senators improvement has GM Bryan Murray, recently re-signed to a two-year contract extension, re-thinking his plans for the remainder of this season. Murray said his club is “available to make a deal” and he’s willing to draw from his depth in promising youth to acquire “a more veteran-type player.”

Earlier this season, Murray was in the market for a puck-moving defenseman, but the play of young Cody Ceci has, for the time being, addressed that need. Murray now seeks a forward who can bolster the Senators’ scoring or their physical play. Of his young players and prospects, however, one he won’t move is 2013 first round pick Curtis Lazar, who played well for Canada at this year’s world juniors.

The Senators GM also received approval from team owner Eugene Melnyk to make whatever moves are necessary leading up to this year’s trade deadline, though Melnyk notes they wouldn’t pursue players with big contracts. Pending unrestricted free agents are the likely options.

Murray could target rebuilding clubs like the Buffalo Sabres or Calgary Flames for short-term help. Sabres’ wingers Matt Moulson and Steve Ott could be available, while the Flames are expected to move Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak.

The Buffalo Sabres recent hiring of former Senators assistant GM Tim Murray as their new GM has some observers pondering the moves he could have in store for his new club.

CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reports Murray, in the press conference announcing his hiring, indicated there were no untouchables on his new team. However, teams with interest in young Sabres like Zemgus Girgensons, Tyler Myers or Rasmus Ristolainen should expect to pay a high price to acquire them. That should discourage any rival GM hoping to fleece Murray, who has years of front office experience with several NHL clubs.

Murray’s biggest challenge will be determining the fate of pending free agents like Moulson, Ott and goaltender Ryan Miller. Murray is expected to speak with Miller before the March trade deadline about re-signing with the Sabres. If the netminder intends to test this summer’s free agent market, Murray could shop him for the best possible return.

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Harvey Fialkov of sun-sentinel.com notes Miller has family living in Florida, suggesting the Panthers could consider pursuing the 33-year-old goalie via free agency in July.

Vinnie Viola, the Panthers new owner, has given GM Dale Tallon permission to spend up to the cap ceiling this summer, which is projected to be $71.1 million for 2014-15. The Panthers currently have $40.4 million invested in 12 players, leaving them more than $35 million to pursue free agent talent like Miller in July.

It remains to be seen, of course, if the Panthers succeed in landing Miller or any of this summer’s top free agents. While they will bid competitively, that might not be enough to attract a veteran like Miller, who would likely prefer signing with a Stanley Cup contender. Indeed, Tallon should avoid pursuing veterans more interested in a big payday than in building a winner.

At the very least, the Panthers willingness to spend puts an end to speculation they’ll engage in a roster fire sale by the deadline.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports hearing the Columbus Blue Jackets are willing to move center Brandon Dubinsky and his annual cap hit of $4.2 million.

Dubinsky’s contract expires at the end of 2014-15, so it’s not as though the Jackets are burdened by it for long. More importantly, the 27-year-old is among their key players: he’s second in team scoring (29 points in 40 games), leads them in short-handed goals (two), faceoff percentage (54.5 percent, 19th overall) and is third on the Jackets in hits (112).

The Blue Jackets are surging in the standings (7-3-0 in their last 10) and only three points out of a wild card berth. It’s doubtful they’ll shop Dubinsky, who’s been a contributing factor in their recent improvement.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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