June 26, 2006
Summer break? Not for Sens GMFree agent deadline looms large
By BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun
VANCOUVER -- Summer will be anything but vacation time for Senators GM John Muckler.
After spending seven hours at the draft table at GM Place on Saturday, Muckler still has lots on his plate at this week with free agency only five days away.
Though Muckler will return to his Buffalo home to tie up some loose ends for a couple of days, he won't be far from his cellphone given that work he still needs to do.
Muckler is going to be watching how he spends his dollars. The Senators would like to have a payroll in the $40 million (all terms US) range and they've already got about half that amount committed for next season.
Here's a to-do list compiled with help from Muckler:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: The first order of business is to work on getting defencemen Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Brian Pothier under contract for next season. Sources say Redden is close to a deal and Muckler said he is planning more talks with agent Don Meehan today. It's believed he will sign a two or three-year deal with an annual salary in the $6.25 million range in the next couple of days unless talks completely break down. As for Chara, indications are there is a huge gap to be bridged. There are whispers the Senators are willing to go to owner Eugene Melnyk to help keep Chara in the fold, but they're not sure about his asking price. It's quite possible Chara could get $7 million on the open market -- possibly $8 million. He and agent Matt Keator have maintained the big blueliner would like to stay in Ottawa, but if Chara tests the market there's a good chance he won't be back. As for Pothier, sources told the Sun late Saturday he's seeking a raise from the about $650,000 he made last season to more than $2 million per year on a long-term deal. If that's the case, the Senators are prepared to simply let him walk, but there's also indications that could just be posturing. If not, he could sign with the Bruins as a UFA. The Senators and UFA Vaclav Varada are going to part company because his playing time was non-existent last year.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: The Senators have to extend qualifying offers to Jason Spezza, Ray Emery, Christoph Schubert, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly and Peter Schaefer. Naturally, they're all going to want raises. Don't be surprised if Ottawa takes a pass on giving centre Tyler Arnason and goalie Mike Morrison qualifying offers. Spezza, who made $1.1 million, is going to be seeking a big pay hike, while Emery, Schubert, Vermette and Schaefer won't be easy to sign, either. Arnason just didn't work out and the Senators are going to explore other goaltending options, which means Morrison may not fit into the picture here. Havlat? That's another story altogether.
GOALTENDING: Muckler said following the draft he has a deal for a netminder in the works. He spent a lot of time on the draft floor talking to San Jose GM Doug Wilson and the indications are the two teams are embroiled in discussions over Vesa Toskala. The Senators are dangling Havlat, but the Sharks might have trouble making the deal if he's not signed and wants to test the UFA market next season. "We have a possible deal for a goalie. That doesn't involve a draft pick, so it doesn't have to happen here," said Muckler. "That's something we'll look at down the road." He said Havlat's agent, Allan Walsh, might have stated publicly that his client will opt for free agency, but has indicated privately there might be room to negotiate. "We're going to talk some more with (Walsh) and see what direction this will take," said Muckler. He added if the deal for a goalie falls through, then he'll explore the free-agent market, which could include Carolina's Martin Gerber. That move would get support from coach Bryan Murray. The other option is to bring back G Dominik Hasek and that very much remains on the table, although, Muckler came up short in negotiations to get Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers. Sources say the Senators made a great offer with Havlat, Emery, Chris Phillips and a No. 1 pick, but there are suggestions the deal with Vancouver was virtually agreed upon at that point.
Stay tuned. It's going to be an interesting summer.