TORONTO -- There could be a Battle of Ontario over Chris Neil this summer.
The rugged winger might have suited up for his final game in a Senators uniform last night against the arch-rival Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, but sources say there's a good chance that if Neil does leave Ottawa, Toronto could be his new home.
Although Senators GM Bryan Murray and Neil's agent, Todd Reynolds, were huddled in the stands during yesterday's morning skate, any serious discussions about a contract extension for the potential unrestricted free agent are likely going to be put on hold until the dust settles on the season.
If Neil does test the market, Toronto GM Brian Burke will almost certainly make a pitch for the 29-year-old, who is pulling down $1.1 million (all terms US) this season. Burke wants to build a tough team, and the Leafs have room under the cap.
Neil fits the Burke mould, but the feisty winger said before last night's game he was focused on finishing the season strong and wasn't worried that his career with the Senators could be over.
"I'm just out there playing. That's the bottom line," said Neil. "I made it through the trade deadline and I'm finishing the year with the Ottawa Senators. Any time I throw the jersey on, I'm going to go out and try to play like it's my last game."
Off the glass
The Senators were without captain Daniel Alfredsson for last night's game. He has been troubled by a sore back that's going to keep him out of the world championship and there was no sense putting him in a meaningless game. "I would have liked to have played, but the way my back is we felt that it was best to sit this one out," said Alfredsson, who didn't even take part in the morning skate. Of course, that meant Toronto fans didn't get their chance to boo Alfredsson every time he touched the puck. Instead, he had a seat in the press box ... No sign of former Senators G Martin Gerber in the Toronto dressing room yesterday. A Leafs spokesman kindly told reporters Gerber had already left and he'd be available after the game. Just wanted the chance to say goodbye since he'll likely be back in Switzerland next season, but coach Ron Wilson had nice things to say. "He's played very well and he's made a solid impression on us," said Wilson. "His style is very calm and looks like sometimes he's not trying (because) he really relies on the mechanics in his game. It's been an adjustment for our defencemen, but I think he's played really well for us."
Around the boards
Ottawa LW Nick Foligno said he'd be interested in going to the world championship if he's invited by Burke, Team USA's GM. "I'd love to play. It's just a matter of being asked. I haven't had any conversations with anybody," said Foligno, who never played for the U.S. in the world junior tournament. Wilson, who will be behind the Team USA bench, confirmed Foligno is on the list. "He's definitely a very good candidate for the team," said Wilson ... A name to watch in the off-season: C Chris Kelly. The Senators are disappointed in the way he played at both ends of the ice this season. At a salary of $2.125 million, Kelly, 27, didn't live up to expectations. The Jackets and the Blues are interested in acquiring him ... LW Jarkko Ruutu has accepted an invitation to play for Finland at the worlds and D Christoph Schubert will play for Germany, but D Anton Volchenkov hasn't decided if he'll suit up for Russia ... 67's GM Brian Kilrea, who coached his final game 12 days ago, was given a standing ovation by the ACC faithful and the players on both teams during a timeout in the first period. Invited to the game by Burke, Kilrea sat behind the Toronto bench with his wife Judy.
The morning skate
Bad year all around for the Ottawa organization. The club's AHL affiliate in Binghamton was eliminated from the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year with a 6-1 loss to Norfolk Friday at home. "It was like your worst nightmare," said G Jeff Glass, who was pulled after Norfolk went ahead 5-0 in the second. "It felt like everything that could have went wrong did. And one of those nights you just wish you could have back." Fans in Binghamton aren't happy the Senators didn't send the club any reinforcements once Ottawa was officially eliminated from the playoffs. Only D Brian Lee would have gone down to Binghamton if the Baby Sens had made the playoffs ... RW Dany Heatley is a certainty to play for Canada at the worlds, but GM Doug Armstrong is waiting to make decisions on D Chris Phillips, C Mike Fisher and C Jason Spezza. G Brian Elliott could be the team's third goalie ... Senators president Roy Mlakar sat with Murray in the press box. Surely, owner Eugene Melnyk is going to make sure Mlakar gets a contract extension. Last time I checked, most games at Scotiabank Place were sellouts or close to it. That's Mlakar's department, and not many do more in the community than this guy.
The 67's are done for the year. The Olympiques were sent packing Friday. The Senators closed the door on their season last night. It will be a quiet spring in Ottawa. Enjoy the Masters today.