Lockout stifles Sens' excitement

Bruce Garrioch -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:50 AM ET

The Corel Centre looked gloomy yesterday and so did the Senators brass. The club should have been excited about players reporting for medicals this morning. Instead, Senators GM John Muckler sat on a podium with close friend and team president Roy Mlakar at his side and described what he called a "sad day."

Muckler spoke about what he and his staff are going to do to keep themselves busy until there's a new collective bargaining agreement in place.

As much as Muckler would love to be watching his players on the ice at their first workout tomorrow, he says the NHL is going to have to suffer a little bit in order to readjust itself for the betterment of the game.

"We know we have to go through this because there's got to be a new system in place. We can't go on with the current collective bargaining agreement and we fully support the decision by the league (to lock the players out)," said Muckler.

SACKED MARTIN

But this won't be easy for the Senators. Every season is supposed to generate excitement and this one was going to be no different.

After sacking coach Jacques Martin following another early playoff exit last year and replacing him with Shawville native Bryan Murray, the team was expected take a new direction in its style of play this season.

The changes didn't stop there. Goaltender Dominik Hasek, fully recovered from off-season groin surgery, was brought in to replace Patrick Lalime, who was shipped to the St. Louis Blues during the NHL entry draft in June.

If there's a season, that won't be it for the active Muckler. He's searching for a gritty winger for the left side and he wouldn't mind adding a seventh defenceman -- possibly Curtis Leschyshyn, who remains an unrestricted free agent.

Let's face it: Muckler, like every GM in the league, is always looking to improve.

But his hands are tied.

In his final act before the lockout started, Muckler sat down for a face-to-face meeting to sign winger Martin Havlat, got the deal done and then watched him walk out of the building until the lockout is over.

"I just think back to the day we had the press conference to introduce Dominik Hasek as our starting goaltender and I think about all the excitement that created in this city. I don't think I've ever seen it like that here," said Muckler.

"We've got a new coach in Bryan Murray. We're looking forward to getting back on the ice and we can only hope that this is going to get settled sooner rather than later. It's sad because there's so much excitement about what's going to happen (in Ottawa)."

The lockout hasn't left Muckler without a to-do list.

The Senators GM is heading to the club's AHL camp in Binghamton next week to keep an eye on the prospects. Centre Jason Spezza, winger Antoine Vermette and defenceman Anton Volchenkov have all agreed to play in the AHL until the lockout is over.

Binghamton is also expected to sign forwards Chris Kelly and Josh Langfeld and defenceman Brian Pothier to deals. Hasek has agreed to a two-week conditioning stint.

"As far as Hasek is concerned, we're going to have to wait and see. We're going to send him there for now and then decide in a couple of weeks what to do," said Muckler. "He'll be on the ice for conditioning and then we'll make a decision on where he's going to play."

CUP CONTENDERS

Once the league does return to playing, Muckler is confident this group can challenge for a Stanley Cup. He just wants the fans to be patient and remain hopeful there will be a season.

"We've got a good team here. We've got a talented, young team and they're going to be playing in various places until this lockout is settled," said Muckler. "I really feel we've got a good group here that's capable of getting the job done. We all want to improve after what happened last year."

There's just one question: When will they get the chance?

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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