Sens brass to have hands full

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Senators GM John Muckler will have his work cut out for him once there's a new collective bargaining agreement in place.

While the Senators were in good shape with everyone on the roster signed going into last season's lockout, the landscape will change drastically for Ottawa if -- as expected -- the league doesn't honour the 2004-05 contracts.

Talks between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association continued yesterday in New York with many observers believing a deal could be in place by July 1.

If a deal is reached, Muckler and assistant GM Peter Chiarelli will be busy attempting to sign players such as Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza.

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The Senators have 10 free agents, but it's difficult to speculate what might happen with them because no one knows what the new CBA will look like and the club will also have to respect whatever salary cap may be in place.

"We don't know what the new system is going to look like, but we think we've got a pretty good idea," Muckler said yesterday. "We feel like we've got our ducks in order, but we're like everybody else and we're taking a wait-and-see approach."

Sources say the NHLPA has left on the table the 24% salary rollback offered in December. The result is Hossa, Havlat and Spezza will be dealing with a different market once they sit down to make a deal. If there's a rollback, the Senators have committed $23 million US in salaries for next year.

Centres Mike Fisher and Todd White along with wingers Chris Neil, Antoine Vermette and Josh Langfeld, goalie Martin Prusek and defenceman Anton Volchenkov also have to get new contracts.

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The Senators also plan to try to turn 2003 No. 1 pick Patrick Eaves from Boston College pro this year while 2004 No. 1 pick Andrej Mezaros is coming off a standout season with Vancouver of the WHL and may be inclined to sign.

All this will leave Muckler and Chiarelli with difficult decisions. Hossa, Havlat, Spezza, Fisher, Vermette and Volchenkov are all young and will form the core of the team under new coach Bryan Murray.

The Senators are going to have to decide where White and Neil fit into the mix while Langfeld received a one-way contract for the first time in his pro career last season, which he spent with the club's minor-league affiliate in Binghamton.

There has been speculation the Senators might deal Prusek. If so, Binghamton's Ray Emery would get the chance to work behind veteran Dominik Hasek.


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