GM in a happy place

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

It could be now or never for the Senators.

With a new collective bargaining agreement in place, Senators GM John Muckler is convinced the club will be a Stanley Cup contender this season, but time may be of the essence with the rules for free agency changing.

"I would much rather be in the position we're in right now than trying to build a team from scratch," Muckler said yesterday at the Senators' relaunch press conference at the Corel Centre. "We feel like we've got a contender this year and that's a good thing. We have a lot of work to do, but I feel like we should be able to keep this team together."

Unfortunately, that might not be realistic. With defencemen Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden set to become unrestricted free agents next summer, the club is going to have to try and capitalize this season.

After all, there are no guarantees both will return in 2006-07. Then, the following season, defenceman Chris Phillips and wingers Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat are going to be unrestricted free agents.

It will be tough for Ottawa to keep all five of those important cogs.

"With the new system, you don't know what's going to happen so you have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them," said Phillips, who was on hand yesterday. "We feel like we've got a good team here, but you don't know if everybody is going to be here. There are so many factors involved and with free agency, guys are going to have the opportunity to decide where they want to play earlier in their careers."

Still, the club is hopeful it will be able to bring in young players this season to compete for spots. Talks will begin this week with unsigned 2004 draft picks Patrick Eaves, a centre from Boston College and defenceman Andrej Meszaros from the Vancouver Giants.

The club also hopes to sign 2003 draft choices Alexei Kaigorodov, a centre from Russia, and Kelowna goalie Jeff Glass. Three of those players -- Eaves, Meszaros and Kaigorodov -- could all push for spots with the Senators this season.

Binghamton wingers Josh Langfeld and Brian McGrattan and defenceman Christoph Schubert will also get long looks in training camp.


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