Muckler rolling dice with revamped lineup

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:37 PM ET

The depth chart that adorns the wall in Senators GM John Muckler's Corel Centre office contains few holes.

Still, some key questions remain.

The new-look Senators head to training camp Tuesday amid excitement over the return of NHL hockey after a winter everyone would just as soon forget.

Gone, but not forgotten, from the Senators' 2003-04 lineup -- the last time they played -- are centre Radek Bonk, goalie Patrick Lalime, defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn, winger Marian Hossa and longtime coach Jacques Martin.

Time has healed the wounds of another first-round elimination by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the spring of 2004.

But Muckler still believed an overhaul was in order, and he decided to change the face of this club.

"I could have done nothing and maybe we would have had another 100-point season, but we wouldn't have been successful in the playoffs," said Muckler. "The fans here aren't going to settle for that and we're not going to settle for that either. We're all about winning a Stanley Cup here. That's our only goal.

"If you don't win a Stanley Cup, there is no sense in going back with the same old group of guys. You have to make changes and you can't be afraid to make changes in this job. If you make changes, though, you have to do it for the right reasons and I believe that's what we did here."

But Muckler is aware there are question marks going into training camp and he addressed those issues in a pre-season interview with the Sun.

THE DOMINIK HASEK QUESTION: This is the biggest one of all, but Muckler isn't the least bit concerned. Hasek, 40, is fully recovered from groin surgery he had in April 2004 and has looked "fantastic" according to those who were skating with him at the Bell Sensplex during informal workouts last week. "I know the biggest question is in goal and I have no concerns about it at all," said Muckler. "What I like about Dominik Hasek is this guy is a winner. When I spoke with him, I could see he still had the passion to play the game and he wants to come in here and prove everybody wrong. He wants to come in here and win a Stanley Cup. This guy has been an elite player and I don't think you ever lose your skills. Mentally, I know he's prepared for this challenge." Backup Ray Emery, who will be making his NHL debut, is going to play a role, but he's not coming off a standout season in Binghamton. "We're going to use both goalkeepers ... You have to have both if you're going to win a Stanley Cup," said Muckler.

THE "ARE THE SENATORS DEEP ENOUGH AT FORWARD" QUESTION: While Bonk was often criticized because he was a No. 1 pick who never lived up to expectations, his departure does leave a void that needs filling. All eyes will be on one guy: Centre Jason Spezza. "Spezza has got to have a breakout year," said Muckler. "This is his fourth year (as a) pro ... it's time to get it done. He's been up and down, but he's had a chance to be the main guy in Binghamton and he had a good year. He has to be able to show that he can get it done at this level." People around the league wonder if the Senators have the necessary depth in the middle. But Muckler is convinced Bryan Smolinski can fill the No. 2 centre spot. "Smolinski has the talent to be a No. 2 centre, he just has to do it on a consistent basis. I don't think there's any question about talent," said Muckler. There is no question Mike Fisher brings grit to the No. 3 position while Chris Kelly is going to get a chance to be the No. 4. That could mean Antoine Vermette gets moved to the left wing in camp, but those decisions will be left to Murray.

THE "WHAT IMPACT WILL BRYAN MURRAY HAVE" QUESTION: The Shawville native is a lot different than the stoic Martin. Murray isn't afraid to say what he really thinks and has a good relationship with Muckler. "I've known Bryan Murray for a long time and the one thing I know is that he can make this team mentally stronger," said Muckler. "He is a guy who is only going to accept winning. I like his attitude and his style of coaching and he loves to coach. He's dedicated and determined. A coach can't make a bad team into a good team, but he can make a good team into a better team."

THE "IS THIS THE CLUB'S LAST SHOT QUESTION:" A valid query. The new collective bargaining agreement is going to make it tough for Muckler to keep this Senators team together. If there's no new CBA, then the Marian Hossa for Dany Heatley deal probably isn't made. The Senators are going to have a tough time keeping both defencemen Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden after this season. Both will be unrestricted free agents. That's just the reality of it all. "We're going to try to keep our better players, but the reality is under a cap system we're not going to be able to keep all our better players," admitted Muckler. "That's not realistic unless you get a lot of co-operation from the players. People are going to have to accept that there are going to be changes."

THE "CAN DANY HEATLEY HELP CARRY THIS TEAM" QUESTION: The former top prospect for the Atlanta Thrashers must show he's fully recovered from the knee surgery he underwent following a horrific car accident in 2003, and an eye injury suffered last season in Europe. "I certainly believe he's going to help this team win and I liked the excitement that surrounded this move," said Muckler. "He's a skilled player. I know people are talking about his knee surgery, but if you have surgery on your (anterior cruciate ligament), you need a full year to recover. I was once told that you're never going to get a top player when he's at the top of his game, but you should remember what he was at the top of his game. I'm sure this deal is going to turn out to be good."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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