Commitment questions dog Arnason

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

It's the weekend NHL free agents have been waiting for, a chance to get on the open market.

Some figure to cash in, others will have a hard time landing a job.

You can't help but wonder where Winnipeg's Tyler Arnason will fit in.

There's no denying Arnason has talent -- he posted 19 and 22 goals in his first two NHL seasons, after being named the AHL rookie of the year in 2002.

At 27, his best days should be ahead of him.

Arnason's production dipped to 13 goals this past season, though, and this week, Ottawa Senators GM John Muckler publicly questioned his commitment.

Muckler, who obtained Arnason from Chicago at the trade deadline, said he won't make the centre a qualifying offer by July 1, making him a free agent.

Muckler went on to tell an Ottawa radio station that Arnason was out of shape.

Arnason, back in Winnipeg where he's settling into a new house, shrugged off the criticism in his usual, laid-back way.

"You know what, everyone's got their opinions," he said. "People like to talk. And if they want to talk, they can talk. If you look at my numbers, I think they're pretty impressive. They speak for themselves."

As we said, Arnason's numbers, overall, are pretty good.

In 19 games with Ottawa, though, he didn't score a single goal. And he was a healthy scratch for the playoffs -- not exactly the way you want to go into free agency.

"It just didn't work out, I guess," he said. "They went with their team in the playoffs that they already had. There's not much you can do about it."

As for why the Sens didn't qualify him, Arnason figures the salary cap played a role.

"I figured it might happen. They have to sign (Zdeno) Chara and (Wade) Redden and (Jason) Spezza, so there's probably not going to be a lot of room under the cap, I figure. That's my guess."

An offer of around $1 million would have qualified Arnason.

Now he's on the open market for the first time, unsure of what's going to happen.

This isn't the first time Arnason's conditioning has been questioned, and he's getting a little tired of hearing it.

"It's kind of frustrating when you do so well in your career, and yet you're looked upon this way," he said. "I'm just kind of sick of it, so I'm not going to talk anymore."

Better just to prove people wrong, instead.

If Arnason does that, maybe he'll turn out to be one of the steals of this year's free agent crop.

ARNIEL THE MAN? Seems it's just a matter of time before Scott Arniel takes over the reigns of the Manitoba Moose.

"I'm not ready to talk about anything, yet," Arniel was saying the other day. "I haven't had any conversation with Vancouver, so there's nothing to talk about, yet."

Maybe, but that doesn't mean there won't be at this time next week.

That's when Arniel gets back from a trip to a U.S. college prospects camp with his 16-year-old son, Brendan.

It's also within the time frame Moose GM Craig Heisinger originally said the AHL club should have a replacement for Alain Vigneault, hired by the parent Vancouver Canucks a week ago.

A STEP BACK: Manitoba's Andy Murray and former Jet Eddie Olczyk are both taking a step back, after being fired as head coaches this past year.

Murray, the Gladstone native let go by the L.A. Kings, heard from a couple of teams, but will do some consulting work with a couple of European hockey federations, instead.

"I may be a little bit selective in what my plans are," Murray said. "But it's not my first kick at the cat."

Olczyk, dumped by Pittsburgh, is continuing his broadcasting career in Chicago.

Had the Manitoba job come up earlier, Eddie-O says he might have thrown his hat into the ring.

The way Moose coaches are reaching the NHL these days, he may get another chance.


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