Muckler plots new course

General Manager John Muckler of the Ottawa Senators. (SUN/Sean Kilpatrick)

General Manager John Muckler of the Ottawa Senators. (SUN/Sean Kilpatrick)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 2:08 PM ET

Senators GM John Muckler wanted to keep the Big Z.

But not at any price.

Speaking in a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview with the Sun yesterday, Muckler warned that fans will have to get used to the departure of players such as Zdeno Chara because of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The $44-million (all figures US) salary cap means that Chara won't be the last one out the door.

"I don't think people understand that the cap system dictates change and trades are going to be done in a different manner now," Muckler said. "You are not going to see teams receive the compensation that you think they should receive.

''Sometimes you're not going to trade players because you want to trade players, it's because you have to trade players because you can't afford (their contract) and you have to remove that from your payroll."

RICH DEAL

The Senators tried hard to keep Chara, but couldn't pay the star defenceman close to the $37.5 million over five years he received from the Boston Bruins.

"We didn't want to get rid of (Chara) or trade him. That was the last thing we wanted to happen," Muckler said. "It came down to balancing the cap. If you keep all your elite players at the salaries that they demand, then you have to take people out.

''This is a team sport and it's not just for the elite players. Yes, you've got to try to keep as many of the elite players as you have. That's what we want to do. But, in the case of the CBA, that's impossible."

LACKED NUMBER

Muckler said he had no objections to owner Eugene Melnyk volunteering to call agent Matt Keator and Chara, but the Senators GM was unable to get a firm number of what they were seeking.

"(Keator) wanted us to negotiate against ourselves and we weren't going to do that,'' Muckler said.

The Senators have already committed about $36 million for next season, but still have to sign forwards Martin Havlat, Peter Schaefer, Antoine Vermette, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly, and defenceman Christoph Schubert.

Muckler believes the Senators will be better with the additions of goalie Martin Gerber and defenceman Joe Corvo. But he admits a lot of the improvement is going to have to come from within.

"Everybody has to be a little bit better than we were last year. I like our team and several GMs I have spoken to like our club," said Muckler.

"I feel we've got a lot of talent on this team and we're going to have a team that competes. We've really only lost one guy (Chara)."


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