Peca not on Sens radar

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

Don't expect Michael Peca to make a grand return to Ottawa any time soon.

Even after dealing winger Martin Havlat and centre Bryan Smolinski to Chicago on Sunday, the Senators have shown no interest in the unrestricted free-agent centre.

What it really means is the Senators just don't have enough money in the kitty to take a serious run at the former 67's star.

So Peca, who had an outstanding post-season during the Oilers' unlikely run to the Stanley Cup final, will likely be going elsewhere if he decides to return to the Eastern Conference this fall.

That leaves the Maple Leafs as the No. 1 contender to land Peca.

Of course, they're the only team Peca wants his representatives to speak with at the moment. Whether that's due to the Senators' lack of interest is unknown.

Many Ottawa fans believe Peca would be a perfect fit in the nation's capital. He has grit, leadership skills and showed in the playoffs he can be a valuable commodity even after struggling through a sub-par season.

The Sabres and Islanders are both believed to be looking at Peca as well, but it appears Toronto would be his first preference.

The Senators, meanwhile, have already committed $35.5 million US to 14 players for next season, with five players from last year's roster to be signed.

"(Senators GM John) Muckler's hands are tied. He hasn't got the room to do anything," a league executive said yesterday. "That's the reality of this (salary cap) system. You can't afford to keep all of your star players.

"That's just the way it goes. That's why Havlat is gone. People in Ottawa are going to be seeing more of this and they won't like it, but the Senators are a victim of the new system."

That means the Senators are going to have top-line centre Jason Spezza with Mike Fisher as the No. 2 man. Don't be surprised if winger Antoine Vermette also gets a shot, while centre Alexei Kaigorodov will also be signed as soon as the IIHF transfer agreement is signed with Russia.

Muckler's focus now is dealing with his own headaches.

Wingers Peter Schaefer, Chris Neil, Vermette and centre Chris Kelly have all filed for arbitration. The club also has to decide whether to keep defenceman Christoph Schubert, who doesn't have arbitration rights.

It's believed the club has offered two-year deals to Schaefer, Neil, Kelly and Vermette.

Muckler is confident he'll be able to get all four under contract before they have their arbitration cases, which would be heard between July 20 and Aug. 4.


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