Cap raps Sens' knuckles

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

TORONTO -- John Muckler says no team has been hit harder by the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement than the Senators.

Muckler, speaking before last night's Senators-Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre, said the new salary cap and rules for free agency are making it difficult for Ottawa to keep its top prospects.

"It's the nature of the beast now. These contracts and unrestricted free agency are going to happen to everybody," Muckler told a Toronto radio station. "They've happened to Ottawa more than any other team since the lockout because of the quality players that we had and because of the slide (in age before unrestricted free agency) that was given to the players coming out of the lockout. That really hurt us because it put some of our players into unrestricted free agency (following the 2005-06 season)."

That's why Ottawa decided this summer to deal winger Martin Havlat to Chicago after watching defenceman Zdeno Chara sign with the Boston without getting anything in return. It's also why Marian Hossa was dealt to Atlanta for winger Dany Heatley last year.

"There's things you have to do to counteract that ... like the Hossa situation," Muckler said following the radio interview. "We couldn't afford Hossa, so we signed him and then we traded him for Heatley," said Muckler. "If we wouldn't have made that trade, we wouldn't have Hossa today and we wouldn't have Heatley and that would have been disastrous. You have to make moves like that to be able to look down the road to try to keep it competitive."

The Senators will get relief from negotiations next summer. They have 14 players under contract for next season at a cost of $35 million (all terms US). The UFAs are defencemen Chris Phillips and Tom Preissing, and centres Chris Kelly and Dean McAmmond.

Talks haven't started with Phillips, who has been with Ottawa for 10 years. His agent, Stacey McAlpine, would prefer to hold discussions at the end of the season.

TRYING TO KEEP TUCKER: Leafs GM John Ferguson is holding face-to-face talks with RW Darcy Tucker's agent Carlos Sosa in Toronto for the next couple of days. Sources say Tucker is seeking a five-year, $17.5-million ($3.5 million a season) contract from the Leafs. Making $1.596 million this season, many NHL insiders believe Tucker would get the kind of money he's seeking on the free-agent market. "I would think there would be 29 other teams interested in Darcy Tucker if he hit the market," a league executive said. Tucker had 61 points (28 goals) last season and was leading the Leafs in scoring with 10 points (seven goals) going into the game against Ottawa. Tucker said he's just going to focus on what's happening on the ice and let Sosa take care of the business. "I've always said I feel fortunate to play in a place like Toronto," said Tucker. "I'm going to leave those things that happen off the ice to the people that handle them. Hockey is the most important thing to me right now and I want to focus on playing."

AROUND THE BOARDS: Senators owner Eugene Melnyk had a special guest in his private box for last night's Toronto-Ottawa game. Melnyk invited incoming Pittsburgh owner Jim Balsillie to attend the game with him. Balsillie, the chairman and CEO of Research in Motion from nearby Kitchener, bought the Penguins last month for $175 million and is awaiting approval from the NHL's board of governors before officially taking over the squad ... Is former Senators bench boss Jacques Martin, who recently took over the dual role as GM in Florida, ready to step aside from his coaching duties? That's the speculation after the Flyers fired coach Ken Hitchcock on the weekend. Martin and Hitchcock are close friends. They worked together on the Team Canada staff at the Olympics and World Cup under Pat Quinn. Martin has been overwhelmed in his dual role, but nobody is sure if he's ready to give up coaching. There are rumours Hitchcock might be offered the opportunity to coach the Blue Jackets with Columbus struggling under Gerard Gallant ... The Leafs are trying to move G Mikael Tellqvist and it's believed Phoenix has shown mild interest, but the Coyotes have no interest in giving Toronto its asking price of a second-round draft pick.


Videos

Photos