Don't set him free, Sens

After a rough start, Senators coach Bryan Murray has his team on a roll and back in the thick of...

After a rough start, Senators coach Bryan Murray has his team on a roll and back in the thick of the playoff picture. Murray is in the final season of his three-year contract, and negotiations have yet to start with team management on a new deal. (Ottawa Sun/Blair Gable)

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

The door is open for NHL teams to talk to their key players who are poised to become free agents.

That goes for coaches, too.

Senators coach Bryan Murray is entering the last few months of the three-year deal he signed in the summer of 2004.

Murray, a former (and quite successful) general manager, negotiates his own deals, but apparently there have not been any discussions to this point between himself and the club.

So, the question is, what are the Senators waiting for?

Murray has done a remarkable job with this Senators team over the last month or so, coaxing some of the best team hockey this club has played in a long time despite the loss of key players such as Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher.

Veterans, both older and younger like Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, respectively, are playing some of the best hockey of their careers right now.

There have been strong contributions from young players (Anton Volchenkov, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Patrick Eaves) who have become key members of the club under the direction of Murray and his staff.

Looking around the league, I can't think of too many other coaches who are available or who might be available who you would want behind the Senators bench right now instead of Murray.

Some might suggest Pat Quinn or Pat Burns, if his health allows him to return, but neither of them come with any guarantees. Former Senators captain Randy Cunneyworth has done a great job with the Rochester Americans, the American Hockey League farm club of the Buffalo Sabres.

Given he likely won't be replacing Sabres coach Lindy Ruff any time soon, Cunneyworth will soon be an interesting prospect, but he will be a rookie.

Senators assistant coach John Paddock could also be a worthy successor.

Murray has gotten this group of Senators together and gotten it to do what many earlier this season thought it was incapable of doing -- raising its work ethic and playing with a greater sense of urgency.

Less than a month ago, just before Christmas, the Senators were 12 points behind the Montreal Canadiens and on the bubble as far as a playoff spot goes.

With Saturday's 8-3 win over the Habs, the Senators are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games and are now just one point behind the Canadiens (who hold two games in hand). They have created some separation between themselves and ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

More importantly, they have been better in close games (making some of them closer than they have to, like against the Rangers the other night) and looking more like a team ready to pay a price.

All good trends.

If Senators senior management is waiting to see how the Senators do down the stretch and into the playoffs to decide if Murray is still their man, there is a risk attached to that strategy.

If the Senators continue their march up the standings and have some success in the playoffs, Murray's value and bargaining position are going to go up.

Sometime in the not too distant future, there is a point of no return.

If the Senators continue to play the way they have lately, it will be better for Murray not to sign with the Senators and see what happens.

Who knows what opportunities might be out there?

Murray has talked before about ending his career here at home, but he also has a home in Florida, don't forget.

It's not out of the question both Florida clubs could be looking for coaches (and one of them a general manager, too) this off-season.

Murray maintains a home in South Florida and wife Geri and other members of his family frequently spend stretches of the winter there.

Who knows what could happen?

The Senators might soon be getting into a situation where it's a double-edged sword when it comes to their coaching situation.

If they don't act soon to sign Murray, they could be in a position where the better the club does, the better the chances of losing (or having to pay more) for one of the reasons for that success: The coach.


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