Sen avoids money talks

Senators forward Chris Kelly avoids a hit in this file photo while also avoiding salary arbitration...

Senators forward Chris Kelly avoids a hit in this file photo while also avoiding salary arbitration yesterday. (Sun File/Sean Kilpatrick)

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

When Chris Kelly rolls out of the rack this morning, he can pull on his dirtiest T-shirt, his holiest shorts and the rattiest ball cap in his collection.

They'll match nicely with the big grin he'll also be wearing, as there's no need for a scheduled business appointment he really wanted zero part of.

"No one wants to put on a suit in the middle of summer and go to Toronto for an arbitration hearing," the Senators centre said after being offered a tidy raise and inking a one-year deal worth $1.265 million US about 24 hours before his salary negotiations with the team were to be helped along by an independent mediator. "It's a great relief to avoid arbitration."

The signing of Kelly makes GM Bryan Murray a perfect 3-for-3 when it comes to last- minute deals with the only Ottawa players that were eligible to partake in this often ugly (just ask Sean Avery) settlement process. As much as Kelly didn't want to go to arbitration, Murray wasn't exactly looking forward to this case, either.

Perhaps the only criticism of Kelly was that he didn't score enough when utilized as the defensive conscience on a line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. But in his role as a responsible third-line penalty killer, there aren't many better than Kelly.

DURABLE PLAYER

"You don't want to have to say negative things about any players, but he's a hard-working, competitive kid, we know that, and he plays an important role on our team," said Murray. "But it's always about negotiations at the end of the day. We're happy with the agreement and I hope Chris is happy. I think he is."

Kelly, who has played all 82 games of both seasons he's been a full-time Senator, is coming off a 15-goal, 23-assist campaign during which he was also a plus-28. His salary will go up about $550,000 from the one-year contract he signed last summer.

While Murray was able to get Ray Emery and Christoph Schubert secured with three-year contracts in the minutes leading up to their arbitration cases, Kelly could not be locked up similarly.

The 26-year-old former Binghamton Senators captain could become eligible for unrestricted free agency next July.

"It was just that we couldn't come to terms on anything longer," explained Kelly. "We got a one-year done, no problem.

"We'll look for an extension in January, if things have changed. I definitely want to stay in Ottawa as long as I can, as long as they'll have me."

Kelly likes his team's chances of making it back to the final, mentioning that lessons were learned by the players, the coaches and management in the five-game loss to Anaheim. He noted Murray is trying to add size while the coaching staff -- in taking a cue from the Ducks -- will likely stress a stricter neutral zone effort that enables them to play bigger in the offensive zone.

Kelly hopes his teammates are remembering the disappointment they suffered.

"It's a short off-season, and nobody in the room or the city wants what happened to Carolina or Edmonton happen to us," said Kelly, referring to the failure of both 2006 Cup finalists to make the playoffs last spring. "I hope everybody is working hard and in another month and half will be ready to start up again."

Murray, who says the coaching staff could be rounded out with the hiring of another assistant this week, says he's still monitoring the free-agent list.

"Nothing at the moment is really presenting itself, and it has a lot to do with what I am able to do financially. We're going to keep an eye open ... we need another player from a numbers point of view. There are forwards still available and 'D' still available ... it'll be just a matter of getting the best guy we can come up with."


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