Signing of the times

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Bryan Murray's No. 1 priority is to keep the Senators together.

With forwards Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly and defenceman Wade Redden all headed for unrestricted free agency next summer, Murray says he plans to start negotiations soon.

The club also has to deal with centre Jason Spezza, who will be a restricted free agent, one year away from being able to hit the open market.

"We will be proactive as much as we can be," said Murray in a conference call yesterday. "We'll find out where the numbers have to be and then we'll have to make some decisions. They'll be hard decisions, there's no question about it.

"We're interested in talking as early as possible and seeing where we can get with them."

Heatley, who carries a cap hit of $4.5 million, will be the most valuable UFA on the market. He'll likely seek more than $7.5 million a season.

The Senators also have to decide what to do with Redden. He wouldn't waive his no-trade clause last summer to accept a deal to the Edmonton Oilers. Redden would have to take less than the $6.5 million he'll make this season.

Fisher makes $1.5 million, but could double that number if he does decide to look around next summer.

"We have a tough year ahead as far as player signings, trying to keep our own team together," said Murray.

But Murray's major concern is making sure he's got everything in place for the start of this season. He'd like to add another top-six forward, but hasn't had any further discussions with free-agent centre Peter Forsberg.

"I hope we're in the ballpark, but I don't know at this time," said Murray.

Rookie winger Nick Foligno will have a chance to make the club, but Murray would rather see him start in Binghamton.

Murray hopes players like Spezza and Heatley learned from the Stanley Cup final against the Anaheim Ducks.

"Well, I think we got out-competed against Anaheim," said Murray. "They battled physically a little harder than some of our players did. I think a couple of our guys, a couple of our better players in particular, got caught kind of a little off guard. We weren't as ready physically to get the battles going as we might have liked. But I think you learn from that. Our players can come back now understanding that's a every-night requirement. You only learn by doing."


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