Million-dollar smiles

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

Jason Spezza's new contract came with some fine print.

"He's buying me lunch," deadpanned Senators GM Bryan Murray.

The Senators centre can certainly afford it after he joined the list of Ottawa stars willing to give up the right to unrestricted free agency, agreeing to a seven-year, $49-million (all terms US) extension with the club.

After locking up Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher earlier this season, owner Eugene Melnyk continued to dig deep into his wallet, ensuring key components of the Senators can continue to make his team a Stanley Cup contender.

"I'm extremely excited," said Spezza, who won't suit up tonight against Boston because of a groin injury.

"Ottawa is where my heart is. Mr. Melnyk has shown a commitment that he wants to have a winner here and I really want to be part of it. My goal was to get the contract out of the way and just focus on winning games."

Heatley, who just signed a six-year extension worth $46 million, was excited his linemate will be sticking around.

"It's awesome," said Heatley. "I'm really happy for him and it's great for the team down the road. I've really enjoyed playing with him for the last couple of years."

Discussions got serious last Saturday when Murray had a face-to-face meeting with Spezza's agent Rick Curran in Newark, N.J. The two sides held more talks Thursday and Spezza signed the agreement at 9:30 a.m. yesterday following a brief discussion with Melnyk.

The Senators didn't want the focus of negotiations to be a distraction and once Heatley inked his extension on the eve of the season, re-signing Spezza wasn't difficult.

"The decisions are really simple: You can ... keep the players that you want to keep or you can fight with them over the next couple of years," said Murray.

"I believe if you want to have a good hockey team, and obviously we do here, and you recognize that there are core players on our team that have great value around the league, then if possible, you want to keep them.

"We know that good players attract other good players. People will want to play in Ottawa because we've signed (Spezza), Mike Fisher and Dany Heatley, plus we've got (Daniel) Alfredsson and a couple of defencemen and a goaltending core. Our team should be competitive on an annual basis."

Spezza said he hadn't considered playing elsewhere, especially after Heatley and Fisher agreed to stay.

"I just looked at the guys around us and we should have a good team here every year," said Spezza.

"We've kind of built this team over the last few years to get to where we are and I want to be a part of the fruits of what will happen if we can keep getting better as players."

There was concern that if the Senators let Spezza become a restricted free agent on July 1, a team like the Maple Leafs might make an offer that Ottawa would have been forced to match.

"It's our job to be worried about everything," said Murray. "We knew we wanted Jason to be here. We knew this was important to lock him up and we had a willing partner."

With $40 million committed to approximately 10 players next season, the Senators could find it difficult to keep blueliner Wade Redden.

Murray said he'll speak with Redden's agent Don Meehan next to see how Redden wants to proceed, but it's fair to say the club can't keep him at $6.5 million per season.

"We'll just have to see how it goes," said Redden.

Murray said Melnyk deserves the credit.

"It indicates the commitment of Mr. Melnyk to keep this core of players together to have a competitive team for many years to come," said Murray.


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