Fans in game of Wade-and-see

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 1:15 PM ET

Say what you mean, and mean what you say -- we've all heard this advice, and it seems easy enough to follow.

But in the world of professional sports, with its guarded cliches, it's more about making an appropriate remark while praying it doesn't come back to haunt you later on.

Such is the case with NHL players heading toward free agency. They say all the right things about working hard and avoiding the distractions of impending contract talks. Then comes the clincher -- they claim to love their club and wish to stay. That's the standard line, regardless of how sincere it is. Players are aware they're often perceived as being money-hungry, and professing loyalty to the home team is meant to counteract that perception.

But what happens when you're a potential unrestricted free agent and the last "big fish" on your team who has yet to negotiate a new contract?

What if your team has committed a lot of cash to others and a subpar season last year means you'll have to take a cut to remain -- but you've said you want to stay?

Welcome to Wade Redden's world.

In recent years, free agency has resembled a game of chicken. The UFA market seems like a Sotheby's auction, and restricted free agents can wield a surprising amount of power with offer sheets finally coming into vogue.

INCREASED PRESSURE

In addition, the salary cap has increased the pressure on teams to sign key players before they hit the free-agent market. Now more than ever, a coveted player's expressed desire to remain with his current team is viewed by fans as the signal for management to do whatever it takes to close the deal.

If the team's GM can't pull it off, he immediately becomes the target of fan anger and criticism, whether it's deserved or not.

Fortunately for Ottawa fans, Sens GM Bryan Murray has shown he is more than willing to keep potential free agents off the market by signing Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher and, most recently, Jason Spezza to long-term deals. All three said they wanted to stay with Ottawa. All three were given that opportunity, despite the financial opportunities available elsewhere.

As for Redden, he appears to be at the bottom of Murray's priority list -- a surprising position for an offensive defenceman of his talent. The 30-year-old all-star has made it clear he wants to stay with the Sens, going as far as invoking his no-trade clause to scuttle a potential deal in June that would have sent him to Edmonton.

But a couple of things are working against Redden's desire to remain an Ottawa Senator.

The recent deals with Fisher, Heatley and Spezza have left the Sens with less salary cap flexibility. As well, the memory of Redden's disappointing 2006-07 season still lingers.

Even before the club re-signed Spezza last week, the millions it had already committed to Fisher and Heatley meant Redden was likely facing a pay cut to stay in the capital.

Now, the Spezza contract almost guarantees he'll have to take less money to remain with the only NHL team he's ever played for.

LOYALTY HAS PRICE

Redden has said he doesn't want to leave, and Murray has previously indicated that he also wants to keep his all-star blueliner in the fold.

You have a general manager who's proven he's willing to spend what it takes to keep his core players.

On the other side, you have a defenceman with little leverage who wants to stay in his adopted city, but knows such loyalty has a price.

With other potential suitors readying to tempt Redden with more money to jump ship, is that a price he's willing to pay?

So far, neither Murray nor Redden has blinked.

Is Wade Redden saying what he means and meaning what he says about his future with the Sens?

Hopefully, it won't take long to find out.


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