Sens need Gary's grit

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

First Ray Emery, now Brian McGrattan.

In less than a week, the Senators have sent two of Jason Spezza's best friends packing.

As a trade-off, it's only right that GM Bryan Murray now brings in one of Spezza's Toronto buddies.

That Gary Roberts guy would work just fine.

Yes, it's once again time for us to implore the Senators to pursue Roberts, aka Their Worst Nightmare.

According to his agent, the 42-year-old Roberts has decided he will not return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom he has spent the past season and a half. Rick Curran told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Roberts "most definitely" intends on continuing his career, and that he has informed the Penguins "he's going to look for opportunities somewhere else."

There is no better somewhere else than the city in which he played most of his junior hockey career. There is no team that needs him more than the Senators.

Call it self-defence, for starters.

Roberts, you'll remember, scored twice in Pittsburgh's 4-0 Game 1 playoff victory over the Senators about eight weeks ago. The Penguins never looked back, and Ottawa never looked to be in the series.

Roberts now has scored 14 of his 33 career playoff goals in five series against the Senators. The total is liable to keep running if he winds up anywhere else.

Given his age and the $2.5-million salary he is coming off, there will be those who say Murray can't afford to pursue Roberts when he becomes an unrestricted free agent next Tuesday. More like they can't afford not to.

Limited to just 38 games last year because of a broken leg and a high ankle sprain, Roberts is determined to finish his career on a higher note. Forests of trees have been killed to get the paper on which stories of Roberts' great determination has been outlined. The Senators need some of that attitude on their side.

Having lost McGrattan, they also require a tough guy who can play. About to say farewell to Martin Lapointe, they will be down a veteran leader who not only has won, but who sets another positive example for their younger players.

Murray wants "good people" in his dressing room. That would describe Roberts, a North York native and a friend of Spezza's who had Ottawa on the short list of teams he would accept a trade to before he was dealt to the Penguins.

In dumping Emery and McGrattan, Murray rid his team of a couple of real characters. In reshaping the Senators, he needs to go after Roberts for his character.

COOL HAND LUKE

The Senators made the necessary qualifying offers to their eligible restricted free agents at yesterday's deadline, thus maintaining the rights to Andrej Meszaros, Antoine Vermette, Josh Hennessy and Jeff Glass ... Veteran Luke Richardson has informed Murray of his desire to play another year, but for now he's going to have to be content with participating in the waiting game. As it stands, the Senators' blue line shapes up like this: Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Meszaros, Brian Lee, Christoph Schubert and Lawrence Nycholat, a Binghamton farmhand whose deal (signed by former GM John Muckler) calls for him to earn $600,000 on a one-way contract next season. "We certainly need one more defenceman, at least," Murray said yesterday. "And I wouldn't be averse to getting a second. But they are hard to find." The 39-year-old Richardson suited up for 76 games with the Senators last year but was phased out in favour of Lee down the stretch and in the playoffs. "To be fair to Luke, I have not offered him anything," said Murray. "When free agency time kind of gets through a certain period, we'll look at our roster, and if we need that extra guy, and if he's willing to come back in a lesser role, then we would address that at that time. He wants to play, I believe, and he was good for us last year. He's certainly the character kind of guy that I want and like. What happened there, when Nycholat got the one-way contract, it kind of screwed Luke a little bit, as far as his opportunity to be that 6-7 guy. That's what I have to look at now." ... Asked about the possibility of bringing Mike Commodore back for his blue-line toughness, Murray said: "Again, it becomes dollars. I've talked to his agent (last Saturday). It depends. I think anybody going to free agency thinks there's a jackpot out there, for whatever their role might be. If he made 1.3 last year, maybe 'I'd get 2.5 next year' type of thing. Based on that, it would be hard to do."

THIS AND THAT

This week's development camp is allowing Murray to watch his first-round pick, slight Swede Erik Karlsson, for the first time. "He's smart, good hands, passes the puck real well. It's just drills right now, so there's no battles or anything. He's a skilled kid."


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