Murray, find your magic

Sens GM Bryan Murray has to make a significant trade during the offseason, argues the Sun's Don...

Sens GM Bryan Murray has to make a significant trade during the offseason, argues the Sun's Don Brennan. SUN MEDIA/Errol McGihon

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:40 AM ET

On June 24, 2000, Mike Milbury should have kept his mitts jammed deep in his pockets.

Instead, he participated in a handshake that probably cost him a ring. Not a Stanley Cup ring, but whatever he was wearing on his finger at the time. And maybe even a watch.

Florida Panthers GM Bryan Murray took his New York Islanders counterpart to the cleaners that summer day, stealing Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish in what turned out to be one of the lopsided trades in NHL history.

Kvasha, a 6-foot-6, 22-year-old Russian left winger, would go on to play just five more seasons in the NHL, never producing more than 15 goals. At last glance he was a decent contributor for the Chekhov Vityaz club in his homeland.

Parrish, a 23-year-old right winger, scored 30 goals his second season with the Isles. Since then he has petered into a very ordinary player with the Minnesota Wild.

ON THE FLIP SIDE...

Jokinen, who was 21 at the time of the deal, has developed into one of the biggest and most productive centres in the NHL. He regularly scores more than 35 goals a season and, unless he is signed to an extension by the Phoenix Coyotes, should be one of the more sought-after jewels on the free-agent market the summer after next.

Luongo, who was also 21, now gives the Vancouver Canucks either the best or second-best goalie in the world. Enough said.

After more silliness (including THE worst trade in NHL history, which essentially sent Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin), Milbury is now an expert on TV.

Meanwhile, left to return the Senators into Cup-contender status is Murray, who better hurry up and remember where he put his magic wand.

To give Ottawa hope of extending its consecutive-season playoff streak and have a shot at the title, the Senators GM has to make a significant trade. And he has to win it, and in a big way.

The optimistic will look at the team's roster as is and feel confident that last season's swan dive was a blip. Still here are Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly. Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. A very solid core, indeed.

But, as the largest wave of free agency passes, there are also currently too many holes and question marks:

The Martin Gerber-Alex Auld goaltending tandem is potentially the worst in the Northeast Division, if not the entire Eastern Conference.

Andrej Meszaros, should he get signed, will be counted on to provide a strong power-play and puck-moving presence. But his progress has stalled since a standout rookie season. He is certainly no guarantee. That leaves one of Brian Lee, Christoph Schubert and Lawrence Nycholat to emerge as a solid No. 4 blueliner with the ability to contribute offensively. Never mind that not one of the three has ever started a season as an NHL defenceman.

If new coach Craig Hartsburg keeps the powerful line of Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley together, that leaves the Senators with the same problem they've had for years. Who's going to provide the secondary scoring? Right now, our guess is that units 2, 3 and 4 could look like this: Nick Foligno-Vermette-Fisher, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil, Shean Donovan-Dean McAmmond-Jesse Winchester.

HOW ABOUT PRODUCTION?

There's some character, grit and talent there, to be sure. But we're not seeing a whole lot of production, and we definitely don't see a team that is a lock to make the playoffs. Not when others in the East have made serious strides forward. Not when the only sure soft touch looks to be the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The fun and games are still three months away, but on this day it looks to us like the best bets to make the playoffs are the teams that did last season: Montreal, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Boston.

Ottawa, it appears now, will be in the mix with Tampa, Carolina, Buffalo, Florida, the Islanders and the Thrashers for the eighth spot.

To improve the Senators' chances of making the playoffs, their Murray needs to recreate some magic. He needs to win a trade.

For the Senators to have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, he needs to reach out and touch another Mike Milbury.


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