Smith answers character call

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

If character breeds success, then Senators GM Bryan Murray scored large with the signing of Jason Smith yesterday.

The Senators announced they've signed the 34-year-old defenceman to a two-year, $5.2-million (all terms US) contract that will pay him $2.6 million per season.

Smith, a former captain of the Flyers and Oilers, Smith isn't going to dazzle anybody with his offensive skills -- no, he's not the puck-moving defenceman Murray is still seeking -- but by all accounts he's a great guy who's going to bring leadership.

Smith, who led the Flyers with 204 blocked shots and 142 hits in 77 games last season, is a warrior who played with two separated shoulders in the playoffs last spring.

"This is the ultimate character guy that was out on the free-agent market," said Murray. "He's been a captain, but more importantly he's a guy that competes every single night. He hits people. He blocks shots. He plays the game in a very hard way and he's very difficult to play against.

"One of the things I said early on (in free agency) that we're trying to do here is change the culture in the room. We want to get the reputation that we're a real close-knit, hard-working, competitive group. I believe that Jason helps a great deal in this area."

On the cultural change front, Murray bought out the contract of wayward goalie Ray Emery and dealt bruiser Brian McGrattan to Phoenix.

SPOKE TO PHILLIPS

The Senators had been dealing with Smith for the last week, but a contract wasn't in place until the Senators came to the table with a better offer yesterday.

Before signing with the Senators, Smith spoke with Ottawa defenceman Chris Phillips a couple of days ago to get the lowdown on the team and city to make sure this was going to be a place where he'd have the chance to succeed.

"(Phillips) said a lot of positive things about the organization and the city and it was nice to get that second opinion from somebody that's been there," said Smith. "Everything I've heard from the players who have spent time there in the past is that they have nothing but good things to say."

Smith said he won't be afraid to take on a leadership role with the Senators. If that means getting in a teammate's face, then so be it.

"There's different situations and I think a lot of things need to be dealt with among players in the dressing room," said Smith. "When a dressing room is functional, and functioning happy, the guys are working hard and playing hard and a lot of that stuff gets itself straightened out and you don't really have to deal with anything."

Murray said he's hoping Smith will play alongside Andrej Meszaros, assuming the unsigned restricted free agent returns.

CLOSER TO CAP

Murray is confident Meszaros will be signed, will play next season and will be able to learn from Smith much the same way that Zdeno Chara helped him in his rookie season.

With the salary cap at $56.7 million for 2008-09, Smith's signing has the Senators committed to close to $46.9 million in salaries for next season.

"I'm hoping if we have Andrej Meszaros in our lineup, and I think we will have, (Smith) might be a nice partner in that area. He's reliable," said Murray. "He shares himself with his teammates and, very definitely, with a guy like Andrej he'd help tremendously. Not just positionally, work ethic, attitude and the whole thing. The two of them together: One would be a shutdown guy and the other would be a skill guy who can do things with the puck. He's a top-four guy based on that."

While Murray said Meszaros will get a chance to play more of an offensive role, the search for the elusive puck-moving defenceman continues.

Ottawa is believed to have an offer on the table for Ducks blueliner Mathieu Schneider, but the $5.75 million he's scheduled to earn next season would be difficult for the Senators to fit in under the salary cap.

"We're not finished. We don't start camp until September," said Murray.

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THE SMITH FILE

Born: Nov. 2, 1973, Calgary

Age: 34

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 215 lbs.

NHL Seasons: 14

Teams: New Jersey, Toronto, Edmonton, Philadelphia

Career Stats: GP 945 G 40 A 128 Pts 168 PIMs 1,052


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