The Ruutu Rooters

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

If the Senators made it their mandate to sign every player that scored the winning goal in the game that eliminated them from the playoffs, either on their team or their list of alumni would also include Travis Moen, Jason Pominville, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jeff Friesen, Alex Mogilny, Yanic Perreault, Sergei Berezin, Alexei Zhitnik, Joe Juneau and Derek Plante.

But no, such is not company policy at 1000 Palladium Dr. Jarkko Ruutu was added as an off-season free agent, not for his opportune scoring touch but more for the fact he's very much the type of pain in the butt of opposing teams that the Senators needed.

Ottawa fans who cursed the then-Pittsburgh Penguins winger for his Apr. 16 goal that buried their team will soon call him one of their favourites. Before long, Ruutu Rooters should have their own T-shirts and inhabit at least a small section at Scotiabank Place.

Hate him when he plays for them, love him when he's on your side.

That's Jarrko.

Alas, the addition of a 33-year-old third-liner appears to be the best move made by GM Bryan Murray in the summer that followed a very disappointing finish to a season that began so well.

Not that he didn't have better intentions. The salary cap prevented him from seeing them through.

Knowing he was going to lose Wade Redden to free agency, Murray was determined to sign a puck moving defenceman. As it turned out, he couldn't afford either of Brian Campbell or Dan Boyle, the two available smooth skaters he most coveted. Then, when Murray felt developing blue-liner Andrej Meszaros became a little too greedy in his demands for a new contract, the Senators were suddenly left with no offensive presence in their back end.

GRIT AND CHARACTER

With a handful of the available cash, veteran Jason Smith was brought in to add some grit and character. He can block shots and make life tough on opposing forwards camped around the Ottawa crease, but while he's about to play his 950th NHL game, Smith has just 40 goals and 128 assists for 168 career points.

He'd be a necessity if the Senators didn't already have Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov: A $2.6-million luxury because they do.

Obtained in the trade with Tampa Bay for Meszaros, veteran Filip Kuba and prospect Alexandre Picard will be watched closely as they fit into their slotted spots on the Ottawa blue line. Kuba can apparently eat minutes and adequately handle a point on the power play, but he doesn't appear to do any one thing spectacularly. If he is to be their top offensive blueliner, he might be the least qualified for the job in Senators history.

Picard, who is in the third pairing with rookie Brian Lee, is 23 and looks it. On a championship-bound team, he and his partner might very well be in the AHL for more seasoning.

Meanwhile, Murray acknowledges the Senators defence is a work in progress and says it won't take him long to make the determination if it's good enough, as a whole, to compete.

That he'll make a trade for help would seem to be only a matter of when.

If only the Senators' netminding woes could be solved so easily. In the last year of his contract, Martin Gerber stubbed his toe while trying to get off on the right foot. It took all of one shot on goal for the most recent Ottawa goaltending controversy to heat up -- and back-to-back games against the Penguins for it to boil over.

Should Alex Auld get the start for Saturday's home opener based on the way he played in his debut, a 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh and its superstars? Maybe. But will coach Craig Hartsburg risking losing Gerber by benching his No. 1 goalie after one poor game? Not likely.

If Auld does prove to be the answer to Senators prayers, Murray deserves to be lauded for signing the 27-year-old to a modest free agent contract as a backup.

If not, he also needs to get a good goalie in the trade for a defenceman. Good luck with that.

Up front, the Senators have sprinkled some youth in with veterans that led the team as it scored more goals than any other last season. Nick Foligno looks like he's ready to be a significant contributor. Jesse Winchester appears to be worth the one-way contract he signed out of Colgate University last spring. Cody Bass has the makeup to be a hard, nose-to-the-grindstone, fourth-line centre.

And then, of course, there's Ruutu.

The Senators have as strong a collection of forwards as there is the NHL. It's how their defence and goaltending shakes out that will determine their season.


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