Neil had a way to San Jose

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Senators GM Bryan Murray was ready to move Chris Neil right at the deadline, but not at the bargain-basement offers for the rugged winger.

After trading centre Antoine Vermette to the Blue Jackets for goaltender Pascal Lecaire and signing defenceman Filip Kuba, Murray rebuffed an offer from the Sharks for Neil -- a looming unrestricted free agent in the summer -- just before the deadline clock struck zero.

Sources say San Jose GM Doug Wilson rejected Murray's demand for forward prospect Nick Bonino, who landed with the Ducks.

Bonino, a sophomore at Boston University, was MVP at last month's Beanpot Tournament. The Sharks' sixth-round pick in 2007 has 13 goals and 24 assists in 33 games this season.

It's also believed the Panthers were trying to get Neil, but only if the Senators took back a roster player.

"Everything that was offered was almost equal dollars or not what I wanted," said Murray. "I prefer Chris Neil over doing that. If we can't get him done (signed), then we can't get him done. At least now, we can work on getting (a contract) done at a certain number. If that doesn't work, we will have that number for somebody else."

League sources say Senators winger Jarkko Ruutu also attracted interest. The Penguins, his former team, were willing to take his $1.3-million (all terms US) salary in each of the next two seasons, but instead opted for veteran forward Bill Guerin, acquired from the Islanders for a conditional pick.

Murray found out that teams wanted players like Kuba and Neil, but there wasn't a whole lot offered to help the Senators' future. That's why Kuba was signed to a three-year, $11.1-million deal to start deadline day.

Murray knows he has a lot of work to do this summer.

"We probably need another forward who can play in our top six," he said.

That forward could have been potential UFA winger Erik Cole. But that's a long-shot after the Oilers sent Cole back to the Hurricanes. He'll likely be signed by Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, who probably shouldn't have let Cole leave in the first place.

Murray's top priority will be signing Erik Karlsson, the Senators' first-round pick in 2008, and bringing the Swedish blueliner to North America for next season.

SCHOOLED IN CAP-OLOGY

Murray, who hadn't been a deadline-day seller in a long time, got a lesson in team building under the salary cap.

Teams are so tight to the $56.7-million cap and so concerned about where it might go in the current economy, they were loathe to spend.

"You had to trade money and take money back in a lot of cases to get a player," said Murray. "We're all realizing that with the cap system, the way to build your team is by drafting and developing. You have to keep some younger, lower-salaried players.

"A number of teams I spoke with, it was exactly that: 'I'd like to do something, I don't have the cap space and I don't want to give up the pick because I know going forward I'm going to need it.' "

Murray, however, feels he has a better team now.

"We addressed the need for a goaltender, we signed Filip Kuba and we still have a chance to keep Chris Neil," said Murray. "I thought I might have one or two other deals that might come down, but at the end of the day the teams didn't want to do it.

"Overall, I still feel that we were able to accomplish what we wanted to do."


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