Senators: A look ahead

DON BRENNAN

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

To make a significant addition to next season's roster, the Senators will have to complete a considerable subtraction.

As such, their options are limited.

They could deal Jason Spezza and his $8-million yearly stipend any time before July 1, 2010 and free up all sorts of salary (but would leave a gaping hole through the middle of their lineup in the process). Otherwise, with Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba having no-trade clauses, there simply won't be much spending money available this summer.

Tough economic times may indeed shrink the cap, but that's not expected to happen before the 2009-10 campaign. Therefore, NHL team officials believe they'll again be working a number somewhere in the $55-million neighborhood.

The Senators currently have 20 players under contract for next season, with their cap hit near $51 million. Presuming he'll want to enter the year with at least $2 million breathing room for injuries and mid-season trades, GM Bryan Murray is presently looking at only having another $2 million to spend in the summer.

And that's before he talks turkey with unrestricted free agents Chris Neil, Mike Comrie and Brendan Bell, or gives raises to restricted free agents Ryan Shannon and Brian Elliott.

It's pretty much a sure bet the Senators will lose Christoph Schubert and free up $900,000. And, if they keep Erik Karlsson's spot warm by giving Bell a one-year, one-way contract for $500,000, they'll have a few extra dollars to work with.

KEEP AULD?

Provided they take advantage of the fact they have goalie Alex Auld under contract for one more year at $1 million and at least start Brian Elliott in Binghamton next October, that would give them $2.4 million to split between two of Neil, Comrie and Shannon. If Shannon gets only the mandatory 10% raise required to give restricted free agents, that leaves approximately $1.7 million for either Neil or Comrie, or signing a winger off the NHL's free-agent heap.

More dough becomes available if the Senators can find a taker for veteran defenceman Jason Smith, or buy out his $2.6-million contract. By all means they should pursue that plan. Smith, who might have been a great addition to the Senators three or four years ago, will be 36 next November. Now, he's simply not worth anywhere near that kind of money -- if he's even good enough to play in the league anymore.

To fill Smith's boots on the blue line, the Senators could better themselves greatly by shopping on the free- agent market. Smooth-skating defenceman Jay Bouwmeester will be out of their price range, unless they also move Spezza, and while they've had an eye on Vancouver's Mattias Ohlund in the past, he could be looking for something in the $4-million range, too.

A strong signing would be Francois Beauchemin, the 29-year-old blueliner making $1.65 million with the Anaheim Ducks.

Or Murray could throw his hat in the ring for one of three Minnesota Wild players who will be unrestricted as of July 1.

Martin Skoula, a 29-year-old former first-rounder, is currently playing more than 23 minutes a night for $1.9 million. He'd be a solid purchase. So would Marc-Andre Bergeron, who has 11 goals and 18 assists and is making $1.69 million.

But the best claim of all could be Kurtis Foster, the Carp native who this season has worked his way back from a serious leg injury.

Foster is 6-foot-5, 230 lbs. and possesses a big time shot from the point along with other offensive skills. He's also just 27 and, with a current $1.025-million salary, might take a little less than what others are offering for the chance to come home.

With the trade for Pascal Leclaire and the promise shown by Elliott, the Senators' goaltending has become a strength. And since the owner doesn't want to blow up what's been building here the past few years, the off-season tinkering that's needed is pretty simple.

Keep Spezza, cut Smith, sign Foster and, if Comrie and/or Neil are no longer affordable, pursue a tough veteran like Ian Laperriere, who's in the final year of a $1.15-million deal with the Avalanche. Throw in a trade for another winger who can put the puck in the net 20 times a year, and next October, the Senators should be good to go.

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA

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- Estimated payroll:

$55.965 million

- Estimated cap hit:

$50.933 million

Forwards

Daniel Alfredsson -- $9.1 million

Dany Heatley -- $8 million

Jason Spezza -- $8 million

Mike Fisher -- $4 million

Chris Kelly -- $2 million

Jarkko Ruutu -- $1.3 million

Mike Comrie -- UFA

Chris Neil -- UFA

Nick Foligno -- $785,000

Shean Donovan -- $600,000

Jesse Winchester -- $575,000

Cody Bass --$500,000

Ryan Shannon -- RFA

Defence

Filip Kuba -- $3.7 million

Chris Phillips -- $3.5 million

Anton Volchekov -- $3.2 million

Jason Smith -- $2.6 million

Christoph Schubert -- $900,000

Alexandre Picard -- $850,000

Brian Lee -- $850,000

Chris Campoli --$675,000

Brendan Bell -- UFA

Goalies

Pascal Leclaire -- $3.6 million

Alex Auld -- $1 million

Brian Elliott -- RFA

Also in the system

Ilja Zubov -- $735,000

James O'Brien -- $662,500

Shawn Weller -- $625,000

Peter Regin -- $620,000

Zack Smith -- $558,300

Kaspars Daugavins -- $557,500

Tomas Kudelka -- $508,300

Josh Hennessy -- $500,000

Matt Carkner -- $500,000


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