Did Comrie play well enough to earn contract offer?

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

The response came as something of a surprise, if only because it was succinct and straightforward.

Asked yesterday if Mike Comrie has played well enough to warrant a contract offer from the Senators, GM Bryan Murray didn't hesitate or waste time on diplomacy.

"No," said Murray.

And so began the off-season negotiating.

Murray was not incorrect in his assessment of Comrie, who had three goals and four assists in the 22 games of his second coming as a Senator. What silenced the room full of reporters was Murray's frankness, unusual coming from a man in his position speaking of a player he wants to sign.

Make no mistake, Murray does want Comrie back.

In their end-of-season meeting, Comrie admitted to Murray he was nowhere near his best before or after being acquired from the Islanders in a Feb. 20 trade.

"Playing in this environment, playing with this team, is a good fit. I enjoy playing here and I love this group of guys," Comrie, who never fully recovered from hip surgery last summer, told reporters. "Being injured and trying to play through it hurts your production."

It's an excuse, likely a good one, for a player who had just 10 goals and 17 assists in 63 games. But it's also some negotiating on the part of the 28-year-old forward.

Comrie made $4 million this season and knows he's going to have to accept a significant cut if he wants to stay here. Murray probably won't offer him much more than $3.5 million over two years. That would be a good contract for the Senators, especially if Comrie regains the step he lost playing on 1.5 legs.

When he's got them both working, he could very well score 30 again.

You might think quibbling over a mil or so wouldn't make sense for Comrie, who's already worth a tidy fortune and surely doesn't want to wind up playing somewhere he doesn't like. But for any player, salary is about status and respect. Intangibles which money will buy.

"He knows that going forward, he has to prove to us he deserves another contract," said Murray. "But he didn't play very well here."

How does Comrie do that when there are no more games before July 1? By taking what the Senators can offer instead of waiting to see how much he gets through unrestricted free agency.

He did that the last time and all it got him was some unnecessary padding for his thick wallet. If Comrie loves it here as much as he says he does, true happiness might cost him a million or two.

Once again, Murray is unlikely to flinch in his negotiating with Comrie.

Things that make you go hmm....

Coach Cory Clouston does a good job for a couple of months and the owner can't wait until the end of the season to give him a two-year contract extension. President and CEO Roy Mlakar does a good job for 13 years and the owner leaves him to twist in the wind? What's the part of their story we don't know? ... One of Craig Hartsburg's finest moves came just prior to his last game as Senators coach, when he was deciding on his lineup for a Feb. 1 game in Washington. It was making Nick Foligno a healthy scratch. "That was probably the biggest wake-up call I could have," said Foligno, who wound up tied for fifth in team scoring with 17 goals and 15 assists. "I thought I was having an okay season, then that kind of hit me in the face. Any time you have something like that happen, you can respond either of two ways. I decided to do something about it." Foligno had 11 goals and eight assists in his final 34 games, as he and Chris Phillips were the only two Senators who improved their offensive stats. Minus Hartsburg's wake-up, Foligno may not have received a call this week from Team USA for the world championship ... Not so enamoured with Hartsburg's moves (no kidding) was Christoph Schubert, a healthy scratch for 32 games. "The whole year was just really hard for me, and it started with the first meeting with Hartsie. He had no trust in me at all," said Schubert, who is headed to the worlds to represent Germany and then, barring any moves, back to Ottawa for the final year on his contract. "I'm not mad at Cory or anything. It's hard for him, coming in the last 30 games and trying to win. It was just frustrating from the first 10 seconds I came into the office with Hartsie." ... When asked to rate his season, Dany Heatley simply recited his stats. "Thirty-nine goals, 72 points," he said. "Not as high a year as I'd like. I think I'm capable of producing more." He probably thinks that because he has produced more, much more, in each of his three previous seasons with Ottawa. Then, the Senators sniper took one last parting shot at the media before riding off into the summer. "There's always areas to improve in," he said. "On and off the ice, media-wise, there are a lot of things we took away from this year that can help us in the future." No one in the media is exactly sure what's bothering Heatley, unless he thinks only the positives should be reported. In any case, one of us maintained an annual tradition by asking Heatley for his phone number should he need to reach the winger in the off-season. "I don't have a cell any more," Heatley cracked. "I'm a hard-line guy."

Sticks and stones

Brendan Bell only found out "three or four days ago" he is a restricted free agent, not unrestricted as he thought. "It's my understanding now that you're unrestricted if you're under 27 and you've played less than 80 games," he said. "I've played more than 80. It's a ridiculous loophole." ... In pointing out positives, captain Daniel Alfredsson put Jesse Winchester's name high on the list, saying the rookie was one of the team's best players the last few weeks. Winchester, who sits close to Alfredsson in the dressing room, said he learned a lot from No. 11. Off the ice as well as on it. "If you want to be a pro hockey player, you watch Daniel Alfredsson," he said. "The way he addresses the media, addresses players, addresses fans ... he sets a great example for anyone who wants to be in the NHL for a long time. Obviously his skill sets him apart from most, but he doesn't let that affect how he treats people. He's just fair and a great guy to be around." ... Murray, on the goalie situation heading into next season. "We've got three now, and they all think they're No. 1. I really like that." The Senators will still bring in a couple more for depth ... The Russians will have Anton Volchenkov for the worlds if he recovers from a left arm injury. He's wearing a deep bruise, the result of being rammed into the boards in the season finale. It was the third time he hurt the arm, an ailment that goes with the numerous other welts he received courtesy of his style of play. When asked if it was a harder season on him physically, Volchenkov said: "Not physically, mentally. It's tough to lose games. After the last couple of months, I feel a lot better." As do they all. But they're still out of the playoffs, and the Senators best remember this pain come October.


Videos

Photos