Neil, Sens miles apart

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Chris Neil has likely left Scotiabank Place for the last time as a Senator.

The 29-year-old winger, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, said yesterday he'd like to re-sign, but GM Bryan Murray confirmed he didn't make any progress in talks last Saturday with Neil's agent, Todd Reynolds.

"We had talks to see if we could get closer and we're not close, not close enough to say it's going to happen," said Murray.

Neil will be highly sought after if he goes on the open market. He's a rugged player with some skills, although he had only 10 points (3G-7A) in 60 games this season.

Neil sounded like he is reconciled to leaving the team which took him in the sixth round in 1998.

"You never know until you sign a new deal, but every day is a day closer to July 1 and the days are dwindling, but there's still lots of time to get something done," said Neil. "I don't really know what happened or what went on (Saturday), my agents just told me we're far apart.

"Hopefully, we can something done and I can stay with Ottawa. It'd definitely be tough not being able to come here to play every day. It's been a great run if it is. The organization has been top-notch. The fans are unbelievable, the best in the NHL, and it'd definitely be devastating if I'm not back here."

MLAKAR WAITING: A decision on Senators president-CEO Roy Mlakar will be made by the end of April. His contract expires on July 1 and owner Eugene Melnyk hasn't made any move to extend the deal, which has left Mlakar twisting in the wind. "Eugene has contacted me recently to say we'll talk at the end of the month and he's a man of his word, so we'll talk at the end of month,"Mlakar said. "I really haven't looked too far into the future," said Mlakar, who was signed to a one-year extension last season by Melnyk. "The challenges for Mr. Melnyk with both his business situation and the challenges we've had here and the turbulence we've gone through hasn't been something where I've thought, 'Well, what next.' My heart is in Ottawa. I've been in Ottawa 13 years, 12 as president, and I think the record speaks for itself. (Melnyk's) a great owner and he's done a fantastic job here. We'll see if the philosophies going forward are something we can do. I'm certainly happy here. There's no question about that." If Mlakar's top job is to put bums in the seats, you can't argue with his success. The Senators finished eighth in the NHL in attendance and were down only 3.7% with an average of 19,081. Season-ticket sales will be a challenge with the club down about 1,500 from last year to 11,031 this season. "When I've gone around to the suites with some of the injured players, the thing I've noticed is there's no negativity. People are excited about the changes we've made and the way the team looks going forward," said Mlakar.

TAKING ON THE WORLD: Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher and Chris Phillips have been invited to suit up for Canada at the worlds in Switzerland later this month. "It's always a great honour and a great opportunity to play for Canada," Heatley said. "I've always enjoyed that tournament. It should be a good time again." Phillips said it will take a little sting off missing the playoffs. "There's still a bitter taste about how the season went and not making the playoffs. "I'm definitely excited I have the opportunity to go play for Team Canada now. For sure it is (an audition for Vancouver 2010). This is a chance to prove yourself."

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


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