Time running out for Neil

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

It looks like Chris Neil will be a Senator for only one more week.

While the sides have agreed to meet again this week during the NHL draft in Montreal, Neil's agent, Todd Reynolds, told Sun Media yesterday it appears the rugged winger will test the free-agent market on July 1.

Sources say Neil turned down a four-year, $6.8 million (all terms US) deal -- an average of $1.7 million per season.

And unless the Senators can free up some money by trading disgruntled winger Dany Heatley, Neil likely won't be back in Ottawa next season.

"We're going to keep the lines of communication open. We've had good discussions and we're going to continue to talk," said Reynolds. "But right now, we're not any closer than we have been in the past. Both sides have moved, but it would appear right now we're going to go to July 1."

Neil, who celebrated his 30th birthday last week, has spent his eight-year NHL career with the Senators. He made $1.1 million last season, but struggled with injuries to finish with only three goals in 60 games.

Though Neil's first demand was for $2.5 million a season when discussions first began on a new contract, he has lowered his asking price to remain with the Senators. It's believed the Maple Leafs and Sharks will make a pitch if he becomes a UFA.

"The way it is right now, we don't feel it's right for us, but there's still time and we'll see what happens this weekend," Neil said yesterday. "Maybe we can move closer when they talk at the draft. As (Reynolds) told me, he's seen bigger gaps closed in these kinds of discussions."

The Senators have to be careful about adding payroll. The belief is the club has tried to move centre Chris Kelly ($2.125 million), defenceman Jason Smith ($2.6 million) and goalie Alex Auld ($1 million), but has no takers.

Looking at the list

The Senators' scouting staff arrived in Montreal last night to begin interviewing prospects for the No. 9 selection in Friday's draft. As Sun Media reported yesterday, the Senators like London Knights F Nazem Kadri and Swedish D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but those aren't the only players the scouts have pegged. The indications are the Senators are also looking at Swedish W Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and University of Minnesota F Jordan Schroeder, but both could be gone before Murray steps to the microphone. The Senators aren't sure what's going to happen with the first eight picks, so the scouting staff has to be prepared for a number of scenarios. "We think it's a pretty deep draft," said Senators director of hockey operations Brent Flahr. "We're confident, especially at No. 9, that we're going to be able to get a good player. We've targeted a number of players that have a chance to be quality NHL players." Flahr said the club is looking for a player with strong character. "That's a big factor. It's easy to evaluate whether a kid can score or not or whether he has skill. Character is important when you are picking that high. There are a lot of players that come and go in this league, so we spend a lot of time talking to these kids and finding out about their families. We spend a lot of time trying to find out any red flags there might be."


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