Murray believes Sens 'a contender'

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

More than 1,200 fans called in to the Senators' hour-long online fan forum Monday with questions for owner Eugene Melnyk, GM Bryan Murray, president-CEO Cyril Leeder and goalie Pascal Leclaire.

While only one or two of those who got through calmly asked for updates on the Dany Heatley situation, the majority of the concern was over the direction the team is taking as a whole.

As usual, Melnyk exuded optimism.

"I'm going into my seventh year of ownership," he said. "And seven is my lucky number."

Melnyk's right-hand man thinks that with or without Heatley, the Senators can return to the form they had before missing the playoffs last season.

"I hope and believe we will be a contender," said Murray. "I know the attitude here. We've got a really good group that was disappointed with what happened last year. I believe right off the bat we'll be a good hockey team."

Along with a little more toughness, Murray said he'd like to add one "big" defenceman, adding that Ottawa's blueliners will be more mobile than last season's collection.

At least some of that mobility will depend on whether 2008 first-rounder Erik Karlsson makes the team.

Leclaire, who pronounced himself ready to return to action after missing most of last season with an ankle injury that needed surgery, says he's been impressed by the 19-year-old Karlsson during scrimmages at Bell Sensplex this summer.

"You can see he has some calm to him ... he's always in control and he doesn't rush his plays," said the goalie. "I know it's not real hockey games, but when a player has that, he has it."

Karlsson is sure of himself off the ice as well, Leclaire said.

"He is confident," Leclaire said. "We roomed together in Toronto last year. He grabbed the TV remote right away."

Murray mentioned Karlsson and forwards Peter Regin and Zack Smith when asked which of his prospects could be ready to play in the NHL.

"Smith looks like he's a guy on the bubble right now," he said of the 21-year-old former third-round pick, who had 24 goals and 24 assists to go along with 132 penalty minutes as a rookie in Binghamton last season. "He's big and strong and looks like he's able to play in the NHL."

Melnyk said he remains confident in the Ottawa market. "I've gone to 20 places and some of those places look like morgues," he said, referring to other NHL rinks. "Some are fantastic. I'd rank our fans in the top 5%. I'm hoping (the NHL) can bounce back from the recession, but as far as here in Ottawa is concerned, there's nothing better than bringing home a Stanley Cup."

Apparently, it's an errand the owner thinks his team is capable of running this season.

Hab at heart

Alex Kovalev appeared to slip and fall while taking some of his first steps as a Senator when he said -- during his annual charity golf tournament in Quebec last week -- that he'd like to retire as a Canadien. Not feeling slighted by a player he just signed to a two-year, $10-million US contract, Murray Monday picked Kovalev up. "I understood them totally," Murray said when asked how he felt about the comments. "He played in Montreal, he was a fan favourite in Montreal, he was very well-liked by most of the people in Montreal, the players included. I think he was hoping he'd be offered a contract of a number of dollars to stay there. So when he's in that environment, I can see where he'd say nothing but complimentary things to the media in that particular town. In turn, I know when I talked to Alex, he was very happy and excited that we offered him the best offer, that he got a chance to come and play in Ottawa. He had great respect for a lot of our players and made very nice comments about most of them."

In passing

The Senators have added exits and will have more cops directing traffic as they have focused on "parking and improving post-game exiting" for the coming season, Leeder said ... Marshy's will be replaced by Bert's Bar, which will have 30 flat-screen TVs and a Caribbean flavour. Asked what drink he'd recommend, Melnyk said he goes with the rum punch at Bert's in the Barbados ... The Senators are still working at getting the all-star game in Ottawa. "It's coming, it's just a question of which year," said Melnyk. "It's coming soon." ... In the category of One That Slipped Through The Cracks, a fan asked Leclaire about the moustache worn by Anaheim's George Parros. Later, the goalie was jokingly asked the same question by a member of the media, in French. "It's going to end up some place," he said of any answer he might give. "If he wants to have a moustache, he should wear a moustache."

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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