Busy summer for Sens?

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Nobody will be calling for Eugene Melnyk to “blow up” the Senators this summer.

But GM Bryan Murray is going to have to do some bridge building over a couple of big holes that will be left on defence.

Anton Volchenkov and/or Andy Sutton won’t be back, that much is almost certain. It’s clear Volchenkov’s people believe they can get him a multi-year deal worth $5 million per, and as much as the Russian rearguard would like to remain in Ottawa, he’s going to take that money and run.

See ya later, A-Train.

Sutton made $3.5 million this season and, at 35, he’s going to be looking for one more big payday to take him into retirement. He fit in well with the Senators and who doesn’t love his ability to deliver the big hits that strike apprehension into opposing forwards, but unless they can sign him to a one-year deal for about $2-2.5 million, it’s best they part company with the Mountain Man, too.

Murray said at his year-end media address that he believes Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen will be ready to play in Ottawa by the second half of next season, if not sooner. That might be a little ambitious, but the message is clear. Murray is looking ahead. Rather than tie up big money on Volchenkov and Sutton, he can pick from a group of less expensive unrestricted free agents to keep spots warm for Wiercioch and Cowen.

Brian Pothier would be thrilled to come back to Ottawa, and he wouldn’t be looking to hit a home run on a contract, either. Surely, Sean O’Donnell would be interested in playing a year in his home town. Shane Hnidy would like to wear a Senators jersey again. Zbynek Michalek could be keen on skating with his kid brother. The list goes on.

Murray also said he’d like to add more offence to the back end. The Lightning hasn’t re-signed Masterton finalist Kurtis Foster, a Carp native. He’d fit that bill.

No, the Senators have a solid blue-line corps, albeit a soft one, without Volchenkov and Sutton. What they really need to do is find some more scoring. At minus-13, they had the worst goals-for-goals against differential of the top nine teams in their conference. That’s not good. That has to improve. And if you’re losing a couple of defensive defencemen, it figures you need to add some offence.

What would it take to land Patrick Marleau or Ilya Kovalchuk? Probably too much, but how to free up the room to make it happen is something to consider.

If not for one of them, Murray will have to go back to Plan C, as in Cullen, and hope that he can bring Matt back. And if too late on that, he’ll need to try and make another summer blockbuster, only this time to acquire a sniper.

Really, the Senators are fine on their current path, but a lot of things have to go right for them to be good enough.

Heading into next season, goaltending will the biggest concern, again.

Pascal Leclaire has to stay healthy and build off his two playoff starts. That should win him Cory Clouston’s confidence.

Young players like Peter Regin, Erik Karlsson, Nick Foligno, Zack Smith and Jesse Winchester have to continue growing and developing into what they can be.

And either Alex Kovalev has somebody massage his heart back to life while he’s recovering from knee surgery, or he decides he can’t do it anymore and hangs up the blades. Who knows, maybe, at 37, he is finished. Maybe he hit the wall during the Olympic break. In such a case, he needs to retire and go out with dignity. Let the Senators find something else to do with his $5-million salary.

They’re really not that far off, if you consider that they were an overtime goal from taking the defending belt holders to an anything-can-happen Game 7, and that they pushed the Penguins as hard as they did without the services of a Top 4 defenceman in Filip Kuba and two Top 6 forwards in Milan Michalek and Kovalev.

They’re nothing that should be blown up, for sure, but they also have a lot of work to do to be what they once were: A Stanley Cup finalist with a chance to be the champs.


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