OTTAWA - Bryan Murray is on a hunting trip.
Not for moose or deer or partridge or anything that requires a gun or trap.
No, for the Senators GM, it’s once again “second-line centre” season.
Murray is off to the Wilds of Minnesota, where his primary goal must be to bag an offensively skilled pivot, someone qualified to follow as closely as possible to Jason Spezza on the depth chart.
By hook, by crook, by draft or by trade.
A productive No. 2 centre is a need the Senators have had for ... for forever? Mike Fisher had 59 points in 2009-10, but everyone said he was more the quintessential third-liner. Antoine Vermette had all the skills, but never more than 53 points as a Senator. Bryan Smolinski’s best days were behind him by the time he arrived in Ottawa.
Granted, last season was an aberration as Spezza led the team in points with 57, while missing 20 games to injury, but can you name Ottawa’s second-highest scoring centre? How about Ryan Shannon, a part-timer at the position, with 27?
Good teams are strong up the middle. Boston with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Vancouver with Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. The second-line centres on good teams score more than 27 points.
Murray doesn’t have to get one in Minnesota. He could wait until July 1 and the free-agent fishing waters open up. But there’s a catch with most of the centres who will be available in that.
Brad Richards will be the best, and he’s the guy the Senators should net, but he made $7.8 million last season and will command an even higher salary this time around. So they won’t be chasing him.
There will be 36-year-old Jason Arnott, who made $4.5 mil and had 31 points, or 34-year-old Michal Handzus, who made $4 mil and had 30 points. Numbers that don’t add up. Vinny Prospal, 36, and Tim Connolly, 31, were closer to being point-per-game players. Problem is 29 and 68 games, respectively. With salaries of $3.5 mil and $4.5 mil, respectively, they are injury risks the Senators should not take.
Murray could make a trade for an offensively gifted centre in July, but teams that have them, usually hold on to them.
He could pray for the miracle that Plan A unfolds the way it was supposed to and Peter Regin jumps hard into the second-line role, but the 25-year old Dane is coming off a disastrous season that ended in should surgery, and he may not even be ready to return for training camp.
That leaves the draft.
If they could, the Senators would make a deal with Edmonton and take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the No. 1 overall pick. But you’ve got to think that would cost them the No. 6 pick plus Erik Karlsson, and they’re not going to do that.
As much as they like Gabriel Landeskog and have to see him as a type of Swedish successor to Daniel Alfredsson — and as much as they’d love to have him — he’s a winger and not what they need most.
That leaves Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Couturier, Ryan Strome and Mika Zibanejad as the highest-rated centres available.
Of that group, Huberdeau appears to be the most NHL-ready. And if the Senators are going to land him, they’re probably going to have to trade up, possibly as high as to the Panthers, who pick third.
Their chances of getting Huberdeau improve if the Panthers trade up to Edmonton — which needs a defenceman and surely covets Adam Larsson — then pick Nugent-Hopkins. Especially when logic suggests Colorado will take Landeskog with the second selection.
In that case, the Senators would be two picks, those belonging to the Devils and Islanders, from getting a centre who just may be able to help them next season, but certainly put them in a better position for years to come.
In that case, just to be on the safe side, Murray will want to make a trade with New Jersey that helps him score a player he needs to bring home from this hunting trip.