OTTAWA - Nine is a great number, when it represents, like it does, the points Erik Karlsson has accumulated in the Senators’ past four games.
It would also be a great number if it winds up being the length of contract the Senators can get their 21-year-old star to agree on when, or before, his current deal expires at the end of the season. Think about it. Would you like to have Karlsson locked up until 2021 for, say, $60 million?
Hand over that pen, Eugene.
However, nine is also a frightening number for the majority of NHL GMs as the trade deadline approaches, and that includes Ottawa's Bryan Murray.
The worst thing that could happen to any of them is mortgaging the future and winding up just out of the playoff picture.
“I expect to talk to teams, which I’ve been doing, a fair amount,” Murray said when asked for an update on his pursuit of making the team better before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. "I don't know that we're doing anything. A lot of managers seem to be like me, in that they're not sure what they want to do. They're in the race, but they're not convinced if they're going to be in or out. So I think we're all trying to be somewhat cautious.
"I don't know that there's going to be a lot of trades. The price they'd have to pay to finish ninth ... that's what we all worry about."
The Senators have less to worry about these days than they did as recently as Feb. 7, when they suffered their seventh loss in a row and appeared in danger of making pre-season prognosticators actually look like they know what they were talking about. But they have since won three in a row, all on the road, and have claimed nine of the past 10 points on the table in front of them. And just like that, they can breathe a little easier.
As of Tuesday, the Senators were six up on the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, who had actually played the same number of games as them, and were seven up on 10th-place Washington, which had two games in hand, but appeared unable to do anything positive with them.
The Senators were also just two points behind the division-leading Bruins, who had played four fewer games, and one point out of the race for home-ice advantage in the post-season.
"There's no guarantee what happens with 21 games to go, but I like the way we're playing, I like the energy on the team now," said Murray. "We've had that bit of a downturn coming off the road trip. I thought our team looked tired at that point and we lost some games, but they've kind of rebounded, with much more energy and better play and scoring, so it makes us feel real good."
Murray wouldn't specify what piece or pieces he'd like to add, if he could, before the deadline. He said it wouldn't be "fair" to the players in the room now.
But you can assume a veteran defenceman and a forward who can put the puck in the net — along with a goalie Paul MacLean can trust to hand the reigns to should anything happen to Craig Anderson — would be on his wish list.
"I certainly think depth to our team would help a great deal," he said. "I've talked to a couple of teams that looked like they were ready to trade some people away, and asked for a particular name. In turn, I've had calls where we've just talked about can we get this guy or that guy, and asked what the price would be.
"I can't be really definite, because there's nothing really definite I'm sure I can get."
Murray said it's doubtful he'd swing anything bigger than the David Rundbland-and-a-second-round-pick-for-Kyle Turris trade he made in December. And if that's the case, well, it's been a good move for Ottawa to this point.
"That's the kind of trade I'd like to make," he said. "If we could get a younger player coming in that could help us now but has a good future going forward, that's the type of thing I much prefer to do, over trading away a young player for a veteran guy that is unrestricted and you will really have a hard time keeping here."
THIS AND THAT
During his team's dismal 5-0 loss to Carolina on Sunday, Alex Ovechkin missed the final six minutes of the second period and first 14 of the third with what was later called a skate issue. When he did return, he spent most of the rest of the game on the bench. Was it really an equipment issue or, as one website says, is Ovechkin "questionable" for Wednesday's game because of a "lower body" problem? Either way, Ovechkin has just one goal in his past five games ... With 15 points in his past six games to help get the Senators back on track, Jason Spezza has been touted (especially by this paper) recently as a Hart Trophy candidate. MacLean thinks it's deserving praise for Spezza, who ranked fourth in league scoring as of Tuesday. "He's obviously played well, if he's getting that kind of attention," said MacLean. "Our team success, he's a barometer of that. When his line produces, our team seems to win a lot more often than not. When he doesn't, we don't. So I think that's kind of a barometer of what a Hart Trophy candidate can do for your team. To take it on his back and be able to have success because of the way you play. So I think he's done that for our team this year." ... Asked if he has been talking to Karlsson's agent about a new contract yet, Murray said no. "We've had a conversation," Murray explained. "They know we want to sign him. But there's nothing more than that going on."