OTTAWA - Spring is finally showing signs of being here. A chance to sit back, relax, swing the golf clubs and get ready to enjoy the summer.
That will be the case for many, but not Senators GM Bryan Murray. He can afford to sit still for awhile but he’s got to get down to work because the expectations going into next season are going to be high.
After returning to the playoffs under coach Paul MacLean, the Senators aren’t going to sneak up on anybody next season the way they did this year. Just getting to the playoffs next spring won’t be good enough.
Now, it’s up to Murray, assistant GM Tim Murray, player personnel director Pierre Dorion and director of player development Randy Lee to put the pieces in place to make sure this club gets to the next level.
Here are five off-season priorities:
No. 1: Bring back Daniel Alfredsson
The Senators have to find a way to make this happen.
Owner Eugene Melnyk, Murray, MacLean and many of Alfredsson’s teammates say they want Alfredsson, 39, to continue his career for one more season and play out the final year of his contract at $1 million US.
Many say the decision is up to Alfredsson and they want to leave him alone to make it. But, somebody needs to sit him down for a heart-to-heart to let him know that he can still play and contribute.
The Senators could give him the option of being dealt to a contender at the deadline if the club doesn’t look like it will have a chance to win a Stanley Cup. There’s no reason to think Ottawa will take a step back.
No. 2: Sign defenceman Erik Karlsson
The Senators don’t have to sign the 21-year-old to a lifetime contract — a five-year deal will suffice.
The Senators could go to war and have a long contract negotiation with Karlsson that will stretch through the summer, but there’s no need for it to happen. To me, this deal is easy to make.
Karlsson, a Norris Trophy candidate, will demand between $6.5 and-$7.5 million. That doesn’t mean the Senators have to pay it, but you can’t blame Karlsson’s Toronto-based agent Craig Oster for asking for it.
Murray is not a guy who usually does battle with good players. Look at his career and he’s found a way to make deals with players he wants to keep. Don’t expect this to be a drawn-out negotiation.
No. 3: Re-sign centre Chris Kelly as a UFA
The Boston Bruins centre is a UFA on July 1 and hasn’t agreed to an extension in Beantown.
Murray didn’t want to get rid of Kelly, 31, when he was dealt to the Bruins for a second-round pick during the rebuild in February, 2010. The Senators wanted to get the salary off the books and Kelly was able to win a Stanley Cup.
It should be noted that Kelly, a Senators draft pick in 1999 who grew up in the organization, has kept his home in the Ottawa area and brought the Cup here last summer to celebrate with friends and family.
The Senators haven’t filled the void he left when he was dealt to the Bruins. If they can sign Kelly at a reasonable price, it only makes sense for him to be in Ottawa. This is a deal that should work for both sides.
No. 4: Trade defenceman Sergei Gonchar
Making $5.5 million in the final year of his contract and coming off a bounceback season, Gonchar’s value may never be higher on the trade market.
Yes, Gonchar had a strong year and it would be difficult to replace the 37 points he had last season, but the Senators brought him in to score more than five goals and he should have more with the power-play time he gets.
If the Senators are going to have to overpay Karlsson, they’ll want to get salary off the books. There are going to be teams looking for defencemen so the Senators may want to give this move a lot of thought.
If he isn’t dealt in the summer, then Gonchar will be a strong commodity at the deadline.
No. 5: Buy out winger Bobby Butler
Time to thank him for his services and wish him well.
It just hasn’t worked out for the 25-year-old Butler and he’s scheduled to make $1.2 million next season. The best bet for the Senators is to cut bait because he was given every chance to find his scoring touch this year.
Because Butler is under 26, the Senators can buy him out at a mere one-third of his contract. In Butler’s case, Ottawa would be on the hook for $400,000. That buyout can be spread over two years at a $200,000 per-year cap hit.
The Senators took the risk of signing Butler and it hasn’t worked out. He was brought here to play well defensively and the Senators have enough of those players. If he’s not scoring goals, he’s not helping.