Senators could use some more physical players

Senators forward Chris Neil. (Errol McGihon/QMI Agency)

Senators forward Chris Neil. (Errol McGihon/QMI Agency)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:06 PM ET

OTTAWA - Most people know to take Twitter with a grain of salt.

If the THNHockeyInsider says he’s a “former NHL scout” who now writes for The Hockey Network and is “very well connected,” he might be all of that. Or he could be a fan who has never been closer to a game than the big screen in his basement.

I tend to believe more the latter when I read this tweet from him a couple of days ago:

“(Daniel) Alfredsson (is) leaning towards retirement. Could return but doesn’t like the loss of team toughness. No protection, old body.”

As far as we know, the Senators captain is still in Sweden and undecided about his future. If he does decide to call it quits, I doubt it will be because Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka were allowed to walk via free agency. As Alfredsson himself has said, he’ll retire if he’s worried that his “old body” couldn’t handle the necessary training and rigours of an 82-game schedule. It’s unlikely he has personal concerns about “protection.”

At the same time, Alfredsson knows the Senators are better when they’re tougher. So does GM Bryan Murray.

To that, the Senators are expected to hold a news conference Thursday to announce the signing of Chris Neil, the team’s career PIMs leader, to a three-year extension. The money is decent - $5.75 million over the course of the contract, which kicks in after he makes his $2 million in 2012-13 — although not as much as Neil probably could have made had he waited to become a UFA July 1.

Neil is a better everything than Brandon Prust, who inked a four-year, $10 million pact with the Montreal Canadiens earlier this month. But as someone who wants to spend his entire career in Ottawa, Neil’s surely satisfied.

That said, Neil couldn’t have liked seeing Carkner and Konopka depart. At 33 years old and with 161 fights under his belt, he shouldn’t have to be the lone Senator to handle all the rough stuff. He wants and deserves some nights off from that.

A quick glance at the list of free agents still available sees three players who might help:

Brad Winchester, a 31-year-old winger who stands 6-foot-5, 230 lbs. He had six goals, along with 88 penalty minutes in 67 games for the San Jose Sharks last season. Winchester had 10 fights when he scored 13 goals for the St. Louis Blues three seasons ago. Can he still play? Probably.

Zack Stortini, a 26-year old winger, was once the most feared player in the OHL. But at least one NHL veteran tough guy calls Stortini a “pretender,” and he did play just one game for the Nashville Predators last season, along with another 74 in the AHL. Maybe he wouldn’t fit in with the fast-paced game Senators coach Paul MacLean demands.

Matt Bradley, 34, a Stittsville native who was recently bought out by the Florida Panthers. He’s scrappy, he’ll hit and fight. But when we last checked, the Senators weren’t interested.

If Murray doesn’t sign somebody else who will drop the gloves, there will be a lot of pressure on Zack Smith to pick up his pace.

It’s not just fighting — the Senators need to be more physical, overall. They need to finish their checks more, as well as answer the bell when it rings. Many feel that Ottawa was able to stage so many third-period comebacks last season partly because opponents knew that if they ran up the score, they’d take a beating from Neil, Konopka or Carkner.

Murray has to bring in some help for Neil — not so much to protect Alfredsson but to keep his team at the competitive level it has reached.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SunDoniB


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