Sens looking leaner on blueline

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:46 PM ET

In an off-season makeover, the Senators dropped some significant weight around their blue line.

That thin translates to ugly is their biggest concern at the start of the 2008-09 season.

Bidding farewell to well paid veterans Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros meant the Senators were losing their two best offensive defencemen, along with the hole created by the departure of last year’s rent-a-rearguard, Mike Commodore.

Replacements Jason Smith, Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard represent a significant dropoff in back end point production.

“We have lost a couple of guys in Wade and Mez that will be hard to overcome,” said GM Bryan Murray, who allowed Redden and Commodore to escape via the free agent route then, after failing to sign Meszaros at the price he had in mind, dealt the 23-year-old to Tampa for Kuba, Picard and a first-round pick. “Whether you like the defensive play of them or whatever doesn’t matter, with the puck we did a pretty good job. We don’t quite have that right now.

“Losing Mez is a little bit of an obstacle in that he was counted on going forward as a guy that might score some goals for us off the blue line, make some plays. But I’m hoping that Kuba and Picard can help offset that.

“Our defence right now, without a doubt, is a work in progress. We’ve got some things to do. We’ve got to get them to move the puck better ... But overall I think the type of team we’ll have, if we can just get it together here early enough ... we should be a real hard team to play against.”

And Murray thinks that will be a team that makes Ottawa proud. He predictscharacter, a strong work ethic, an attitude for proper defensive play. But he won’t predict the Senators will be a better team than they were in 2007-08, when they jumped out to the fastest start in NHL history and then proceeded with one of the biggest belly flops the league has ever seen.

“Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Antoine Vermette, Mike Fisher ... people of that nature have got to help us by their offensive contributions. “We think Nick Foligno is going to be better. I think Jesse Winchester is going to be a nice addition to our team, in more of a playmaking role. And we’ve got some core guys like Chris Kelly ... I think Jarkko Ruutu now, and Chris Neil, they’re going to be hard guys. But the top guys have to lead the way.”

In goal, Murray replaced back up Ray Emery with back up Alex Auld. A lot will rest on the shoulders of No. 1 goalie Martin Gerber, who is in the last season of the three-year free agent deal he signed with the Senators.

Murray wants to see how the ingredients come together for new coach Craig Hartsburg before he contemplates bolstering the team with trades.

“Now we’ve got to get the structure Craig talks about all the time,” Murray said before the team departed for Sweden, and a season opening pair of games with the Penguins. “We’ve got to get together.”


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