Roberts strings suitors along

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:47 PM ET

If the Senators want Gary Roberts, there are strings attached and they could be costly ones.

The Panthers winger said yesterday that his first choice is to stay in Florida. But if he's going to be dealt by the NHL trade deadline Feb. 27, he confirmed he wants another year on his contract.

Roberts is making $2.4 million US and can be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, making him attractive to the Senators as a rental player. But extending his contract a year makes it tough for Senators GM John Muckler because of the salary cap.

Muckler is attending the GMs meetings in Naples, Fla., this week, where it's believed he'll try to bring back a rugged winger and a depth defenceman for the playoff run.

"Some people think the market's already set," Muckler told the Canadian Press yesterday, referring to first-round picks. "If it is, I don't think we'll dive in at these prices. We're not going to deal our future off to add another player to our hockey club.

''We went out and got (Mike) Comrie and we spent a lot of money there, so we don't have that much left. We'd like to add somebody, but we're not going to reduce our roster."

It's believed as many as 10 teams are bidding for Roberts, including Buffalo and Detroit. But the veteran doesn't want to go anywhere unless he can get something out of it.

"I'm not crazy about making too many moves," Roberts told Florida reporters. "If I make one move, I'd like to make one move for this year and next year, too. That would be the ideal situation."

Consequently, the Senators may turn their focus to Blues winger Bill Guerin. He wouldn't mind being a rental because he can then choose his destination for next season as a free agent.

The Senators already have $34 million committed to 13 players for 2007-08. They're also trying to sign defenceman Chris Phillips, who will get a big raise from his current wage of $2.2 million. Anton Volchenkov, Tom Preissing, Christoph Schubert, Ray Emery and Chris Kelly also have to be signed.

Since Roberts has a "no-trade" clause, he can choose his destination if he agrees to leave Florida. Ideally, he'd like to go to Ottawa or back to the Maple Leafs so he can be close to his 17-year-old daughter Jordan, who is attending school near Toronto.

"I'd look at Ontario as being an option for me,'' said Roberts. ''But a lot can happen in the next week. It's still a matter of (GM/coach Jacques Martin) being able to make a deal with one of those teams. It's a difficult position for me to be in."

LOTS OF TRAFFIC: Senators coach Bryan Murray isn't happy with the amount of crease-crashing of his goalies and warned if it doesn't stop there could be consequences. Asked "if it's hard not to run the (opposition's) goalie" when he sees incidents like Saturday's hit on Martin Gerber by Atlanta's Jim Slater, Murray replied, "Well ... yeah. There are times that you feel like you should just encourage a guy to do that. We have never done that. It's frustrating. When I see Martin Gerber get drilled into the net the way he did and end up staying in the game with a headache ... He let a couple of pucks in he shouldn't have let in. I think it had an impact and (Atlanta) knew it would have an impact. You'd like to do something about it." Murray said players don't have fear going to the net because interference isn't being called and the posts aren't locked down. "It appears no one is afraid to take the puck to the net,'' he said. ''We were assured that if a goalie was in the blue and he got run, then the penalty would be called. I think the goaltenders deserve more protection than they're getting. The calls have to be made more. Ray Emery shouldn't have reacted the way he did (which led to his three-game suspension), but it's hard not to react when you get challenged and challenged, the way goalies are getting challenged."


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