OTTAWA - Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray believes his team is poised to become a competitive force in the Eastern Conference and he’s willing to make the moves to ensure that happens.
He reflected on the lockout-shortened campaign at a season-ending news conference Tuesday and said while he was pleased with the team’s overall success, he did have one regret.
“The only disappointing part of the whole year was that we could never find out how good we really were,”Murray said.
The Senators finished seventh in the Eastern Conference despite a rash of devastating injuries to key players and advanced to the second round of the playoffs before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.
The second-round loss magnified some of the team’s needs and Murray plans on addressing them during the off-season.
“We need to score more goals,”said Murray.“We have to find a way to create a little more offence and that may mean trying to find a player out there that will do that.
"But part of it also will be counting on a couple of the younger players that showed they can play in the league to step up and do a little more with the puck than they were capable of or able to do this year.”
Murray added he would consider packaging some of those young prospects in order to find the right player.
"At this stage of our development we certainly want the growth to continue," he said. "We have a good number of young players, first- and second-year pros that we think will improve and make our team more competitive as we go forward.
"If there's a deal to be made at some point during the summer I have to take a hard look at it. If it means doing a couple of things, trading a young player or two I've got to be open-minded to do that to try to make this team better."
The 70-year-old GM said he had already made decisions regarding unrestricted free agents Mike Lundin, Peter Regin and Guillaume Latendresse, but wanted to speak to them first before announcing his intentions.
Much the same can be said for 39-year-old Sergei Gonchar, who told reporters he would like to remain in Ottawa. However, it seems unlikely he will be re-signed.
“To be fair to him and every other free agent it’s proper to talk to him and his agent and decide what we want to do or at least let them know what we want to do before I announce it here,”Murray said.
Meanwhile, head coach Paul MacLean is entering the final year of his three-year contract. It appears Murray would prefer dealing with a new contract sooner rather than later.
“It’s one of the topics I have on my agenda as we go forward with the coaching staff,”said Murray.“It’s a conversation we have to have.”
Murray is also entering the final year of his deal. He said it's too early to make any decisions regarding his long-term future with the club.
“Let me have a conversation with my wife first,”Murray said with a smile.“I don’t have any kids at home that I worry about anymore, but we’ll see about that. It’s not a topic I’m even interested in going to at this point and time.”
For the second straight year, MacLean has been named a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy. He’s already looking forward to next season.
"We're tremendously pleased with where we are in the process of becoming good," said MacLean. "I’m looking forward to (training camp) right now because we actually have some decisions to make and some hard ones.
"That's a good sign for our team and the growth of our team and the process that we’re in. I look forward to it and I'm excited about it already."
In addition to being excited, MacLean said he’s fearful.
“I’m scared to death, I’m sweating already,”he said.“It’s going to be very hard. Success for me breeds fear. I’m scared, really scared, but for me that’s a comfort because I’ve dealt with things that way for a long time and it motivates me to make sure I’m prepared.”
While MacLean was impressed with the play of a number of players, he did single out the work of Kyle Turris and Zack Smith. MacLean felt they really raised their game after the injury to Jason Spezza.
And while the Senators called up a number of players from AHL Binghamton over the season, MacLean said he was most pleasantly surprised by Eric Gryba and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
“Those were two players that we knew who they were and what they could do, but we never expected that they would be playing on our roster in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs or the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs,”said MacLean.“Neither one of them was on the list to come to training camp…for me those two players had some tremendous growth.”
As for Daniel Alfredsson’s future with the organization, Murray said he wanted to give the 40-year-old captain time to ponder his decision and speak with his family before addressing the issue of his return.
“I should, as the manager, allow him to step back for a little bit of time and address that with his family and any concerns he might have about trying to play again,”Murray said.“At the right time I know he’ll come to me and suggest one way or the other what he’s hoping to do.”
Murray admitted the ideal situation would be knowing Alfredsson’s status prior to July 5 when free agency begins.