Changes on the way for Senators as GM evaluates team

The dramatic changes that Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray engineered last year could seem minor to the ones he will make this summer.
Even after a season that saw the Senators rebound from a dismal 2010-11 season, make the playoffs, and force the conference’s No. 1-seeded team to a seventh game in the first round, Murray will be shaking up the roster this summer.
The NHL is nothing if not Darwinian: only the strong survive.
Next year’s roster figures to include at least three new faces in forwards Mark Stone, Mika Ziabanejad, and Jakob Silfverberg.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson could be sitting at home in a rocking chair after 16 exemplary season.
Unrestricted free agents Filip Kuba, Matt Gilroy, Matt Carkner, Jesse Winchester, Zenon Konopka, Rob Klinkhammer, and Alex Auld could all be gone.
And even the restricted free agents – Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Jim O’Brien, and Kaspars Daugavins – won’t automatically receive qualifying offers, said Murray.
“We have some decisions to make there, too,” he said on Saturday, as he offered his post-mortem of the season just past.
He’s going to need room to accommodate his young prospects, so there will be harsh judgments about who can bring what to the team’s future.
Only last year Murray was a guy who didn’t know anything about how to run a hockey team. This year he’s back to being the smartest man in hockey.
But he was sweating it as this season started, and it was some time before he knew the team was going to be OK. Even then he wasn’t ready to predict it would make the playoffs.
After 32 seasons in the game as a coach and general manager, he knows it’s easy to get bruised.
“I thought we were going to be a competitive team,” he said.
“I don’t know that I said we were going to be in the playoffs, or not be in the playoffs. But I thought we had some players that had indicated to me that they were better than they were being given credit for.
“The Binghamton group we brought in, I thought, had great experience, and some of them had really matured as players, and I felt that by putting them in certain spots in our team and giving them a definite role, which (coach) Paul (MacLean) was able to do, that they could play and compete at this level.
“I didn’t slot us in. All I thought was we would be was a competitive team, an entertaining team, a team that most every night would show up and put on a good show.
“Then I saw the first four, five games and I didn’t like it at all. I was scared to death that maybe we weren’t going to be what I thought we were.
“But it did turn quickly. At the start of the year, I thought we were just OK. But in the playoffs I saw a group of players that probably could compete with most any team in the league.”
With every other league in the team trying to get better over the summer, and with their close rivals, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, determined to rebound from poor seasons, there will be pressure on the Senators to also improve, said Murray.
One of his big needs will be for a veteran defenceman.
There’s a chance Mark Borowiecki could make the team and fill that need.
But if the team can’t, or decides not to, re-sign Filip Kuba and Matt Carkner, it will have to try to acquire a player through free agency, said Murray.
“We definitely have to look at a defensive type of defenceman more than anything, I think,” he said.
“They’re the type of player to fit in with what we have right now.”
There is also always the need for goal scorers, which is why Stone, Zibanejad, and Silfverberg are high on his list and could bump players such as Regin, still recovering from shoulder surgery, and Daugavins, who played only one game in the playoffs.
In his exit meetings with the players, Murray said he pointedly told some players they better show up to training camp much improved because there will be people waiting to take their jobs.
The battle in goal should be interesting, too, not because Ben Bishop or Robin Lehner will be able to dislodge Craig Anderson, but for the competition between Bishop and Lehner.
Bishop has a one-way contract, which was a concern for the 20-year-old Lehner in his talk with Murray.
“(Lehner) was told like every other young player: ‘Have a great summer, work real hard, come to camp and compete, allow us to make the judgment at that time by your performance,’” said Murray.
“He did ask me about Ben’s contract, his one-way situation. I said we can manage anything, if you are what you tell me you’re going to be.
“I also indicated to him we really like goaltenders who play a number of games in the minors and win some games in the minors, and we have to help him do that.”
On a Binghamton team that was the worst in the American Hockey League, Lehner was 13-22-1 with a 3.26 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.

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