Ken Warren’s 10 Takes: On Murray moves, lousy crowds and lineup shuffles

What’s up with Bryan Murray and Tim Murray? Who is about to strike it rich? Who will the Senators scratch this weekend? Read all about it.

Ken Warren’s 10 Takes: On Murray moves, lousy crowds and lineup shuffles
Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray speaks to the media following the NHL general manager's meetings in Toronto, Tuesday November 12, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Once again this week, it was a case of one step forward, two steps back for the Ottawa Senators, who blew a shot at sweeping Florida and still haven’t won consecutive games in almost a month.

The season is slipping away in a hurry and the Toronto Maple Leafs are in position to push the Senators a full nine points of a wild-card playoff spot with a victory at the Canadian Tire Centre Saturday — cleverly nicknamed the Flat Tire Centre by one passionate hockey observer who is tired of watching the same old mistakes and uninspired play.

The Senators have lost four straight games at home. If there’s any consolation for the Senators, it’s that they’re facing a Maple Leafs team which is also full of defensive holes.

Now, read on for this week’s edition of 10 Takes, featuring some intriguing questions about the future of Senators management, possible roster shuffles, an unlikely southern success story, an ugly picture of empty seats and another possible coaching change.

Have a great weekend.

1. UFA GM WATCH

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has spoken rather loudly about how he prefers the developmental approach over trying to sign older free agents. Yet the future of a crucial pending unrestricted free agent is still up in the air — that of general manager Bryan Murray. Murray didn’t particularly enjoy his 71st birthday party Thursday, watching an injury-depleted Tampa Bay Lightning squad defeat the Senators 3-1. He has been coy on his future, but he remains extremely active in trying to fix the problems that ail the current team, while sticking to Melnyk’s internal salary cap.

2. THE OTHER MURRAY

Is Bryan Murray’s future linked to the future of assistant GM Tim Murray? That’s a complicated question, especially considering Tim Murray is a legitimate candidate for the Buffalo Sabres’ vacant general manager post. Sabres president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine is targeting “young assistant GM types” and Murray is part of a group that includes Boston’s Jim Benning, Nashville’s Paul Fenton and Pittsburgh’s Jason Botterill. Rick Dudley’s decision to re-sign as an assistant GM in Montreal earlier this week eliminates him as a possibility.

3. YOUNG DEFENCE OPTIONS

The longer it takes for Jared Cowen to find himself on the Senators blueline, the more people are asking whether he should be re-assigned to Binghamton of the AHL. To clarify once again, he does not need to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL. Meanwhile, folks in Toronto are reading the tea leaves, wondering if the Maple Leafs’ recall of John-Michael Liles from the Marlies means Morgan Rielly will be assigned to Canada’s world junior team.

4. RETURN OF THE KASSASSIN?

Senators coach Paul MacLean dropped strong hints Friday that heavyweight Matt Kassian could finally end his 10-game stint on the sidelines against Toronto Saturday, claiming there finally is a need for a legitimate heavyweight fighter in the lineup. Colton Orr is injured, but Frazer McLaren is expected to dress. “Now, we have the Leafs, the Flyers and Buffalo coming to town and that certainly sounds like teams that Matt Kassian can play against,” MacLean said.

5. WHO COMES OUT?

In the past six games he has dressed, Kassian has played 2:30, 4:48, 3:00, 3:22, 3:18 and 2:46, essentially reducing the team to 3 2/3 lines. The appearance of Kassian calls for a counter-move, with an existing forward sitting out. While Cory Conacher missed Friday’s practice for “maintenance,” MacLean said he should be available to play Saturday. It wouldn’t seem to make sense to sit out Mike Hoffman, who is on a trial from Binghamton. Would the Senators even consider making Milan Michalek a healthy scratch? He owns a team-worst plus/minus of minus-13.

6. TAMPA BAY SENATORS

Same story, different team. It must feel sort of like that for Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who is once again backstopping a severely injury-depleted team to unlikely, low-scoring victories. When Victor Hedman and Keith Aulie both left Thursday’s game with injuries, it was a ho-hum, here-we-go-again feeling, with nine regulars now gone. The difference for Bishop this year, of course, is that he’s not being pushed for the No. 1 goaltending job. It’s his net to lose, and considering he has only lost five games in regulation, that’s not happening soon.

7. LOSE GAMES, LOSE FANS

Conventional wisdom is that Florida-based sports fans will show up when their local pro teams win. But when they are consistently losing, well, it looks as embarrassing as it did when the Senators arrived on Tuesday. The Panthers announced a crowd of 10,074, but there were actually between 4,000-5,000 in the building. Onlookers for Thursday’s game against Winnipeg at the BB & T Centre suggest maybe 9,000 checked out the action (10,996 announced). Meanwhile, when Tampa played in Columbus Tuesday, the announced crowd was 10,223. Keep all that in mind when Gary Bettman talks about expansion to new American markets.

8. A KING’S RANSOM

Sure, it has been a long, long year for Ryan Miller, who has only five wins while desperately trying to keep the Buffalo Sabres competitive every night. But he only has to look to the Big Apple and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for motivation. Whether Miller chooses to re-sign in Buffalo or not — the guess here is no — he will be in line for a deal similar to the seven-year, $59.5 million contract Lundqvist received this week. I wonder if Miller extended a thank you to Lundqvist when they faced each other Thursday.

9. STEEN WARNING

With the salary cap expected to rise significantly, pending UFA Alexander Steen of St. Louis picked a fine time to have his breakout season, didn’t he? Just in case the Blues sniper slipped under the radar, this is all he’s done for Ken Hitchcock’s squad: Second in the NHL in goals (20), fourth in points (32), first in game-winning goals (5) and ninth in power play goals (5).

10. OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Talk in Long Island is that Peter Laviolette, fired by Philadelphia earlier this season, could return for a second stint at coaching the New York Islanders if Isles general manager Garth Snow fires Jack Capuano. I’m not sure that’s the answer, but at least Laviolette has experience coaching teams with bad goaltending, given his background in Philadelphia.

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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