Kyle Turris finds soft landing spot with Senators

Kyle Turris finds soft landing spot with Senators
Twenty-two-year-old Kyle Turris is a central part of the youthful enthusiasm that has the Senators believing anything is possible as they prepare to face the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series Thursday night.

The timing is perfect. A split second after Kyle Turris says “I couldn’t be happier to be here,” a tape ball thrown by a mischievous teammate from across the Ottawa Senators’ dressing room bounces off his shoulder.
Boys will be boys, and the 22-year-old Turris is a central part of the youthful enthusiasm that has the Senators believing anything is possible as they prepare to face the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series Thursday night.
Turris is at home in his role as the Senators’ second-line centre. He showed leadership with his two-goal, two-assist performance in the team’s playoff-clinching victory over the New York Islanders eight days ago, when neither Jason Spezza nor Daniel Alfredsson played. The comfortable fit is a huge bonus for the organization, considering that spot was a gaping hole in the lineup during all the uncertainty of training camp and the early weeks of the season.
In the locker-room, Turris is rarely outspoken and never controversial. He’s ecstatic about the trust coach Paul MacLean has given him and marvels about the opportunity to play on a line with Alfredsson. He didn’t even mutter a negative thought when Joe Corvo of the Boston Bruins threatened to fight him in February, in retaliation for a borderline body check.
Considering all that, it’s difficult to believe this is the same Turris who wore such a nasty reputation in the opening two months of the season, when he was sitting at home in New Westminster, B.C., hoping for a resolution to his contract squabble with the Phoenix Coyotes. Fans in Phoenix, where Turris was selected third overall in the 2007 NHL entry draft, labelled him as ungrateful, the owner of a colossal ego and many other colourful things that can’t be re-printed here. It can take years for players to skate away from the residue of ugly, public contract negotiations and/or trade demands. Senators fans have been there: The mere mention of the names Bryan Berard, Alexei Yashin and Dany Heatley gets the blood boiling.
Turris’s saga was drawn out. After his entry-level contract expired last June, his agent, Kurt Overhardt, reportedly asked for a three-year contract worth more than $4 million U.S. per season, while also claiming the dispute wasn’t really about money. Phoenix general manager Don Maloney called the stance “illogical” and said that Turris “can stay at home and watch Oprah.” Eric Bélanger, Turris’s former teammate, told the Edmonton Journal, “I don’t know what he’s doing,” a sentiment many agreed with. With options dwindling — if unsigned by Dec. 1 he couldn’t play this season — the Turris camp asked for a trade in late October.
The stalemate finally ended in late November, when Turris signed a two-year, $2.8-million contract with the Coyotes. He only played six games with Phoenix before being traded to the Senators for defenceman David Rundblad and a second-round draft pick.
Turris isn’t keen on revisiting the history, but he understands that the public perception of him wasn’t always positive. He has learned good and bad lessons from the experience.
“It was tough, it was frustrating,” Turris acknowledges. “But I think that part of it was harder for the people around me. My girlfriend. My parents. My friends. They would read all the stuff. I would tell them not to, but they would anyway. Everybody’s got an opinion, but there’s only a very select few — myself, my parents, my girlfriend — that actually knew all the details that were going on without speculating, and 99.9 per cent of what was out there was all fake or unrealistic in some way.”
The back story goes something like this. After playing one season at the University of Wisconsin in 2007-08, then-Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky persuaded Turris to make the leap to the NHL. In the estimation of others, he didn’t have the size to compete. Even now, at 6-1 and 185 pounds, he needs to bulk up. Turris struggled and spent time in the AHL. When current Phoenix coach Dave Tippett arrived, he favoured a more veteran lineup and wanted Turris to develop either in the minors or on a third or fourth line in the NHL. The Turris camp felt he was miscast in that position.
“The contract discussions were not about finances,” says Senators GM Bryan Murray. “They were about having an opportunity to play and be important. The way things were structured in Phoenix, they couldn’t accommodate him.”
Murray had talks with MacLean before making the trade, assured that Turris would be given an opportunity to develop here in a second-line role. Murray says he wasn’t worried about Turris being tarred by his reputation.
“He asked to be traded and that’s happened before and that doesn’t mean they are bad people,” says Murray. “When you say stuff and you don’t really know the person and what he’s all about, you can damage him, there’s no question, but he’s a strong guy and he has played well. I think that part of it is totally gone.”
Turris’s past won’t go away that easily. It will come up every time his contract is up for renewal. For the Senators, that’s at the end of the 2012-13 season. Of course, by then, Turris should have built up his on-ice reputation as a significant contributor to the Senators’ offence. He’s overjoyed at having found a soft landing spot and at having a chance to make a difference for a playoff team now, so far removed from the uncertainty when the season began. Naturally, he doesn’t want to look back.
“It doesn’t matter any more,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier. It has worked out pretty well.”
Follow Ken Warren on Twitter at: @Citizenkwarren

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