Lee wilted under Murray regime

Monday’s trade of Brian Lee has been on the horizon almost from the day Bryan Murray became general manager of the Ottawa Senators on June 18, 2007.

Lee wilted under Murray regime
General Manager Bryan Murray is deep in thought as the Ottawa Senators practice at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, March 19, 2014, . (Photo by Wayne Cuddington/ Ottawa Citizen)

Monday’s trade of Brian Lee has been on the horizon almost from the day Bryan Murray became general manager of the Ottawa Senators on June 18, 2007.

Taken ninth overall in the 2005 draft, Lee became an easy example to trot out when the mistakes of the John Muckler regime were being tallied up.

Muckler and his boys could have taken Anze Kopitar (11th), or Marc Staal (12th), or even T.J. Oshie (24th) in the 2005 draft.
But instead they took Lee, who thus started his career with two strikes against him: Not only was he one of Muckler’s picks, he couldn’t compare to the likes of Kopitar, Staal, and Oshie.

Mercifully, Murray finally gave Lee the fresh start he deserves by trading him on Tuesday to the Tampa Bay Lightning for 27-year-old defenceman Matt Gilroy, who had an outstanding university career but remains a work in progress in his third NHL season.

The deal came as somewhat of a surprise, even to Murray.

About an hour before the deadline, he had called Tampa general manager Steve Yzerman on another matter – “I called Steve to congratulate him on Mike Commodore,” said Murray — and then said “Oh, by the way.”

Yzerman listened, said give me 10 minutes, called back to negotiate a bit more, then said OK.

Gilroy has the potential to be an important player for the Senators.

After a four-season career at Boston University, where he led the Terriers to the NCAA championship in 2009 and won the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate player, the 6-0, 201-pound Gilroy was courted by several NHL teams. (One of his teammates at BU was Binghamton defenceman Eric Gryba).

But the Long Island native wanted to stay in New York and signed a two-year, $3.5-million deal with the Rangers.
After a stint in the Big Apple that played to decidedly mixed reviews, he signed a one-year, $1-million deal with the Lightning last July.

There was some indication the Rangers would have liked him back but not at the same price tag. He had also fallen on the team’s depth chart and was often in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse. Tortorella wanted to see more aggressive play from Gilroy on a nightly basis.

In 53 games with the Lightning this season, Gilroy has two goals and 15 assists, while averaging 17:36 in ice time. Overall, he has played in 180 NHL games with the Rangers and Tampa, scoring nine goals and 34 assists.

Gilroy, one of eight children, wears No. 97 in remembrance of his deceased brother Timmy, who died as the result of a bicycle accident when he was eight.

The two boys were only 13 months apart.

In a conference call on Monday, Matt explained that he and his brother had hoped to get 99 on one of the teams they played, in honour of Wayne Gretzky, but they showed up late and 99 was gone. So they took 98 and 97.

While Boston University has a policy against players wearing high attention-getting numbers, Gilroy was allowed to wear 97.
Now 27, he is an unrestricted free agent, but Murray said he will try to re-sign him.

He is being viewed as a future replacement to Filip Kuba, who is in the last year of his contract, and Sergei Gonchar, who has one year to go. Matt Carkner is also in the last year of his contract, so there will be some turnover on defence in the next two years.

“He gets a chance to look at us, we get a chance to look at him,” said Murray.

“We think if he likes what he sees of our group, and we like what he brings to our team, we do have a couple of veteran guys, offensive minded, that are nearing a time in their career where they’ll move on, we have another person who brings that ability to our team.”

Gilroy said he hasn’t thought about what might happen next summer.

“I haven’t even thought about what to pack yet,” he said.

“I know I have to be in Boston (today) and will have a chance to meet the guys. I guess I’ll juts take it day-by-day and see how it goes.”

Where Gilroy will fit in coach Paul MacLean’s plans is a question, but Murray said he views the new defenceman as a top-six player who will play with either Chris Phillips or Jared Cowen. That would seem to indicate that Carkner will be doing a lot of sitting.

“He’s an NHL player, probably top four, five defencemen,” said Murray.

“I’m not the coach, and I’m a poor guy to ask because I have no idea, but I believe that’s where he’ll fit.”

Gilroy was out at a mall shopping with teammate Teddy Purcell when he got the call from Yzerman that he had been traded. Five minutes later Murray called. He said he was “thrilled” to hear where he fits in Murray’s plans.

“I talked to him only quickly but he was excited and told me I was the guy he wanted, the puck-moving offensive guy,” he said.

“It’s nice to get a phone call like that when you’re wanted.”

As for Lee, the wonder will be why he never quite measured up.

Murray himself didn’t have an exact answer but wished Lee good luck in Tampa.

“Everybody judges in their own way,” said Murray.

“At times Brian thought he should have been (in the top six). Our coaching staff over the course of time just felt that he was one of those people who was in-and-out of the lineup, because of maybe not giving the offensive contribution that some other person could give.

“I think Brian’s taking some time to develop his body and develop his game, and I hope for his sake he gets a chance now to be a regular player.

“We appreciate what Brian did here.

“We think he’s growing as a player. I think he’ll go there now and have a chance with Tampa. (General manager) Steve (Yzerman) is trying to rebuild the defence down there.

“I think he’ll get a chance to be plugged in and then it will be using his ice time to be important. I think that opportunity is there for him, and I’m sure knowing Brian he’ll grab it and be a regular player.”

BISHOP TO BINGO: After meeting with Murray, newly acquired goalie Ben Bishop headed off to Binghamton on Monday. Officially, this wasn’t a transaction, since he was never recalled by the NHL team.

He was simply transferred from Peoria to Binghamton.

Murray said that Bishop will play at least two games in Binghamton but that he will be recalled to play an NHL game in the near future, likely next week.

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