HELP WANTED — Experienced, high-scoring National Hockey League forward. Size, strength and ability to out-battle top quality defencemen are assets. Playoff success not mandatory, but is an advantage. Age preference: 28-30. Salary negotiable. Apply to Bryan Murray c/o Ottawa Senators, 1000 Palladium Drive, Ottawa, ON, K2V 1A5
Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray has made it crystal clear.
He believes the Senators will be a “serious contender” for the Stanley Cup next season and he’s in the market for a proven goal scorer at the peak of his career to improve those chances — either through free agency or by trading away some of the organization’s younger prospects to a team in salary cap trouble.
“Our needs?” Murray said Tuesday, as he closed the book on the injury-riddled season which ended with a five-game, second round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. “Obviously, we have to score more goals. We have to find a way to create a little more offence, and that may mean trying to find a player out there who may do that.”
Murray narrowed down his wish list even further from there: Not too young, not too old.
“I prefer getting a 28 or a 29-year-old, or maybe a 30-year-old,” he said. “I don’t really plan to get a guy older than that, but if that happens, if that’s available and he’s a good player, then, of course, I would look at that, at that time. But my preference, especially if it’s a trade, would be to have some time with him.”
Now, here’s the issue: 29 other teams are in search of exactly the same thing and the list of available free agents with the ideal qualifications is a short one.
At the top is David Clarkson, the New Jersey Devils’ rugged winger. Clarkson had 15 goals, nine assists and 78 penalty minutes in 48 games with New Jersey during the 2013 season. Last season, he scored 30 goals, 16 assists and had 138 penalty minutes.
That combination of talent and toughness is extremely rare — he has 97 goals, 73 assists and 770 penalty minutes in 426 career games — and given the limitations of the other available players, the world will be Clarkson’s oyster when free agency begins July 5. Unless, of course, New Jersey steps up to make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Brad Boyes is another intriguing name to watch.
A first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs way back in 2000, he registered 43- and 33-goal seasons with the St. Louis Blues in 2007-08 and 2008-09, but appeared almost forgotten when he signed a $1 million one-year contract with the Islanders last season. Boyes proved that he can produce while playing with an elite centre — John Tavares was his linemate for most of the season — picking up 10 goals and 35 points. Now, he’s in position to cash in for that season.
A couple of other pending unrestricted free agents (Boston’s Nathan Horton and Chicago’s Bryan Bickell) are still in the midst of the race for the Stanley Cup, but after that, a trade could be the Senators’ better option for acquiring an impact player.
While Murray concedes that the Senators won’t be spending anywhere close to the salary cap of $64 million next year (he’s working with owner Eugene Melnyk’s budget in the $50 million range), he also recognizes that the club’s off-season moves could play a role in whether captain Daniel Alfredsson opts to return or retire.
“A whole bunch of us want to win now,” Murray said. “One of our conversations with (Alfredsson) will be ‘are we going to be better next year?’ That should answer some questions for him, too.”
For now, Murray is giving Alfredsson time to figure out his future.
“At the right time, I know he’ll come to me and suggest one way or another what he’s hoping to do,” he said.
Naturally, Murray was disappointed the Senators were unable to advance further in the playoffs, but he concedes the Penguins were the superior team. Due to the Senators’ injury problems, however, “we could never find out how good we really were.”
Murray is ecstatic at the development of many of the team’s young prospects “that will improve and make our team more competitive going forward,” but as a general manager looking to make his team as competitive as possible, he needs to be “open-minded” about trades.
In terms of the Senators’ pending unrestricted free agents, the most likely to stay is defenceman Andre Benoit. Murray says he will at least talk about the future with defenceman Sergei Gonchar and his agent, but the Senators likely couldn’t afford his asking price and the team wants to free up more ice time for younger defencemen including Patrick Wiercioch, Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki.
Guillaume Latendresse, Peter Regin and Mike Lundin have also likely played their final games with the Senators.
Even with those players out of the picture, coach Paul MacLean is excited when he looks ahead to training camp, recognizing that “we’re going to have some decisions to make and some hard ones.”
MacLean, also speaking publicly for the first time since the night the Senators were eliminated by the Penguins, acknowledges the Senators are probably ahead of schedule on the three-year rebuilding program which started when he was hired in 2011.
MacLean, however, doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. His goal is simply to make the playoffs again and go from there.