By now, the Senators should be finishing up their first week of training camp.
Local sports talk would be knee-deep in rink reports on the progress of such promising prospects as Jakob Silfverberg, Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad. Instead, those three and other young Senators are in Binghamton, N.Y., getting for the start of the B-Sens AHL camp. Not first prize, in other words.
There was a hint of melancholy in the voice of Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray as he spoke about camp opening there – but not here – due to the ongoing NHL lockout.
Rarely is Murray guilty of being circumspect – he has carved a long hockey career out of telling it as he sees it – but his only public comment about the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks was that he was “hopeful” something positive might come out of talks now expected to run Friday through the weekend in New York.
Asked if the lockout has been personally difficult for him, Murray said:
“We all are concerned about the game, we want to play. Hard on me? Well, my wife has all these jobs for me . . . no, I think I’m like every other person in hockey, we would like to be playing.”
They will be playing in Binghamton, and so Murray will head there soon, to join others from hockey operations, including assistant GM Tim Murray, player personnel director Pierre Dorion, hockey opps and development director Randy Lee and Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.
As disappointed as some players will be to miss out on an NHL camp, they will skate in Binghamton under the watch of the people guiding their futures.
“The competition level we have, I think it’s 18 forwards fighting for 12 jobs, the number of young people we have, makes for a great deal of excitement,” Murray said.
On the issue of players heading to Europe to play, Murray said the decision was up to individuals like Jason Spezza (Swiss League) and Erik Karlsson (the Finnish Elite League), though he seemed pleased they were keen to play.
“For Jason and Erik in particular, two guys with a lot of skill, playing at that level will be a good thing for them and I think their comfort level over their will be be very positive when they come back,” Murray said.
He admitted he wouldn’t mind seeing young forwards Kyle Turris and Zack Smith get involved with a team at some point. Both signed long-term contracts this summer,
“They’ll make that decision along with their agent, what will eventually happen,” Murray said. “I know guys like Kyle and Zack will be good players for us.”
As for the Bingo boys, Murray can’t wait to see the big battles on small ice, including Swedes Silfverberg and Zibanejad, who grew up on the bigger ice surfaces of Europe.
In the course of Friday’s 10-minute scrum with reporters at Scotiabank Place, Murray opined on several players:
F Mika Zibanejad: After a difficult, losing season with Djurgardens, the Senators organization is looking for Zibanejad to be more like the player he was for Sweden in the world juniors. “(Djurgardens) didn’t have a great team, and it appeared he got caught in a rut with guys, he didn’t compete as hard as we’d like to see him compete on a nightly basis.” Murray still loves Zibanejad’s size, skill, skating ability.
F Jakob Silfverberg: “We think he’s going to be a very good player, he’s got talent, handles the puck very well, he’s committed to playing over here and just like every other young guy he’s just got to get games under his belt and make himself available to us when the time occurs. We have great hopes for him.”
F Mark Stone: “He’s going to be a candidate to play in the NHL very quickly,” Murray said. “His skating has improved, he’s big and strong, he’s got a head for the game. He had a great junior career, it’s time for him to get to the next level, develop his game at that level, and we know he’ll be a top six forward down the road.”
D Jared Cowen: Newly established in the NHL, Cowen is disappointed to have to revert to the AHL, but Murray believes he will get over that and benefit from playing under new Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson, a longtime NHL defenceman. “This will help Jared refine his game,” Murray said.
G Ben Bishop: As part of the B-Sens clear day roster last spring, Big Ben is eligible to join Binghamton. Will he?
“We’ve talked about it, the first week or so of training camp we’re not doing that,” Murray said, “but at the end of that time — I know Ben wants to play, we’ve talked to him, there’s that possibility.”
F Daniel Alfredsson: Fans and media have expressed no end of concern for the career of the Senators captain in the event of a long lockout. Murray doesn’t share those concerns, because of the nature of Alfredsson – never mind that he turns 40 in December. “I don’t think anything’s harmful to Daniel,” Murray said. “He’s such a good individual and hard working guy, whatever happens he’ll be focused when we drop the puck — if we do.”