The Ottawa Senators are still interested in bringing back some veteran punch and poise for the 2012-13 season.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray is talking to the agents representing rugged defenceman Matt Carkner and fourth line centre/winger Jesse Winchester. If they remain unsigned, both will become unrestricted free agents on Sunday, available to any and all interested bidders.
While both Carkner, 31, and Winchester, 28, have served valuable depth roles for the Senators, there are injury concerns with both.
Knee issues have slowed down Carkner, who played only 29 games and registered a goal, two assists and 33 penalty minutes during the 2011-12 regular season. Yet Carkner, 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds, is generally regarded as one of the top fighters and most intimidating players in the NHL, creating more room for his teammates. He made a physical difference when inserted into the Senators lineup during the first round of the playoffs against the New York Rangers in April.
Winchester, meanwhile, spent the bulk of the 2011-12 season in a concussion haze. He played in only 32 games, scoring two goals and six assists, due to a concussion suffered in December when he was hit from behind by Paul Gaustad (then with the Buffalo Sabres).
Still, Winchester earned the trust of Senators coach Paul MacLean for his ability to forecheck, protect the puck along the boards and to win key faceoffs. His concussion symptoms re-appeared against the Rangers, leaving him uncertain about his future when the season ended.
While the negotiations with Carkner and Winchester figure to continue, there have been no talks between Murray and the agent for pending unrestricted free agent centre Zenon Konopka.
Konopka is generally regarded as a fighter — he led the NHL in penalty minutes in 2010-11 — and saw limited playing time under MacLean during the regular season. During the post-season, though, he became a specialist, of sorts, dominating in the faceoff circle and serving as a top penalty killer. That effort alone could extend his NHL career — if not in Ottawa, then somewhere else.
Murray has already said that the Senators will let defenceman Filip Kuba explore unrestricted free agency and the Senators have no interest in keeping Matt Gilroy, who failed to impress after being acquired from Tampa Bay in a trade deadline deal for Brian Lee.
The Senators have also given qualifying offers to restricted free agents Nick Foligno, Jim O’Brien, Kaspars Daugavins, Stephane Da Costa and Erik Gryba.
By extending the offers, which amount to a 10 per cent increase for players earning $660,000 or lower in 2011-12, a five per cent increase for players between $660,000 and $1 million, and equal salary for those making more than $1 million, the Senators retain their rights.
The player and the team, however, can continue negotiations towards a new contract.
Nick Foligno, for instance, will be looking for an increase on his qualifying offer of $1.55 million, based on the fact he scored 15 goals and 32 assists last season.
The lone restricted free agent who didn’t receive a qualifying offer was defenceman Craig Schira, who has spent the past three seasons with Binghamton. He has signed to play in Norway next season.
SCHULTZ ON THE SENATORS RADAR: Tim Murray, the Senators’ assistant general manager, told the Team 1200 AM Monday that he believes Ottawa is one of either three to five teams still in the running to sign pending unrestricted free agent defenceman Justin Schultz.
Schultz, originally selected in the second round (43rd overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2008 NHL entry draft, has been a scoring star at the University of Wisconsin for the past three seasons. The Ducks never signed him, however, making him a free agent.
Murray said Schultz, who has scored 34 goals and 57 assists at Wisconsin in 78 games during the past two seasons, has the ability to step directly into the NHL.