What to do about unsigned players?

 

In a mere matter of hours, the fun of playing hockey turned into the business of hockey for the Ottawa Senators and countless players facing a summer of contract uncertainty.

As the players were steal dealing with the hangover of losing Thursday to the New York Rangers – the Rangers kicked off the second round against the Washington Capitals Saturday afternoon while Senators players packed up their hockey bags and sticks for the summer – the reality that some players won’t be back next September was kicking in.

There are different concerns, depending on who the player is, of course.

For star defenceman Erik Karlsson, it’s a matter of coming to terms on what is expected to be a lucrative, multi-year contract as he his entry level contract has ended. As a Norris Trophy candidate who dominated the scoring race among NHL defencemen, Karlsson’s bargaining position couldn’t be better.

“I think both parties know where we are right now,” he said, while relishing the “fun” he had during the 2011-12 season. “I want to stay here and I think they want to keep me here. We have no issues with each other, so there shouldn’t be any big ones going forward, either.”

As the old movie line goes, Show Him the Money.

A trickier conversation surrounds what to do with Filip Kuba, Karlsson’s 35-year-old defence partner, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Kuba had an outstanding season, bouncing back from back and ankle issues in 2010-11, but he had an uneven playoff performance and didn’t play well in the pivotal Game 7 loss to the Rangers. How much (and how long of a contract?) are the Senators willing pay to keep the defence tandem together?

Senators general manager Bryan Murray did suggest the team would be in the hunt for a veteran defensive defenceman in the summer, which could effect a decision on whether to keep Kuba.

“I would like to be back here next year,” said the soft-spoken Kuba, who scored six goals and 26 assists and had a shining plus 26 in the plus/minus department. “You don’t really think about (the contract) during the season and about what happens next year. You just focus on playing hockey. But I will sit down with my agent and see what the options are. As soon as I can sign a contract, it would obviously be better.”

Kuba says what he liked most about the season was watching first-hand as Karlsson emerged into a standout NHL player.

“Seeing him grow up, hockey wise, and seeing his talent show up,” he said. “He really showed he can do a lot of different things. He’s a player who can change the game.”

While Karlsson and Kuba represent decisions at the high end of the roster, Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka are hoping their strong performances in the playoffs will be enough to keep them here for another season. Both were healthy scratches in the stretch run to the playoffs.

Carkner missed Game 7 against the Rangers due to a knee injury, avoiding taking “drastic” measures to play in the hopes that he would be healthy for a potential second round series.

His ability to intimidate opponents with a physical game means the Senators will seriously consider bringing him back.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “I’ve never been a free agent before, I’ve loved it here in Ottawa so far, and hopefully, something can work out. I’m not really part of the negotiations. Numbers aren’t my forte.”

Between the injuries and long stretches as a healthy scratch, Carkner acknowledges it it was a tough season, but he believes he can still add punch to the lineup. He insists he won’t need knee surgery.

Then there’s Konopka, who had a shockingly impressive playoff performance as a faceoff specialist and checker and who played through serious lower back pain in Games 6 and 7.

“A couple of mornings, I couldn’t get out of bed, but the trainers somehow got me ready, working on me around the clock,” he said. “I spent more time with Gerry (Townend, head athletic therapist) than anyone else in my life, including my girlfriend.”

With an influx of young players arriving, there wouldn’t appear to be room for Konopka to return, but he says the team “is going in the right direction and I want to be part of it long term.”

Peter Regin also says he wants to be back with the team, but after playing in only 10 games due to another left shoulder injury which resulted in surgery, he may not be re-signed as a restricted free agent because others have taken his spot.

 

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