Blue line becomes top priority for Senators GM
Volchenkov's potential departure could impact draft, free agent decisions for team
|Sens director of player personnel discusses the team's draft plans with the media earlier today at Scotiabank Place. The 2010 NHL Entry Draft is set for Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
But don't rule out the possibility of the Senators using their first-round pick on a defenceman for a third straight year, when the National Hockey League holds its annual lottery at the Staples Center in Los Angeles this weekend.
The Senators would seem to be well-stocked with young defencemen in the wake of the last two entry drafts, which provided the organization with three solid blue-line building blocks for the future — 2008 first-rounder Erik Karlsson, who emerged as an impact player last season, and 2009 top pick Jared Cowen and '08 second-rounder Patrick Wiercioch, who'll both challenge for jobs in training camp this fall.
With all of that in mind, Senators general manager Bryan Murray suggested today "there's a specific type of player we'd like" with the 16th overall pick in this year's draft.
"We've done a real good job over the last two years filling the back end and if it's possible, we'll certainly look at a quality forward this year," said Murray. "There are some quality players there (at No. 16) and we think we'll get a good player."
"Best player available" remains the Senators' mantra for the draft and if it happens to be a blueliner, then so be it. Ottawa brought in six draft prospects that might be available in the No. 16 hole in recent weeks for a closer look and, as director of player personnel Pierre Dorion pointed out, three of them were blueliners.
"I understand the perception about (the Sens' draft priorities)," said assistant general manager Tim Murray. "But as soon as you think you have enough defencemen, something happens. A trade comes up or somebody wants one of your good young defencemen. You never have enough good defencemen.
"We're not in a position to pick by (specific) position. We have to pick the best player available."
The Senators' need for blueliners might become more pressing if veteran Anton Volchenkov is lost to unrestricted free agency. Bryan Murray indicated he has had several conversations with the burly Russian's camp in recent days and expects Volchenkov to test the open market starting July 1.
All of which figures to govern the Senators' direction in the next few weeks, until that potential hole is properly filled. That also impacts the possibility of re-signing centre Matt Cullen or defenceman Andy Sutton, two trade deadline acquisitions — also unrestricted free agents — who have "made it clear" to Murray that they'd like to return to Ottawa.
"I'm a little handcuffed at the moment because of the uncertainty on the back end," said Murray.
"Our priority has got to be a defenceman at the moment. Whether it be Anton or whomever, that'll eat up some money. I sort of have to play through the draft weekend, in all likelihood, and see what happens and what we can make develop for this hockey team."
The answer might already be in the house, if either Cowen or Wiercioch can make the team in September. While Tim Murray admits that's easier said than done, he doesn't discount the possibility.
"There are always questions about 18- or 19-year-old defencemen. But do they have the talent to come here and make the team? Yes, they do."
In addressing the speculation surrounding a possible trade of centre Jason Spezza, Bryan Murray suggested fans shouldn't expect the kind of acrimonious summer that followed a trade request by forward Dany Heatley a month before the 2009 draft.
"It’s a different person," said Murray. "If you remember back last year when Dany demanded what he demanded, Jason was one of the guys that stood up and recognized that the organization had to be looked after and if Dany was going to move on, he should move on and let the team continue to play. So I don’t see that at all.
"I see a guy that, at the end of the year for a variety of reasons, wasn’t as happy as we’d like him to be. But that’s life. That’s the NHL ... (but) going forward, if Jason Spezza’s here, he’s a quality person and I’m sure he’ll play as hard as he can."
Senators open 2010-11 season on Oct. 8
The Senators will face a familiar foe in their 2010-11 season and home opener. The Buffalo Sabres, one of Ottawa's Northeast Division rivals, visit Scotiabank Place on Oct. 8, a Friday night.
The National Hockey League will release the full 2010-11 schedule on Tuesday at noon.