Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray knows when he's licked.
As Wednesday's trade deadline inches closer, Murray isn't hiding his decisions regarding the NHL club's current roster.
"We're obviously not where we want to be going forward," he acknowledged. "I hope to go do a couple of other things, whether it's just add prospects or draft picks."
The season wasn't supposed to turn out this way.
Offensive stalwarts Jason Spezza, Dany Heatly and captain Daniel Alfredsson were expected to lead Ottawa to a 12th consecutive playoff appearance. Yet a sputtering offence and some shoddy goaltending have all but killed the team's post-season aspirations.
First-year head coach Craig Hartsburg lasted only 48 games before losing his job on Feb. 2 — unceremoniously dumped after the Senators lost nine of their last 13 games.
New coach Cory Clouston has his players performing significantly better, but the Senators have too much ground to pick up in the Eastern Conference for Murray to consider making moves for this year alone.
Even last week's deal that Murray completed with the New York Islanders indicates the Ottawa GM is looking toward the future.
Murray sent centre Dean McAmmond and a 2009 first-round pick originally belonging to the San Jose Sharks to New York for former Senator Mike Comrie and defenceman Chris Campoli.
Both are skilled offensive players who can help the Senators beyond this season.
Comrie, a $4-million US player this year, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"The discussion for the last while was if we brought him here, he would be very interested in staying," said Murray, effectively dismissing talk that he would trade Comrie at the deadline.
Campoli, meanwhile, is under contract through next season at a reasonable $675,000.
He scored six goals and 23 points in 51 games for the Islanders and gives the Senators a puck-moving blue-liner they've lacked this season.
"Obviously, we feel we've acquired a defenceman that will give us the skill at the back that we've been talking about all year," Murray said.
Murray wasn't so gracious when pointing to the disappointing years of his top players, suggesting no one should be considered safe beyond Wednesday.
"Our performance this year has not allowed us to say there are any untouchables," said Murray.
He could easily be referring to centre Jason Spezza, a trade candidate because of a clause in his contact.
Spezza, whose scoring production has significantly fallen off this year, has been rumoured to be on the move since November. He signed a seven-year, $49-million extension in 2007, but his no-trade agreement doesn't take effect until this summer, allowing Murray to potentially deal his playmaker — although that's unlikely.
"He's our No. 1 centre," Murray said. "I'm not going to get into specific names. I don't think that's fair, other than the guys who are unrestricted [free agents]."
The two names drawing interest from that list are defenceman Filip Kuba and winger Chris Neil.
Kuba, the team's leading defenceman with 28 points, does have a no-trade agreement in place, so dealing him may be more difficult than sending Neil elsewhere.
"I got traded here, I was hoping that we had something good going here and I still want to do that, play hockey here," said the 32-year-old blue-liner, who joined Ottawa via Tampa Bay this past summer.
Neil isn't expected to return from a lacerated calf until after the deadline, yet teams won't shy away from acquiring him. Neil's toughness and grit would be a welcome addition to any club looking to make a long playoff run.
"Everyone knows what Chris Neil is," Murray said.
Whatever the next few feverish days hold for Murray and the Senators, one thing remains certain: Ottawa's boss won't be too far away from his phone.
"Through the week there will be a fair number of contacts with other managers," he said. "The teams that are like me, on the borderline, will be talking about what we can do with the unrestricted guys.
"We'll try not to let happen what's happened with a couple of guys in the past. That is, go away in July for nothing."