Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray heard the scrutiny about his team from the panel-type television broadcasts on Tuesday. But he wasn't buying the breakdown from the experts that Ottawa was no longer a desirable address for NHL players because the owner Eugene Melnyk doesn't spend.
Murray didn't like the talk. He became defensive.
"I hear the comments that we don't spend," the 71-year-old GM said. "I, just so you know, offered Jason [Spezza] an extension and they said they weren't interested. Whether it's because he didn't think we had enough around him or what.
"I've never had one player that I've called and asked if they want to come to Ottawa say, 'no I'm worried about the money on your team.' Perception is what you make it to be and what you believe to be true. I think players know they come here and they're treated well.
"Milan Michalek [who re-signed for three more years at $4 million US a season on Tuesday] is an example. He had a deal with much more money and two years longer than he took in Ottawa. I called him today, we talked, he loves it her. He thinks we have a really competitive team.
"I told him Spezz was moving on and he said, 'That's fine, there's another centre I can play with for sure,' and he signed the contract. He took a deal that was, as I said, a hometown discount. I guess in the eyes of some players this is not the place to be, in the eyes of a lot of players it is the place to be. Players find out about Ottawa and how we operate and usually respect it a great deal."
Sure some players chase money. Just look at some of the players the Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers lured on the first day of free agency.
Did you notice that three of the top teams in the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks weren't that active? The Kings made a couple of depth moves. The Ducks filled their void at second-line centre last week with the trade for Ryan Kesler. The Blackhawks acquired a much-needed centre in Brad Richards for a bargain-basement price.
Most players want to win. That's why Kesler asked to be traded from the Vancouver Canucks. That's why Spezza wanted to be moved from Ottawa. Spezza is 31 and Kesler is 29. They feel their time is running out. Spezza was sick and tired of being the fall guy in Ottawa.
He also was sick and tired of losing. There were good times in Ottawa. The Senators went to the 2007 Stanley Cup final, only to lose in five games to Chris Pronger and the Ducks. In the seven seasons since that magical season, the Senators have won only one playoff series - in the lockout-shortened season of 2013 - and have missed the playoffs three times.
So Dany Heatley wanted out after the 2008-09 season. Then it was captain Daniel Alfredsson last summer, and now captain Spezza has fled.
"They have a lot of good young pieces," Spezza said. "I felt it was in my best interests, and mutually for the team, to have move me on. It would help me take another step forward in my career.
"It wasn't something that came to me easily. You always analyze these things at the end of the season and during different points, but it was something I felt I needed a chance to try something else and move on."
Murray feels his team is close. That's debatable. But he needs to mold his team into a winner through the draft, through smart trades and through a smart signing or two.
The trade for Kyle Turris was a smart move. The Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher was not. The signing of Clarke MacArthur, who scored 24 goals this past season (second behind Turris's 26) was a good signing.
The jury still is out on Bobby Ryan, who dipped to 23 goals in his first season in Ottawa after he began his NHL career with four consecutive 30-or-more goal seasons with Anaheim.
If Ryan can return to form and ditto for defenceman Marc Methot, and goalies Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, the Senators will be in the thick of the playoff race. Forward Alex Chiasson, one of the players acquired in the Spezza deal with the Dallas Stars is capable, too.
They still have Erik Karlsson and Michalek and young players like Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Mark Boroiewcki and possibly junior prospects Curtis Lazar, Matt Puempel and Shane Prince.
"Obviously, we put the C on the wrong people here," Murray joked. "No, I don't know. It's disappointing when you lose good people and it's perceived as something that's negative to the team and the town.
"I think Alfie, and maybe it was totally that, he wanted to try another team. Maybe for Jason it's totally that. All he said to me today when I talked to him was, 'after 11 years, Bryan, I think it's good for the team and it's good for me to try something different.'"
In Ottawa, like other NHL stops, the bottom line is not spending, it's winning.
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