By Pierre LeBrun — THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — The Ottawa Senators wanted no part of what the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers went through last season.
After seeing Buffalo lose Daniel Briere and Chris Drury and what happened with Ryan Smyth in Edmonton, the Senators made sure to lock up 50-goal man Dany Heatley way before next July when he was slated for unrestricted free agency.
With a self-imposed deadline of opening night, Heatley and his camp were able to come to terms on a US$45-million, six-year contract extension with Senators GM Bryan Murray around 5 p.m. ET Wednesday — two and half hours before Ottawa’s season opener against Toronto.
"The unrestricted guys in our system now, at 26 years of age, imagine — you’re just getting a player that’s coming into his own and he can walk on you," Murray told reporters shortly before Wednesday’s game. "That’s what happened in Buffalo for sure. You lose a Ryan Smyth (in Edmonton), who was a little older. But you have to try to look after the players you feel you can go forward with.
"And certainly Dany was one of those."
Heatley was in the final year of a deal that will pay him $5.5 million this season. The new deal, which is front-loaded, will pay an average of $7.5 million, tops on the Senators.
He was acquired in a blockbuster deal in August 2005 that saw winger Marian Hossa go the other way. Heatley has scored 50 goals and had more than 100 points in the two seasons he’s played for the Sens.
"I’ve really enjoyed my two years in Ottawa," Heatley said before the game. "I love the city, the fans, and the organization. I’m just thrilled and happy that we were able to get it done before the season started."
Next up on Murray’s plate is centre Jason Spezza, Heatley’s linemate. Spezza will be a restricted free agent after the season.
"Yes, we’re definitely going to talk at some point," Murray said. "I have talked to (Spezza’s agent) already. They want to start the year. They envision a really good season out of Jason, so they want to capitalize on that a little bit and I totally understand.
"But at some point in the near future we will talk again."
Murray downplayed the Heatley’s camp deadline of getting a deal done before the regular season started.
"Talking to them over the last few days it wasn’t like we had to get it done by 5 o’clock tonight or forget about it," Murray said. "But it’s good to get it done.
"We’re very pleased with that."
The GM wasn’t concerned with the length of the deal.
"Dany Heatley is 26 years of age, and I suspect he’ll probably be playing when he’s 37 or 38," Murray said. "This deal won’t cover that term.
"Players seem to want to be able to play and want to play a lot longer."
Murray thinks the best is yet to come from Heatley.
"Dany Heatley has been successful as a goal-scorer wherever he’s been," said Murray. "He’s a very competitive guy. He’s maturing and growing now. He’s probably a better man than he was a few years ago in his game and in his team play. He’s a real responsible guy. He, like the rest (of his teammates), didn’t have his best final, but other than that I thought he was an excellent player for us all year and I think he’ll continue to do that."
Sens owner Eugene Melnyk was also involved in the negotiations, given the amount of money doled out.
"Mr. Melnyk being involved and the commitment he makes to us … Every time I talk to him, all he repeats to me is we want to have a good team and we want to continue to have a good team, `do what you can do to make that happen,"’ said Murray.