OTTAWA – Bryan Murray believes his team is ready to win now and believes Dave Cameron is the man to lead the way.
The Ottawa Senators general manager announced that Cameron signed a two-year extension Thursday following the club’s dramatic turn-around last season.
Cameron, 56, took over from the fired Paul MacLean on Dec. 8, and quickly righted the ship in Ottawa by posting a 32-15-8 record.
Most impressive was the way his team played down the stretch. The Senators finished the season 23-4-4 and became the first team in NHL history to qualify for the post-season after being 14 points out of a playoff spot.
Right from the start Cameron created a different dynamic, and players responded.
“It opened a lot of lanes for the young players in particular,” said Murray. “The young guys got a chance to play and Dave wasn’t afraid to take a veteran out if he had to. In some cases, it was injury, but in a couple of cases he just put other guys in and played them. He gave them a chance to grow and there was an excitement as well.”
The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Senators in six games in the opening round of the playoffs, but the experience gained from the late push and playoffs was invaluable.
Murray said Cameron brought an energy to the team and allowed players the opportunity to thrive.
“He opened it up to more skating, more aggressive forechecking and better puck skills,” Murray added. “We spent a lot of time on that at practice and that made us a better hockey team.”
Despite his team’s youth and inexperience Murray believes it has the potential to be a contender.
“I think if you get into the playoffs today, and I think we’re a playoff contending team, that you have a chance to win the Cup,” Murray said. “I think if the last part of the year is any indication we’re close. I really believe that.”
The Senators were able to get one of its five restricted free agents under contract Thursday as Jean-Gabriel Pageau signed a two-year, one-way contract extension. The contract has a yearly average of $900,000 ($700,000 and $1.1 million).
The Senators have also extended offers to Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Alex Chiasson and Mike Hoffman.
Despite the Senators youth movement it would appear Robin Lehner, 23, could find himself the odd-man out as the Senators look to move one of its goaltenders now that they have three under contract.
The Senators recently signed Andrew Hammond to a three-year contract and Craig Anderson is entering the first of a three-year deal.
Ideally Murray would like to see a team willing to take on another player contract as part of the deal. It’s no secret the Senators would like to move David Legwand and Colin Greening’s contracts, and Murray says they have no intention of buying anyone out at this time.
Murray said interest has increased in his goaltenders with the NHL draft just over a week away, but he would still like to speak with a few more teams.
While Lehner is expected to be on his way out, it’s not guaranteed.
“I think we’ve rated our goaltenders and we’ve got a pretty good idea about who we want to keep, but there’s no doubt that we’re open minded in that if we got a good offer on the guy that we think is the number-one at this point and time we’d certainly listen,” Murray said.
If the Senators are looking to win now it makes sense to keep Anderson as he has clearly been better than Lehner. It’s also believed that the younger Lehner would provide a better return for the Senators.
Murray said the team would also be looking to one of its eight defencemen under contract at some point over the course of the season. After sitting out 12 of the last 13 games and not appearing in the playoffs, Jared Cowen could be the odd man out.
Notes: Binghamton Senators coach Luke Richardson is also close to signing an extension.