Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray is full of surprises as the struggling team inches towards the trade deadline. With several unrestricted free agents expected to be moved (Chris Phillips, Jarkko Ruutu, and Alex Kovalev), so far he has dealt players with time left on their contracts, something that can be difficult to accomplish in the current salary cap era.
First to go last Thursday was popular centre Mike Fisher, now a member of the Nashville Predators, and an hour after a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday evening, news broke that Chris Kelly has been dealt to the Boston Bruins in exchange for a second round draft pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
A third round pick (94th overall) in the 1999 draft, Kelly joined the Senators during the 2005-2006 season (he appeared in four games prior to the lockout). In 463 games with the Senators, he has 75 goals and 101 assists. This season, in 56 games he has scored 12 goals and added 11 assists. The Bruins did not trade for Kelly for his offensive prowess though – he is one of the most effective penalty killers and third line checkers in the league; a tremendous role player that has flown under the radar in NHL cities outside of Ottawa.
He is one of the core players in Ottawa and while he had value to other teams, many expected he would still be in Ottawa after the trade deadline. He brings impressive leadership qualities to his new team, on and off the ice. Signed through next season at $2 million per year, this move indicates the Senators do not necessarily expect to be competitive next season either. A re-shaping of the roster has officially become a complete rebuilding project.
“I just traded one of the good guys and most respected players on this hockey team,” Murray said as he announced the move. “These are difficult deals for someone like myself to make because Chris was such a good player when I coached. He followed directions so well, and to have to make the moves that we are making are difficult, but that’s the way we have to go at this time. We get our scouts another high draft pick and hopefully it will turn into another good young player.”
“I find it very difficult because I certainly have great respect for both guys that I’ve traded this week,” Murray continued. “They both were character people in this town for a number of years and they were big role players in ‘07 when we went to the Finals.”
“We’ve had such a dreadful year, such a disappointing year for what we thought we were going to be, this is the end result.”
While the team must deal with the loss of another popular player from their dressing room and in the community, obtaining a second round pick in this year’s draft is a shrewd move for Murray. With two picks in the first and second rounds this June, Murray has some options as he continues to adjust his roster. Any of these picks, with the possible exception of their own first round pick, could become part of another move involving a player like Chris Phillips.
As previously mentioned, what was supposed to be a re-tooling of the franchise, shedding salary to obtain a top-five draft pick this year and add a few key free agents this summer to compete for a playoff position next season, has changed into a full rebuilding situation. If you are a Senators fan, better hang on – you may be in for a bumpy ride during the next few seasons.