OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators' season is over, but general manager Bryan Murray is optimistic that his team won't be heading for summer vacation as early next year.
"Based on the last couple of years, this was a good year for us," Murray said Saturday, less than 48 hours after his team's season ended with a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "We feel today like we should still be playing. This series was one of two equal teams, and we didn't win. It's as simple as that. It's disappointing that we put ourselves into a position to win and it didn't happen."
The biggest question for Murray involves captain Daniel Alfredsson and whether the 39-year-old will return for a 17th NHL season.
Murray said he'll let Alfredsson take his time -- but hopes the greatest player in franchise history decides to play another season.
"I just left [Alfredsson] right now," Murray said. "I did not ask him for any timetable. He's going to take a step right now, it will be a daily question, I know. I hope when he gets some rest, gets around his family, he'll get a better perspective of what he wants and where he fits. I've told him there's any question that he's one of the best players on our team, if not the best forward. I think he showed that in Game 7.
"He shoots the puck, he skates well, I'm trying to discourage him like all heck [from retiring]. I think he's a great mentor for what we have coming. We have a couple a young prospects from Sweden, but [Alfredsson] smiled and said, ‘We'll talk later.'"
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Added Murray: "[Alfredsson] is going to make the call. I'm going to try and call him every day and bug him."
The GM thinks Alfredsson will be encouraged by the tight-knit group he played with this season.
"I think the type of team we had this year was a fun team," he said. "I've talked to every player today. It was good, enthusiastic, well-coached group and the veterans as young people seemed to have an enjoyable time. I think it was the type of team that the fans of the Ottawa Senators enjoyed. They liked how competitive we [were] and they liked the energy."
After a season in which they surprised nearly everyone by making the playoffs, Murray admitted that expectations for the club have accelerated and tweaks will have to be made to improve the lineup.
"We think we are now on the uphill climb," Murray said. "It'll be more of a challenge going forward, the expectations will be different -- we know that. But certainly based on where we were at the beginning of the year to today, as disappointing as it is, we've achieved some of the things we've wanted to achieve.
"I think we have a number of prospects in the system, and some that have played in the playoffs. There are a couple of young guys that we drafted a year or so ago that are very close to being ready. I have to make some decisions on our free agents, and I will do that over the course of the next month or so.
"There's no question that some decisions have to be made on the blue line. I think offensively, we're really good. [Erik] Karlsson, if he can come back and grow a little more, and [Jared] Cowen, too … we have to find out if these guys that we have are going to be solid. If not, do we have to go out and get another defensive defenseman. I think up front, we're always looking for someone to step in and score goals. I think the second line where Alfredsson played with [Kyle] Turris – if we could have one more guy who could score consistently; a 25-goal scorer … that would make our team look a lot different. I think beyond that, we can fit guys from the system into what we're doing."
One of the few players Murray insists he isn't sweating over is Karlsson. The 21-year-old, a restricted free agent, led all NHL defensemen with 78 points in the regular season and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy. "I'm not worried about [Karlsson], Murray said. "We'll get a deal done. It's not hurry up or anything – we'll talk to his agent over the next few weeks to start. But there's no immediate demand."
Expectations for the Senators were low after a 13th-place finish in 2010-11 and few offseason moves other than a coaching change -- Paul MacLean replaced Cory Clouston. After a bumpy start, the Senators were among the top eight in the East for most of the season, and by April, Murray knew that the Sens could hold their own among the best in the conference.
"I thought we were going to be a competitive team," Murray said. "I don't know if I said we were going to be in the playoffs or not, but I thought that we had some players that were better than they were getting credit for. The Binghamton group [from the AHL champion Binghamton Senators] that we brought in had great experience and some of them had really matured as players. I thought if we gave them some spots and gave them definite spots on the team – which MacLean was able to do – I thought they could play and compete at that this level.
"I didn't slot us at all. All I thought was that we would be a competitive, entertaining team. Then I saw the first four or five games, I didn't like it at all. I was scared to death. But it turned quickly. I thought we were just OK at the beginning. At the end of the playoffs, I saw a team that could compete with most anyone in the League."
All that said, the Sens' GM is happy to let people underestimate his team going into next season. "Now don't pick us to win the Stanley Cup next year," Murray said with a laugh. "Pick us to finish last, because we really like your predictions."