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Senators extend Ryan, name Karlsson captain

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- After experiencing the departure of three key players during the past five years, the Ottawa Senators took two big steps Thursday to solidify the roles of forward Bobby Ryan and defenseman Erik Karlsson.

The Senators signed Ryan, who has scored 30 goals four times, to a seven-year, $50.75 million contract extension and named Karlsson, the 2012 Norris Trophy winner, their ninth captain.

"It's a good day," Senators coach Paul MacLean said.

Things hadn't ended well between Ottawa and some of their top players during the past few years, which led to an uneasiness among Senators fans.

When two-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley asked for a trade, he was sent to the San Jose Sharks in 2009. Daniel Alfredsson, who spent 17 seasons in Ottawa, 13 as captain, left in free agency after the 2012-13 season. Then the Senators granted captain  Jason Spezza's request for a trade and sent him to the Dallas Stars in July.

Ryan, entering the last season of his contract, was viewed as an important test of the Senators' ability to keep their top-end talent.

Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray was asked if the Ryan signing and the Karlsson appointment should alleviate the fear among Senators fans anxious the franchise was having difficulty keeping its star players.

He chuckled.

"For [management's] sake, for the hockey team's sake, sure; for the fans as well, obviously, we want to indicate to them players want to be in Ottawa," Murray said.

"They want to be a good player in Ottawa. They want recognition of being an important player on a good team. All along that's been our intent. [Forward Kyle] Turris, [forward Clarke] MacArthur, now Bobby Ryan, Erik is long term. We've got a number of other guys … we're trying to get [defenseman] Marc Methot signed to show that this team is a secure team. Then we just have to add to it as we go forward."

Ryan said he looked at the benefits of becoming an unrestricted free agent and decided signing an extension in Ottawa was the better option. He said he watched closely last season after forward Thomas Vanek declared his intention to become a free agent, was traded twice during the season and had to face constant questions about his future.

Ryan said he didn't want to go through that. He said he was encouraged with offseason discussions with MacLean about his role with the Senators.

"I truly like playing for Mac," Ryan said.

He stayed in close touch with MacArthur during his contract negotiations and was encouraged when his linemate signed a five-year contract in August. That set the wheels in motion on a contract extension that was announced Thursday.

"I think we all want to be winners and I think Bobby is one of those guys," Murray said. "He just wanted to see that we were ready to commit to being a winning team here. I think we've made it very clear that's the case."

The Senators had options for captain before choosing Karlsson. They could have named veteran defenseman Chris Phillips or perhaps opted for the type of captain-by-committee approach taken by the Montreal Canadiens for this season.

"There was a tough decision to make here," Murray said. "We had a couple of other guys that are very responsible, good veteran players. We just felt we had to turn the team over to a guy who could carry this team for a number of years and not be changing every year or two the captain's role or whatever.

"Erik really indicated to me over the summer the few times we talked, sure sounded like a guy who wanted the responsibility, wanted this to be a different team than last year. He came into camp and I think he's shown that. He's back where he can be as a player. I think he'll show he can take charge of helping us be a real good team."

Karlsson said being named captain won't change him as a person or a player.

"It's going to be ups and downs," he said. "I know that. It can be a great thing to have and it can also be a bad thing to have sometimes. It's not something I really try to focus on.

"I try and come here every day and do the best I can. It's all I can do. I'm always going to be myself. I'm not going to change who I am. I'm just going to embrace the situation I have been handed. I'm looking forward to taking the responsibility that's been given me."

Karlsson said he learned about being a captain by watching the way Alfredsson performed the duties in his time with the Senators.

Karlsson said he spoke with Alfredsson for 40 minutes Thursday before he arrived at the rink.

"I called him to let him know what was going on and he was happy for me," Karlsson said. "He said he thought I would be ready for it and it would be a good thing for my career and this organization.

"I'll never be [Alfredsson] and I'll never be [Spezza]. I'll never be anyone else. I'll be myself and lead in a different way probably than other players will. No one can or should shape themselves exactly after someone else. We are who we are."

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