OTTAWA (CP) - The Ottawa Senators were still shaking off the sting of a five-game loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup final as they gathered Saturday to clean out their lockers.
Looking at the big picture, they could feel good about an impressive 48-25-9 campaign and a playoff run in which they shook off the tag of post-season underachievers by reaching the championship series for the first time.
It was the final opportunity for them to enjoy as a group all they had accomplished before splitting for the summer to contemplate the poor showing against the tough and talented Ducks in the final and the looming realities of the off-season business that lies ahead.
"For us to sit around and talk about it definitely makes you appreciate it a little more what we went through," said centre Jason Spezza. "It's still pretty fresh and it wasn't too long ago that we lost, it is still a little but upsetting, but we're proud of each other."
The Senators wrapped up their meetings hours before the Ducks were scheduled to have their Stanley Cup parade. Losing out on the ultimate prize will haunt them all summer.
"This has been the hardest (playoff defeat) yet," said defenceman Chris Phillips. "At the same time I had more fun and going to the final was an unbelievable experience. You get that close and you get higher and higher it makes for a harder fall, for sure."
Among the issues the Senators must deal with is the status of head coach Bryan Murray, whose contract has expired. General manager John Muckler, who has one year left on his contract, removed one question mark by saying he has no intention of retiring.
"I'm having too much fun," he said.
And he hopes to keep having it with Murray. The two have started contract talks and expect the picture to become clearer by the time teams gather for the June 22-23 draft in Columbus.
"He wants to be here, we want him to be here," said Muckler, "and when two people want the same thing it usually works out."
Said Murray: "I'm a coach and being the coach is what I expect I'll be if I'm anything."
Both sides head into the negotiations knowing the players offered Murray their full support and were hoping he would be back behind the bench next season.
"He had a lot to do with (our success)," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "I hope he stays around."
Muckler has plenty of player decisions to make, too.
At the top of the list is goaltender Ray Emery, solid for most of the playoffs, who is a restricted free agent with the right for arbitration.
He made US$925,000 last season and will be seeking a raise but with two years remaining on Martin Gerber's contract, the Senators may have difficulty keeping both.
Emery will also require surgery on the left wrist he injured in November, which led him to play through pain all season.
Centres Mike Comrie and Dean McAmmond plus defenceman Tom Preissing are unrestricted free agents while Christoph Schubert and Chris Kelly are restricted free agents.
"I don't believe there will be too many changes," said Muckler. "I think we have the ability to get better from within and everyone just needs to play a little better."
Defenceman Wade Redden prepared himself for any coming changes as a fact of life in the NHL.
"There's always going to be changes," said Redden. "Unfortunately, I guess, in a lot of cases but we'll see what happens over the off-season. It's going to be a short one so try to enjoy it and get ready for next year."