Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk strongly suggested in an interview with a local newspaper this week that his team was faced with a decision in July: either meet longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson's contract demands or go out and make a trade for an impact forward like Bobby Ryan.
Melnyk told the Ottawa Citizen in a report published Monday the club would not have been able to do both, but Senators general manager Bryan Murray said that isn't necessarily the case.
"I think Eugene's being a little hard on himself in that scenario," Murray told NHL.com. "We had talked about a way of doing Alfie's contract and still making the trade for Bobby Ryan, both financially and in terms of player return for [the Anaheim Ducks]."
On July 5, when Alfredsson left the Senators to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, now an Atlantic Division rival of Ottawa's, Murray said he was given a blank check by Melnyk to re-sign the captain. However, Melnyk told the Citizen the blank check would have squashed the possibility of adding Ryan via a trade with the Ducks because the Senators would be forced to exceed their internal budget to accommodate both moves.
"To come up with the kind of money they were talking about and being fiscally responsible and ensuring the ongoing success of the organization, we knew we needed to add a Bobby Ryan-type player," Melnyk told the Citizen. "And at the end, when I said blank check, that would have meant we would not have gotten the [Bobby Ryan-type player]. Couldn't afford it. Just couldn't do it."
Murray explained that though it would have been difficult to manage signing Alfredsson and trading for Ryan, there were, in fact, solutions that were discussed that would allow the Senators to complete each transaction.
"We do have an in-house budget that we're trying to stay very close to, so I think [Melnyk] was just a little harder on himself in that regard in terms of what we could do and couldn't do," Murray said. "I'm not saying if Alfie stayed that we would have absolutely gone ahead and made the Bobby Ryan trade, but we had certainly talked about that scenario happening as well."
Alfredsson signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Red Wings, and Ryan has two seasons remaining on a contract that pays him $5.5625 million per year, but which carries an NHL salary-cap charge of $5.1 million, according to Capgeek.com.
The Senators have a cap payroll of just under $54 million, placing them No. 29 in the NHL, with young restricted free agent defenseman Jared Cowen unsigned.
Melnyk explained to the Citizen the Senators' internal budget is set to strike a balance between running a sound business and keeping ticket prices reasonable while building a competitive team. Murray said that decision was made a couple of years ago, when the Senators struggled in 2010-11 and unloaded veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and others near the NHL Trade Deadline for prospects and draft picks. That was when Murray acquired current starting goalie Craig Anderson and the rebuilding of the Senators began in earnest.
The Senators qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the next two seasons and reached the second round in 2013 before being eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Murray said he feels that when the plan to build through drafting and development reaches maturity, the Senators will be ready to spend in order to build a Stanley Cup contender again.
"I think we're in the process of being fairly successful at this point with young people, but I do think there's going to be a time where Eugene will say, 'We're where we should be, let's get above that now and here's how we do it,'" Murray said. "Then there might be an opportunity to trade for a higher-profile guy or a more-expensive guy, whatever the case may be."