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Senators import Smith, bolster blue line

by Brian Compton

After losing Wade Redden to the New York Rangers last week, Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray knew he needed to find a veteran defenseman to shore up his team's blue line.

Mission accomplished.
   
Jason Smith, who spent several days mulling multiple offers, signed a two-year contract with the Senators Tuesday. Smith, 34, was the captain of the Edmonton Oilers from 2001-07 and carried the same role with the Philadelphia Flyers last season.
   
While forward Daniel Alfredsson will wear the "C" for Ottawa in 2008-09, Smith's characteristics were simply too impressive for Murray to ignore.
   
"This is the ultimate character guy that was out there on the free-agent market," Murray said. "He's been a captain, but more importantly, he's a guy that competes every single night. He plays the game in a very hard way and he's very difficult to play against."

It is believed Smith received offers from several teams around the League. But the chance to return to Canada -- he also played with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1997-99 -- was a major factor in the Calgary native's decision to sign with Ottawa.

"Playing in a Canadian city is special," said Smith, who had one goal, nine assists and 86 penalty minutes in 77 games for the Flyers last season. "There's a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity in the building every night. It's a lot of fun playing in that situation."

OTTAWA SENATORS
2007-08 SEASON STATS

Category Rank (Conference)
2007-08 Points 94
(7th east/13th NHL)
Change from 2006-07 -11
Home Points 48
(7th east/16th NHL)
Away Points 46
(5th east/8th NHL)
Smith certainly had a lot of fun helping Philadelphia make a remarkable turnaround. After finishing with the worst record in the League in 2006-07, the Flyers finished sixth in the Eastern Conference during the regular season and reached the Eastern Conference finals before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But with a tremendous amount of youth in Philadelphia these days, the Flyers and Smith ultimately decided to mutually part ways. Smith led Philadelphia with 204 blocked shots and 142 hits. He added two assists, 56 hits and 45 blocked shots in 17 playoff games.

"It was a great year in Philly last year," Smith said. "It was great to be a part of that. I think the way the team had turned around in a year was something special. I'll remember that year for a long time, but it's about a new fresh start and a new beginning. I'm just looking forward to that."

Murray is looking forward to the possibility of watching Smith pair up with defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who just finished his third NHL season, but won't turn 23 until Oct. 13. Meszaros, who has appeared in all 82 games in each of his first three campaigns, is a slick puck-moving defenseman who could complement Smith's stay-at-home style.
   
Furthermore, Murray is confident that Smith's experience and ability to teach will go a long way with Meszaros' development. The 2008-09 season with be No. 15 for Smith in the NHL.

"I think he's reliable," Murray said of Smith. "I think he's a guy that shares himself with his teammates. With Andrej, I think he'd be a tremendous help, just positionally, work ethic and attitude. One's a shutdown guy and the other's a skilled guy who can do things with the puck. I think he's a top-four guy based on that. I think Andrei will benefit from Jason a great deal."

It's somewhat remarkable that Smith lasted an entire week on the free-agent market before being scooped up by the Senators. Murray, though, believes it was only because of Smith's desire to give each offer received its full attention and respect.

"I think the thing about Jason is he's an experienced guy and he wasn't in a big hurry to make a decision," Murray said. "I think he wanted to look around. We certainly had talked for a little bit of time here. I think he knew he had options; it was a matter of making a decision. I guess it was his own doing that he sat out there for about a week."

Smith received a bit of a nudge earlier in the week when he received a phone call from someone who urged him to sign with Ottawa. It was from Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who has been with the club since being the No. 1 overall selection in the 1996 Entry Draft.

"He obviously said a lot of positive things about the city and about the organization," Smith said. "It's nice to get that second opinion from somebody that's been there. Everything that I've heard from players that have spent time there in the past have had nothing but great things to say."

With roughly three months remaining before the 2008-09 season gets under way, Murray still has plenty of time to work on improving a team that was swept out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the opening round by the Penguins. Murray said he fully intends to make more changes before training camp begins in September.

The Senators lost defensemen Redden and Mike Commodore (Columbus Blue Jackets) to free agency last week, as well as forward Cory Stillman (Florida Panthers). Murray added some grit early in the free-agency period with the signing of forward Jarkko Ruutu.

"We're going to continue to work on our team … there's no doubt," Murray said. "I really think we have a good team. I think some people perceive us as taking a step backwards. I think we've taken a step forwards. But I'm going to tinker with the team as long as we have to here to make sure that the coach is happy and that everybody's happy."

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.



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