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Senators' Murray plans on returning to GM job

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- Bryan Murray, who is battling Stage 4 colon cancer, said he will continue as general manager of the Ottawa Senators.

Murray, 72, will be entering his ninth season as Senators GM this fall. The Senators have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five of the eight seasons Murray has been in charge.

"I'm keeping going," he said Wednesday. "I've talked to the doctors, I've talked to my family, I talked to ownership, and if my health holds up and everything, I feel I can keep doing this job. It's better than sitting on the couch at home, I think."

Murray said he offered a contract extension to coach Dave Cameron on Monday, the day after the Senators were eliminated from the Eastern Conference First Round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in six games.

Cameron replaced Paul MacLean, who was fired Dec. 7.

The Senators, who were a poor possession team under MacLean, improved under Cameron. They were 32-15-8 under Cameron, including a 23-4-4 run at the end of the regular season to make the playoffs.

Murray said he liked Cameron's strategy of playing a quicker game, and the Senators' improved ability to break the puck out of their zone meant they spent less time defending.

"The turnaround in our club was quite obvious," Murray said. "The style of play was quite different … we had a different philosophy in the second half of the year [that] played to the strength of our players.

"I think his ability to communicate with them to get them to perform and believe in themselves, and turn the season around, that could have gone sideways very quickly after Christmas, I thought he was very deserving of [a contract extension] and I didn't want to wait."

Cameron said he hadn't looked at Murray's proposal.

"I have an offer right now sitting on my kitchen table. I haven't opened it yet. This organization has been very fair to me so I don't anticipate any concerns," Cameron said. "I don't know if in all my years I negotiated a contract, I just took what was offered because it's always been fair."

Cameron said he's been impressed with Murray's ability to do his job in the face of the physical challenges he's facing.

"Anytime you can last in the National Hockey League for as long as Bryan Murray has, that's unheard of," Cameron said. "Now, to be able to do your job with the challenge he's faced health wise, unbelievable. Just unbelievable that you could do what that man does with his medical treatment. He comes in and has his hands on this hockey club. It's astonishing, really."

Murray said the potential for improvement in the young Senators (13 players are 25 years of age or younger) is an attractive reason to continue.

"This game is a trap for us," he said. "It's easy for me to say I probably shouldn't continue on, I should probably take a break from this game, but you see the enthusiasm of the group, the opportunity that this group going forward has, you'd like to be part of it."

Murray said changes for next season are already being contemplated. He said the Senators will make a contract offer to goaltender Andrew Hammond, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. If Hammond is signed, Murray will look at trading either Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner.

"We will make an offer to [Hammond] and we'll see if he's interested, willing to accept what we have for him," Murray said. "If that happens, if he does, then obviously there will be a change with one of the other two guys."

Hammond, 27, became one of the stories of the season. He was 20-1-2 as a starter in the regular season after Anderson and Lehner were injured. He helped lead the Senators to the playoffs and started the first two games against the Canadiens, losing twice before giving way to Anderson.

Lehner sustained a concussion Feb. 16 and cannot work out. He tried riding an exercise bike recently and the next day "there was a hangover from it," Murray said. Lehner has been told to take a week off from physical activity.

"We hope by early May he'll be able to start working out again and get going," Murray said.

Murray said his goal over the summer would be to add a top-six forward and move some players who don't fit into the Senators' plan. Veteran forwards Colin Greening and David Legwand were healthy scratches at the end of the year; forward Erik Condra can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"We have to move a couple guys out at any rate whether it's to keep Erik Condra or whoever," Murray said. "We know that our numbers right now don't work both from a budget point of view and from an opportunity for other players to play. We've got a couple guys that I believe would like to be elsewhere and we'll try to accommodate them because they didn't play much at the end of the year."

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