One day down, one important goal achieved.
The Ottawa Senators' search for a backup goaltender ended on Canada Day when the club announced it had come to terms on a two-year deal with veteran Alex Auld
. Filling that void, created by the recent buyout of Ray Emery's contract, was one of three key targets identified by general manager Bryan Murray in the days leading up to the opening of the free-agent season.
Auld finished 2007-08 with the Boston Bruins, for whom he posted a 9-7-5 record with a 2.32 goals-against average. While the Senators considered other goaltending options – including former Ottawa stopper Patrick Lalime – Murray went with a player he drafted into the National Hockey League for the Florida Panthers back in 1999.
Murray called Auld "a veteran guy that I know pretty well and will give us some real security in the net, I believe" with current Senators starter Martin Gerber. Auld is also a player who wants to be in Ottawa.
"He chose Ottawa over a couple of other opportunities for him because he thinks he can get some games here, he thinks he can challenge here," Murray said of the 27-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ont. "We like his character, we like his ability. We know if he gets called upon to go into the net, he can do that.
"He's a really good guy, a real straight, competitive person. I think he'll be great in our locker room. That's the type of attitude and atmosphere we want to create."
Auld displayed some of that attitude when asked by Ottawa media whether he's coming to the capital to compete with Gerber for the No. 1 goaltending job.
"I feel like I'm capable of being a No. 1," he said. "I feel like Martin Gerber is capable of being a No. 1. If we both play our best, it can only help the team and healthy competition is good. I believe I can compete, I believe I can play a lot of games. I showed that a couple of years ago in Vancouver (where he was the starter in 2005-06).
"I'm not stepping on anyone's toes. But I understand what I can do and I know what I can bring and I believe the team believes in what I can bring, too, or they wouldn't have brought me in."
Lalime, the Senators' all-time leader in goaltending appearances, wins and shutouts, was on the Senators' radar right to the end. But after conferring with his scouting staff, Murray made the call to bring Auld on board. Lalime later signed an identical two-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres.
"I like both of them," said Murray. "I don't know Patrick personally (but) I know Patrick wanted the challenge of possibly coming back here. That was talked about to some extent.
"If you look at the stats for Alex last year, they were prettyb good. I know that (Bruins general manager) Peter Chiarelli really didn't want to let him go in Boston but he had commitments to two other guys. I asked out scouts for all the information they can give me and I react as best as I can to it ... You have to decide and just do it."
The Senators have needs on defence and at the forward position as well. Murray said he spoke to agents for blueliner Brian Campbell "six or seven times today" but eventually dropped out of the bidding when the price got too high. Campbell, a former Ottawa 67's star, wound up signing an eight-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It's still a long ways from being over and there will be a couple more days of this (free-agent signing frenzy), I suspect," said Murray. "We would like to get another defenceman and we'd like to get one more forward if we could."
Two of the Senators' unrestricted free agents moved on to greener pastures today. Forward Cory Stillman inked a three-year deal with the Florida Panthers, while defenceman Mike Commodore signed on for five years with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Murray had hoped to retain the veteran Stillman but not at any cost.
"He got a little bit more than (the Stillman camp) asked me for," said Murray. "I just felt if we're going to keep most of our team intact as we had it, that would have been an impossible number for us (to match)."
Later on Tuesday, Wade Redden's departure from Ottawa became official when the longtime Senators defenceman signed a six-year deal with the New York Rangers.