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Gilroy warms up to new opportunity with Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The Senators see Matt Gilroy, a defenceman obtained Monday from the Tampa Bay Lightning, as someone who can bring a higher level of mobility to their blue-line corps (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images).

It's the kind of trade Matt Gilroy says he's excited to accept — even if it means his days in the Florida sunshine have hit an abrupt end.

"I haven't even thought about what to pack yet," the 27-year-old blueliner said, his world still a whirlwind in the hours after learning he'd been dealt by the Tampa Bay Lightningt to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for fellow defenceman Brian Lee.

While the native of North Bellmore, N.Y., is giving up the warmth of the southern U.S. for Ottawa's still-lingering winter, it's a tradeoff he's happy to make as Gilroy moves from uncertainty in Tampa to the heat of a playoff race with the Senators.

"I'm a little surprised that it happened," Gilroy said of the deal engineered by Senators general manager Bryan Murray as the clock ticked ever close to the National Hockey League's 3 p.m. trade deadline today. "I didn't know it was coming, but I'm excited to be part of a playoff team right now. Hopefully, I can move the puck up the ice and get it to the guys who can score goals."

It's that puck-moving ability that made Gilroy attractive to the Senators, who wanted to add more mobility and offensive presence to their blue line — even if they've got Erik Karlsson, the NHL's top-scoring defenceman by a mile with 65 points in 63 games, already in the fold.

"He can play that role, let's put it that way," Murray told reporters at Scotiabank Place after the trade deadline had expired. "People say 'you have Erik Karlsson' but, well, it's nice to have Erik, but you have to have other pieces in that area as well. The game is different today than it was a few years back, when you had the big defensive defencemen.

"I think you need one or two of them, but you need more mobility back there more than anything ... He's the kind of defenceman we've been inclined to go to in the last little while in trying to push the pace and push the puck. Getting the puck out of your own end in the game today is a priority."

The trade came together rather quickly after Murray initiated a conversation with Tampa GM Steve Yzerman, originally to congratulate him on his acquisition of former Ottawa blueliner Mike Commodore. Within less than 15 minutes, the deal was struck and Gilroy — who was strolling through a mall with teammate Teddy Purcell at the time — got back-to-back calls from both general managers.

"(Murray) was excited, he said I was the guy he wanted," said Gilroy, who is expected to be in the lineup Tuesday when the Senators face the Bruins at TD Garden in Boston (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "He wanted a puck mover and a guy that can help down the stretch into the playoffs. It's nice to get a phone call like that and hear that someone wants you to be a part of their team. I'm just excited for the opportunity."

Much like they did with goaltender Craig Anderson a year ago, the Senators now have the rest of the season to evaluate Gilroy — an unrestricted free agent as of July 1 — and see whether he'll be a good fit for their future plans.

"That's the approach we took right away when we started talking about Matt," said Murray. "He gets a chance to look at us and we get a chance to look at him."

A self-professed late bloomer, Gilroy played four years of college hockey at Boston University and became a hot commodity by 2009, his senior season with the Terriers, when he became only the fifth player ever to win a national championship and the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA hockey in the same season. While the Senators had interest in him as a college free agent, Gilroy chose to sign with his hometown New York Rangers.

"I talked to a bunch of teams, but I don't think we ever got that serious toward the end of my senior season there at BU," Gilroy said in a radio interview with Team 1200. "It wasn't the right time or opportunity for them or me. But that was then, this is now and I'm just excited to get started (with the Senators) tomorrow night."

Gilroy spent two seasons with the Rangers before signing with the Bolts as a free agent last summer. He totalled seven goals and 26 points in 127 games with the Blueshirts, and has notched two goals and 15 assists in 53 games with Tampa to date.

"Very definitely, we believe Matt has now matured," said Murray. "His first couple of years in the league were a little sporadic but watching him this year, there's no question he's upgraded his game and brings that puck-moving dimension to the game."

Murray is hopeful the trade will prove beneficial for Lee, the Senators' top pick (ninth overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, who hadn't been able to establish a full-time home in the lineup during his four seasons in Ottawa.

"We appreciate what Brian did here," Murray said of Lee, who will be a restricted free agent on July 1. "We think he's growing as a player. We think he'll go there now and have a chance with Tampa. That opportunity is there for him and, knowing Brian, I'm sure he'll grab it and be a regular player.

"I hope, for his sake, that he gets a chance now to be a regular player."

Some familiar faces and voices figure to welcome the 6-1, 201-pound Gilroy when he joins the organization. He and Senators defence prospect Eric Gryba were teammates for three years in college, when he also "played against Bobby Butler (then with New Hampshire) a ton." Two years ago, Gilroy and current Senators forward Nick Foligno played for Team USA at the 2010 world hockey championship in Germany.

Gilroy will also continue to sport No. 97, a number he was worn throughout his hockey career in remembrance of his brother Timmy, who was killed in a bicycle accident when he was eight years old. Only 13 months apart in age, the two played on the same minor hockey teams together, when Matt wore 98 and Timmy 97 — only because Wayne Gretzky's No. 99 was already taken.

"After he passed away, I made a promise to my mom that I'd always wear that number and take it as far as Timmy would have," said Gilroy, one of eight children in his family. "Luckily, I got all the way to the NHL and it's just a nice reminder for me every night I put on the jersey. For my family, it means a lot to see that."

Bishop getting started in Binghamton

Goaltender Ben Bishop, acquired from the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, is headed to the American Hockey League and the Binghamton Senators. Murray is hopeful he'll get in two games with the B-Sens this week, but added he expects the 6-7 netminder will see action in Ottawa sometime before Craig Anderson returns from the injured list.

"Robin Lehner played very well last night and it would be unfair not to come back with him tomorrow night (against the Bruins)," said Murray. "It gives Ben a chance to go down and get his feet under him, and get to know a few of us here. We'll send some scouts down to watch him as well and talk to him. After that, Paul (head coach MacLean) and I will talk about when he wants to put him into the net."

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