|The Senators will build their future around young talent such as defenceman Erik Karlsson. Any deals the team makes in the weeks ahead will be made with that process in mind, says Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
For Bryan Murray, it was undoubtedly a tough decision in the toughest of times.
"When you do it, you have feelings in the pit of your stomach that are upsetting," the Ottawa Senators general manager admitted today after dealing popular veteran centre Mike Fisher to the Nashville Predators for a pair of draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2011. "But if you're going to move forward, you have to do something of this magnitude. It's part of what we have to do going forward."
With the Senators mired in a 1-14-4 stretch that has dropped them to 14th place in the Eastern Conference, Murray pulled the trigger today on the first of what he believes will be a series of deals aimed at building a brighter future for the franchise. Younger assets are the centrepiece of that plan and that, in the end, is why Murray made the hard choice to move Fisher, an 11-year Senators veteran.
"He's a good guy, a very popular guy," Murray said of Fisher, one of the team's heart-and-soul players. "Very popular with his teammates and a big member of the community. But this team has not performed very well, to say the least, and if we're going to get ourselves to the stage where we're more than just a competitive team in the future and have a chance to draw deep into the playoffs, we need (younger) assets and have to do a good job in the draft.
"Unfortunately, that means you're parting with some of the veteran players who are here."
While the Fisher trade hit his teammates and the coaching staff hard before their practice session today at the Stampede Corral in Calgary, most knew such moves were inevitable, given the way their season has spiralled downward in the last month.
"Giving up Mike is hard, especially for those who have been around a long time with him," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
, who was saddened by the news of the trade. "He's done a lot for the team and the community. He's been a big part of what we accomplished in the past. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to play the way we've been capable of and we all know the reality that comes along with it.
"That something would happen is not a total surprise to us but still, that's not something you want to happen. (Fisher) is a good friend of mine. We've been through a lot of things together and played together for a lot of years. It's hard but at the same time, we're in a business where results matter."
Added head coach Cory Clouston: "We understand why it was done for the organization, but it's a difficult day for the coaches. Mike is a quality individual and I've really enjoyed coaching him. He's a team guy, he works extremely hard and the word that comes to mind when I talk about Mike is character. That's going to definitely be missed."
Murray suggested more moves are likely in the days leading up to the Feb. 28 trade deadline, all of it aimed to fall in line with the organization's plan for the future.
"We have some unrestricted (free agents) who would probably like to play in the playoffs," said Murray. "I suspect, if other teams are interested, there will be some conversations (and) there will be some deals. If we're going to follow the plan that we've outlined going forward, we have to make room for some (younger) people. We're going to acquire draft picks if we can and give ourselves a chance to pick as high as we can in this year's draft and get good assets for the organization.
"I feel we have some real top young players coming. Robin Lehner
, Erik Karlsson
, Jared Cowen
, David Rundblad ... there's probably a couple of forwards that I could mention. So we have to open the door for some of these younger players to get a chance to play and to do that ... the very hard part of the business is saying goodbye to some of the veteran players."
With Fisher gone and both Alfredsson and Jesse Winchester
sidelined by injuries, some of that future will get a chance now — Binghamton callups Bobby Butler
and Jim O'Brien
should both be in the lineup Saturday in Edmonton against the Oilers (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) and others on the farm are likely to get auditions before the season is done.
"It presents an opportunity for some of the younger guys and for some of the veterans to step up in a leadership role as well," said Clouston. "The players understand it's a business. It's just a little more adversity for them to face and another bigger challenge."
Somewhere along the line, Murray is hopeful he can find the next Mike Fisher.
"(Fisher) is a character guy and a competitive guy and it was hard to let him go," he said. "We have to find something like him character-wise. We need some skill and we need some experience. We need hard-working guys and that describes Mike Fisher to a tee.
"He was one of the valuable commodities we had, without a doubt."