Call it two steps forward for the Ottawa Senators on the free-agent front.
Literally and figuratively, that is.
The Senators added some extra grit to their complement of forwards Wednesday by inking former Pittsburgh Penguins agitator Jarkko Ruutu to a three-year contract. Earlier in the day, ex-Ottawa 67’s standout Shean Donovan agreed to a two-year deal to stay in a Sens uniform.
|Jarkko Ruutu and Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson duelled each other during the Stanley Cup playoffs in April. Now they'll be teammates in Ottawa after Ruutu signed a three-year deal here today (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images). |
In Ruutu, the Senators get a player that fits the Sean Avery-Darcy Tucker mold that Murray likes, but at a much more affordable price. Avery signed a hefty four-year deal with the Dallas Stars earlier in the day.
“I don’t think (Ruutu) scores like a Sean Avery or has quite that offensive ability, but he brings lots to the table,” Senators general manager Bryan Murray said during a media conference call. “He’s bigger, he’s competitive and he battles. He’s an agitator, there’s no question. He brings a dimension that those types of players do and I think that’s a good thing for a hockey team.
“The most important thing for me, along with that, is that he’s a good guy and I think he’ll be quite popular in our room.”
Also part of the Ruutu package: An impressive 50 per cent success rate in shootouts during his career.
“Nobody pays much attention to that,” said Murray, who’s clearly noticed it.
The 32-year-old native of Helsinki, who signed with the Penguins as a free agent two years ago after starting his career with the Vancouver Canucks, came to terms with the Senators when Murray agreed to accept agent Don Baisley’s request for a three-year deal. His brother, Mikko, is the Senators' Finnish scout.
Ruutu was also lured by the chance to play in a Canadian hockey market again. He and goaltender Alex Auld
, who signed with the Senators on Canada Day, were previously teammates in Vancouver.
“I think (Ruutu) was happy, I think he was looking for another opportunity,” said Murray. “He likes the hockey environment here and he certainly indicated that (to me). That was one of the convincing things.”
The signing of Donovan, meanwhile, allows the Senators to retain the services of a speedy forward who was one of the team’s top players during its first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against Ruutu and the Penguins.
“I like the guy. I like his energy,” said Murray. “He got a chance in the latter part of the year to contribute much more than he did early on. I thought he did a real good job for us.”
Donovan, whose family spends its off-seasons in the Ottawa area, dearly wanted to stay with what is essentially his hometown team. He was obtained by the Senators last summer in a trade with the Boston Bruins that sent Peter Schaefer to Beantown.
“Shean really wanted to stay in Ottawa,” said Murray. “He’s played here before (with the 67’s), he’s from here now and he wanted to settle here for the most part.
“He was at the right price for us and in the right role for us. I felt since he wanted a two-year deal, why not make that commitment to him? He’s making a commitment to us.”
With Ruutu and goaltender Alex Auld
added to the roster over the past two days, Murray has now checked off two of his three goals in free agency. Still elusive, though, is a puck-moving defencemen, though it hasn’t been for lack of trying. The Senators GM held talks with representatives for Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit over the past two days but saw them accept lucrative deals with the Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders, respectively.
Another blueliner the Senators targeted, Michal Rozsival, wound up re-signing with the New York Rangers.
“We were interested (in those players),” said Murray. “There’s a real feeling in our room that having that guy who can play some offence for us – in particular, on the power play – was of some interest. Unfortunately, the need for that kind of player around the league was fairly obvious and we got left out.”
He isn’t giving up on his search just yet.
“I’m not sure,” Murray said when asked what direction he’ll take next. “It may be the trade route later on. We just have to keep our lines in the water and hope that there’s one guy out there that can play in the league and, in particular, play in an offensive role for us.”