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Senators GM sets foundation for future growth

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Curtis McElhinney is enthused about getting a new opportunity in goal with the Ottawa Senators, who claimed him off waivers today from the Tampa Bay Lightning. He'll share netminding duties with Craig Anderson (Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images).
The plan to retool the Ottawa Senators is starting to come into clearer focus.


Following a trade deadline day that saw goaltender Curtis McElhinney claimed off waivers (from the Tampa Bay Lightning) and blueliner Chris Campoli dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Ryan Potulny and a second-round draft pick, Senators general manager Bryan Murray believes he's set the table to "have a chance to restart this organization."

In McElhinney and Potulny, Murray obtained a pair of still-young players with National Hockey League experience and some upside — both of whom will get a long look over the final 20 games of the regular season. With Pascal Leclaire still troubled by a groin injury, McElhinney will share goaltending duties with Craig Anderson for the rest of the current campaign.

"I'm not counting him (being back)," Murray said of Leclaire, who's been plagued by injuries during his two seasons in Ottawa. "Pascal went down and played in Binghamton (the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate) but indicated he would be out for a number of games going forward, probably more than less.

"I thought by getting down there for the weekend and playing one or two games, he would be ready to back up (Anderson) but he indicated to me that the groin was a real issue and it’s unlikely he’ll play in the next while. I had to have a backup and I didn’t want it to be Robin Lehner. We want Robin to go down (to Binghamton) and play, be important down there, and have the pressure of playing in meaningful games at the end."

McElhinney, who was dealt to the Lightning last week by the Anaheim Ducks, for whom he was 6-9-1 this season with a 3.43 goals-against average, .890 save percentage and two shutouts. The 27-year-old native of London, Ont., a four-year veteran who was originally drafted into the NHL by the Calgary Flames, hopes to make the most of his new opportunity in Ottawa.

"The opportunity is there to get in there, play some games and work (with the Senators) until the end of the season," McElhinney told TSN. "In regard to next year, it's more or less a tryout. I need to go in there and prove my worth. I'd like to establish myself as a legitimate NHL goaltender and be able to stay in the league."

"This will be the fun part of it going forward. We will have some high-energy players. I watch Edmonton a little bit and they've got some high-energy players. It's gets exciting (when you) start off with that and eventually these kids become more than just kids, they become good hockey players and that's exciting to watch." - Bryan Murray
Potulny, a 26-year-old from Grand Forks, N.D., has spent the majority of this season with the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate. A year ago, he recorded 15 goals and 32 points in 64 games with the Edmonton Oilers.

"It's exciting for me," he said of the trade. "Hopefully, I get a chance to get back to the NHL and prove myself as a player. I know the circumstances are good to come in and help out the team."

The two moves should benefit the B-Sens' bid to land an AHL playoff berth. As recently as last week, eight Binghamton players were suiting up in Ottawa for a team riddled by injuries and with a roster further thinned by trades that brought draft picks in return.

While the Senators are expecting forwards Chris Neil and Jesse Winchester, along with defenceman Sergei Gonchar, to return to the lineup Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), forward Milan Michalek is now out with a lower-body injury suffered in Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

"(Michalek) is hurting and probably won't play again for awhile," said Murray. "(Potulny) is a guy that has played in the NHL a bit. We just included him in the deal because we were so short of players. We need some bodies, we need some forwards here, and he's going to play with the big club for the rest of the year. We'll try to give him a fair evaluation and decide what we're doing going forward."

The whirlwind of trade activity over the last few weeks, which has seen the Senators move veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu, Brian Elliott and Campoli, has yielded a bounty of draft picks for the future. Ottawa will have a dozen selections in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, including two first-rounders and a trio of second-rounders.

Murray will now build around a core of captain Daniel Alfredsson, centre Jason Spezza, winger Chris Neil and defenceman Chris Phillips, who signed a three-year contract extension today.

"The opportunity is there to get in there, play some games and work (with the Senators) until the end of the season. In regard to next year, it's more or less a tryout. I need to go in there and prove my worth. I'd like to establish myself as a legitimate NHL goaltender and be able to stay in the league." - Curtis McElhinney
"They're good people, they care about this organization and they want to be better going forward," said Murray. "When young people come into this (situation), we've got examples (for them to follow) of people that work hard, that are loyal and that will help us."

Around that core, room has now been made for prospects such as Bobby Butler — who's making an impact offensively right now — and blueliners David Rundblad and Jared Cowen, both of whom are expected to contend strongly for blue-line spots. Murray also said "we feel very strongly that will will draft one young player who should play on this hockey team next year."

"This will be the fun part of it going forward," said Murray. "We will have some high-energy players. I watch Edmonton a little bit and they've got some high-energy players. It's gets exciting (when you) start off with that and eventually these kids become more than just kids, they become good hockey players and that's exciting to watch."

Given all of that, Campoli admitted he wasn't surprised to be moved to the Hawks. He was scheduled to be a restricted free agent on July 1, and Murray indicated today he didn't plan to make the blueliner a qualifying offer.

But Campoli, obtained by the Senators in a February 2009 trade with the New York Islanders, is enthused about joining the defending Stanley Cup champions in their playoff push.

"For me, it’s a real positive going to Chicago," he said. "I couldn’t be more excited. I think I fit in well. Their up tempo, aggressive style of play ... is something that will fit well with my game and it’s a great opportunity.

"I love playing in Ottawa but I’m excited about playing in Chicago, so there’s two sides to it. Going forward, I plan on making that my home and I’m excited about that."





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