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Senators make net gains at deadline

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, was the big prize picked up by Senators GM Bryan Murray on trade deadline (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images).

The benefits won’t be felt for several months yet.

But Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray felt there was no time like the present to address any hockey team’s most pressing concern. That’s why he pulled the trigger on a deal Wednesday that brought goaltender Pascal Leclaire and a 2009 second-round draft pick to the Senators in exchange for forward Antoine Vermette.

While Leclaire is sidelined for this season after having ankle surgery six weeks ago, he ranked among the league’s top stoppers in 2007-08, posting a 24-17-6 record, 2.25 goals-against average (seventh-best in the National Hockey League) and .919 save percentage for the Blue Jackets. He also racked up nine shutouts, No. 2 in the NHL in that category.

“We talked to all our scouts and we felt that, other than the injuries he had, he’s a real good goaltender, certainly in the upper echelon of younger goaltenders in the league,” Murray said in summing up his biggest move on NHL trade deadline day. “We felt we certainly had to (acquire a goaltender) if that was possible or became possible and I was able to get them to include a pick as well.”

Murray could have opted to wait until the July 1 free-agency period to chase a franchise goaltender. But mindful of his effort to land a puck-moving defenceman last summer – a bid that came up empty – the Senators GM decided now was the right time to make his move.

“What happens (on July 1) is like waiting for that puck-moving defenceman in the summer time,” said Murray. “There are 29 other teams trying to do the same thing. With goaltending, it’s not quite that dramatic, but there are a number of teams this summer who will be trying to upgrade the goaltending position.

“You give up more at that point, but the good thing about this deal is (Columbus) saw Antoine as a guy who could go in and play and help their push to make the playoffs and go into the playoffs with a little more depth at forward. So they were willing to pay a greater price for that.”

Doctors have told Leclaire his recovery from the ankle surgery is going well – he began walking without crutches last week – and he expects to be at 100 per cent by the end of April at the latest. The Senators are also convinced Leclaire’s health won’t be an issue going forward.

“When players get hurt, you don’t like that,” said Murray. “But I’ve had players in the past that have a couple of years where, for whatever reason, they get bumped up and aren’t able to play all of the time. Most of them get over it and they get a run going and we think in this case … we pretty much know what the injury was and how it’s been treated and that going forward, it’s been corrected.”

Leclaire’s addition also adds depth to the goaltending position in the Senators organization. They already have 23-year-old Brian Elliott on hand, along with veteran Alex Auld, who are currently sharing the team’s netminding duties.

“What we have now, I feel, is two younger guys (Leclaire is 26) and Alex as well,” said Murray. “Whether we do something in the off-season or whether we have three in the organization that are considered real decent … having depth in that area is not the worst thing in the world.”

While Murray tried to engineer other deals – he held discussions about possibly moving forwards Chris Neil and Christoph Schubert over the past few days – nothing else came to fruition.

“Am I satisfied?” he said. “At the end of the day, I would have liked to have gotten one more pick and a prospect out of (the deadline) and it didn’t happen. So we’ll go into the rest of the season and the summer to do what has to be done to correct this team.”

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