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Senators upbeat entering off-season-test

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Captain Daniel Alfredsson's off-season will begin with surgery to repair a sports hernia injury he's been playing through since the end of the Vancouver Olympics. His recovery time is expected to be four to six weeks (OSHC Photo).

They've barely had time to digest the finish of a season that ended so suddenly and so much sooner than they'd all hoped.

But already, the Ottawa Senators are pointing their thoughts toward the 2010-11 season and what it'll take to keep the team moving along the upward path that it will ride into the summer months. Even though the sting of Saturday's season-ending 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins figures to stick with them for awhile, this is a group that clearly has reason to see plenty of brighter days in its future.

"It’s always tough when the season is over because it all happens so suddenly as well," captain Daniel Alfredsson said earlier today as the Senators cleared out their lockers for the summer.

"You’re in the middle of it and you think it’s going to keep going. Then one shot and it’s over, and it feels empty. But overall, I think a lot of encouraging things happened this year. We’re much better situated now going into next year with the team we have. Now we've got a good summer here to get ready for next year."

Alfredsson's off-season will begin with surgery either this week or next to repair a sports hernia injury that began to flare up shortly after he returned from the Vancouver Olympics. He's been told the recovery time is four to six weeks, with Alfredsson saying "I'll be ready to go in the fall."

Training camp is also the target for forward Milan Michalek, who'll have surgery on Tuesday to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that essentially ended his playoff participation before it really got started. The Senators were also missing forward Alex Kovalev (knee) and defenceman Filip Kuba (back) against the Penguins, yet pushed the Stanley Cup champions to six games before bowing out.

"It’s always tough when the season is over because it all happens so suddenly as well. You’re in the middle of it and you think it’s going to keep going. Then one shot and it’s over, and it feels empty. But overall, I think a lot of encouraging things happened this year. We’re much better situated now going into next year with the team we have. Now we've got a good summer here to get ready for next year." - Daniel Alfredsson
"We knew it was going to be a tough battle, but I liked how our guys competed," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "We're very disappointed, but it just looked like we wore down at the end there."

Added Senators general manager Bryan Murray: "Overall, I think the group competed real hard. They did themselves very proud in the playoffs. They competed each and every night."

Centre Matt Cullen, a late-season arrival in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, quickly sensed a special bond between a team that faced adversity on a number of fronts this season but pulled together collectively to get through it all. Had they somehow been able to take down the champs, the sky might indeed have been the limit thereafter.

"The last two games showed character and heart," said Cullen. "There’s a lot of that in this room. It’s a team that’s really close and I think we showed that. That’s what makes it so hard to be leaving right now. We were right on the edge against the Stanley Cup champion. After that, who knows?

"It’s just tough to be leaving right now. It’s one of those things that you can’t get out of your head, that it’s so hard to be done when we had such a good group with such a good upside."

Now the question becomes just what this group will look like when it assembles again for training camp in September. Murray is faced with dealing with a raft of expiring contracts, most notably that of veteran defenceman Anton Volchenkov, who can be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Among the potential restricted free agents are four team regulars: defenceman Chris Campoli and forwards Nick Foligno, Jesse Winchester and rookie Peter Regin, who was perhaps the Senators' best player in the series against the Penguins.

Murray didn't sound hopeful today that he and the Volchenkov camp could reach an agreement on a deal that would fit within the Senators' tight salary cap restraints. He also acknowledged losing the burly Russian, a shot-blocking machine and physical force on the Ottawa blue line, would be a huge blow.

"I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to get him signed," said Murray. "(With the) cap numbers, it’s going to be very difficult. We're not 100 miles apart. We've talked ... but we are a ways apart.

"We have to look at filling that spot (if Volchenkov leaves). If we can't do the numbers that Anton's people are looking for, then we have to go looking for a guy who can play a defensive role on this team."

Murray said 6-foot-6 Andy Sutton, a trade deadline acquisition who brought a physical presence of his own to the team, could be a candidate to fill that void, though he's also a potential UFA. Or help could come from a pair of big strapping youngsters — Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch — who Murray believes will push for jobs in camp.

On the plus side, Volchenkov made it clear today that he'd like to stay with the team that drafted him into the National Hockey League in 2000.

"The last two games showed character and heart. There’s a lot of that in this room. It’s a team that’s really close and I think we showed that. That’s what makes it so hard to be leaving right now. We were right on the edge against the Stanley Cup champion. After that, who knows? It’s just tough to be leaving right now. It’s one of those things that you can’t get out of your head, that it’s so hard to be done when we had such a good group with such a good upside." - Matt Cullen
"There’s always a good chance for me to come back, for sure," said Volchenkov. "I like Ottawa. I’ve played seven years here. I’m not looking for a new (team) right now. My first choice for sure is to be in Ottawa and sign a contract here."

Cullen, a playoff-savvy veteran whose contract is also expiring, said he's intrigued by the possibility of staying in Ottawa. And Murray would love to find a way to make it work, too.

"It was really fun to be in a place where hockey is so important and to get to play in the playoffs and have a good experience … I’ve certainly enjoyed every minute of it," Cullen said of immersing himself in a Canadian hockey market for the first time. "I had a good meeting with Bryan, but I certainly need a little time to let everything settle and get home (to Minnesota) and see my family, who I haven't seen for two months.

"I’ll tell you what, I have nothing but good things to say about this organization and to me, (returning) is a possibility. We’ll just see what happens."

The upbeat mood about the team's performance this season — not to mention its promise going forward — appears to have resonated with the Sens Army, too. All three playoff games at Scotiabank Place attracted sellout crowds of 20,000 plus, with attendance for the final 11 home games averaging 19,411.

Senators president Cyril Leeder also noted that season-seat renewals have reached 90 per cent for 2010-11, with the organization encouraged by the possibility that its season-seat base could grow to 11,000. That number sat at 10,000 by the end of the current campaign.

"From a fan’s perspective, they’re happy with where the team is headed and the way they played and how hard they played in the playoffs." said Leeder. "Our renewals have been good and that's usually been the biggest barometer for us, how do fans feel about the team, and they’re very upbeat."


Author: Rob Brodie | OttawaSenators.com

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