At the end of the day, the price just wasn't right for Bryan Murray.
But the Ottawa Senators general manager figures he got more than fair value from the Lightning in a trade Friday night that sent defenceman Andrej Meszaros south to Tampa. In exhange, the Senators acquired veteran blueliner Filip Kuba
, defenceman Alexandre Picard of Gatineau and a first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (obtained by Tampa in an earlier deal with the San Jose Sharks).
The Senators had been unable to break a contract negotiation stalement with Meszaros and agent Ritch Winter, who are reportedly set to sign a long-term deal with the Lightning. There were also suggestions the Bolts were prepared to force Murray's hand by presenting him with an offer sheet for the restricted free-agent blueliner.
"It got to the point where the money was too much for what we wanted to pay," said Murray. "We thought we made a considerable offer and obviously, there was the threat of an offer sheet at exaggerated dollars.
"Making this deal was an easier way and it gives us the return we needed for this player."
Murray said he couldn't justify making Meszaros the team's highest-paid defenceman, with a salary higher than his shutdown pair of Chris Phillips
and Anton Volchenkov. Meszaros, the Senators' top pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, had a strong rookie year but Murray felt "his last two (seasons) left something to be desired."
"To me, it wasn't what we wanted to do," said Murray. "I didn't think it was fair to the other guys to pump (Meszaros' salary) up to a point that was way beyond them and that's what they wanted."
Instead, the Senators added a solid veteran in the 31-year-old Kuba, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound native of Ostrava, Czech Republic, who scored 31 points — including six goals — in his second season with Tampa Bay after earlier stints with the Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild.
"I know Filip Kuba
quite well from my days way back (with the Panthers)," said Murray. "He's a real solid person. He's a good player who can play the point on the power play. In talking to him, I think he was ready for a change to a market like Ottawa."
Murray called Picard, 22, "a local, high-end prospect" with the potential to have the same impact as Brian Lee, the Senators' top selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, who's expected to land a full-time role in Ottawa this season. The deal also gives the Senators two first-round picks in what is believed to be a talent-rich 2009 draft.
"We're getting (another) first-round pick in a good draft year," said Murray. "We have a chance to use those two picks to move up and get a higher pick or keep them and get two good players."
More importantly for the present, Murray believes the Senators have a much deeper blue-line corps, with two key veterans brought into the fold in Kuba and Jason Smith, a former captain in Edmonton and Philadelphia who was signed as a free agent in July.
"With Filip Kuba
, Jason Smith, Volchenkov and Phillips, they're all veteran guys and they're all solid with the puck," said Murray. "Picard, Lee, Schubie (Christoph Schubert) and (Lawrence) Nycholat give us the depth we didn't have before."