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Sens GM believes rebound can happen quickly

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Young talent such as defenceman Jared Cowen, a first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, will likely be a part of a revamped team the Senators will send out onto the ice next season as the franchise looks toward the future (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

Bryan Murray admits the Ottawa Senators are in need of some definite retooling.

But while it'll take more than just a quick fix, the Senators general manager believes the team can return to contender status in fairly short order.

"I don't think we're very far away from being a good hockey team," Murray told the media earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "But obviously, you have to make some changes when you perform like we have. I think we can be back as a real competitive team real quickly."

Part of that turnaround will happen on the backs of some of the organization's emerging young talent. That likely means some players with expiring contracts — the Senators will have five unrestricted and two restricted free agents at season's end — likely won't be back. In other words, the passing of the torch to the next generation is about to begin in earnest.

"You have to have a core of players that you keep," said Murray. "But we have nine (young) players that will be very close to NHL ready next year.  Somehow or other, I’ve got to open the door for some of these people ... There are going to be some spots available for these young people. With all due respects to the veterans here, they can be the leaders and the core of what happens (next).

"And the way we’re playing right now, position wise, the (2011 NHL) draft should help us a great deal, too."

Murray suggested young blueliners Jared Cowen, the Senators' top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and David Rundblad, a Swede obtained for Ottawa's 2010 first-rounder, are both highly likely to be part of the mix next season. The Senators also hope to take a closer look at forwards Colin Greening and Eric Condra on callups from the Binghamton Senators before this season is out. Both have been standouts in their first American Hockey League seasons.

While the future is bright on those fronts, it can't totally erase the disappointment of the current season, which started out with so much promise. Instead, the Senators (17-25-7) find themselves sitting in 13th spot in the Eastern Conference, 14 points shy of a playoff berth.

"I was sure we were going to be a playoff team, so that's disappointing," said Murray. "Beyond that, it's been disappointing that on some nights, we get beat the way we do."

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk told the Ottawa Sun over the weekend that both Murray and head coach Cory Clouston will stay in their current posts for the balance of the season. While his statements have helped ease the tension in the dressing room, Clouston said "our jobs shouldn't change."

"It shouldn't take that comment or statement from our owner to make us play better," added Clouston. "That's what we should be doing from the get-go ... The players just need to go out there and execute and perform to the best level they possibly can."

Said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips: "Nothing changes for us. We're going out on the ice and trying to win games. We haven't done a great job of that this year, but that focus doesn't change."

Even with the playoffs likely out of reach, Murray said he expects his team "to play with some pride and be very proud to compete every night" and believes it's important to finish the season on the upswing.

"With 33 games to go, we owe it to ourselves to show what we're capable of (doing)," he said. "We've been very disappointed in some games (lately). But we are going to try very hard to compete, to earn points, and to show what some of these players are capable of."

While a second playoff miss in three seasons is almost certain to bring roster changes along with it, centre Jason Spezza said there is still time to keep those moves to a minimum.

"It’s inevitable that  there will be changes if you’re losing hockey games," he said. "So for us, it’s important to try to win games, try to keep the group together and prove that we’re a much better team than we are. This isn’t the team that we are.

"I think we’re going through a real tough time and there’s no reason we should be as bad as things (have gone) through the whole year. We have to try to just get back to playing (well) and finish the year. We can’t look behind us now, we just have to look forward."

Around the boards

Murray expects Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire, once he returns from a lower-body injury, to carry the bulk of the goaltending load the rest of the season. As for 19-year-old Robin Lehner, the organization's top netminding prospect, Murray would like to get him into "a few more games" before the year is done ... Centre Jason Spezza, who joined his teammates for practice today, is ahead of schedule in his rehab and the Senators are hopeful he'll be good go go for game action shortly after the all-star break ... With forward Jarkko Ruutu out for at least two weeks with a lower body injury, Bobby Butler has been recalled from Binghamton.

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