The Senators playoff chances may be finished, but their general manager will be paying close attention to the final 10 games of the season as he starts to focus on the 2014-15 campaign.
Speaking to TSN 1200 on Friday evening, Bryan Murray said he has not made any final decisions on his team for next season – and that includes giving a formal vote of confidence to head coach Paul MacLean.
When asked directly about MacLean's job security moving forward, Murray did not make any guarantees for his head coach or any of his players.
“I don't have a definite answer to that, but Paul's got a contract going forward. He was Coach of the Year last year and I don't know what happened this year necessarily as far as performance is concerned,” Murray said.
“I think he's a very good coach and I think he has the ear of the players in the room. We had some really tough outings and it's shared amongst a lot of people – myself included. We thought this team was better. We thought we had enough skill here to offset a couple of little things we were missing last year – and it didn't work out. Was that because of the departure of Daniel Alfredsson? Was it because we overestimated a couple our young guys? I think all of those evaluations will take place and will continue. With 10 games to go, we'll be watching very closely with the effort that is put forward here. I'm certainly not planning to make any decisions until the 82 games have gone by and we'll make a decision based on the whole year.”
Murray also elaborated on the prognosis of Bobby Ryan, who underwent surgery on Thursday in Montreal to repair a sports hernia injury that had been plaguing him for most of the season. Murray indicated that Ryan should be able to resume his off-ice training in a few weeks and his summer program should not be affected.
Ryan – who had a team-leading 23 goals at the time of his injury – had a disappointing first season as the Senators failed to make the playoffs and he did not reach the 30-goal plateau. However, Murray was quick to point out that his injury played a major role in his lower productivity and the front office remains committed to him long-term. Ryan's contract expires at the end of next season and while the Senators are not allowed to start formal negotiations on an extension until July 1st, Murray was adamant the club would push hard to keep him in Ottawa.
“I think he's going to be happy to talk to us. We certainly plan to try to keep him, we hope to get something done with Bobby so he will have a long career in Ottawa,” said Murray.
While Murray cannot open his contract talks with players like Ryan and Jason Spezza until July 1st, he can start negotiating with a pending free agent for his summer in Ales Hemsky. Acquired by the Senators at the trade deadline, the 30-year-old has been a nice addition to the Sens lineup and has found chemistry with Spezza on a consistent basis.
Murray has not opened formal negotiations with Hemsky's camp, but says that will be coming soon.
“I've said hello to his agent and I've talked to Ales a little bit and I get the impression he likes it here, he likes the city and he likes the way he's been treated. Until you start talking and realize what the commitment is – term and dollar wise – it's hard to know. Certainly we'll have conversations and that's part of the reason why we traded for him at the deadline. We thought if we could get him on board here and he gets to know the group and how we operate, it might be easier for us to negotiate with him and can be an advantage for us.”
Murray also said he yet to open up negotiations with netminder Robin Lehner, who is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. While he has had a down year with only eight wins in 32 games and a 3.23 GAA, Lehner figures to be a major piece for the organization moving forward. And the general manager does not anticipate an issue re-signing the 22-year-old coming out of his entry-level deal.
“I know that Robin has indicated that he likes Ottawa and he wants to stay here,” said Murray. “We'll get it done with Robin, but it's just a matter of where he fits into our long-term plans here.”