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Free agents, promotions should shake up B-Sens' roster
Veterans could be too costly to re-sign
BY SCOTT LAUBER
Press & Sun-Bulletin
Joe Murphy is one of at least 12 Binghamton Senators players who are free agents.
BINGHAMTON -- The most jarring check Joe Murphy took all season came Saturday when, walking through the Binghamton Senators' dressing room one last time, he was blind-sided by reality.
"When you see guys filing out with their gear, and when you start emptying out your locker, that's when it really sets in," said Murphy, sitting, as usual, at his corner stall. "That's when you realize there are no games this week and there's not going to be practice tomorrow."
Breaking up is hard to do, especially for the Senators, who, despite losing six of their final nine playoff games, still went 20-9-2-1 after March 2 and came within seven wins of Binghamton's first Calder Cup in 21 AHL seasons.
But their magical spring stalled Thursday night in Hamilton, and Saturday, they came to the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena to pack their things, meet individually with coach John Paddock, and about 100 fans who braved rain showers for a season-ending rally.
"It's tough to see everyone go their separate ways," Murphy said. "Just the nature of sports says there's probably a number of guys who won't be back next year. My contract's up, and I don't know what's going to happen. Who knows if I'll ever play with these guys again? (Left wing) Chris Bala's in the same boat."
That boat has plenty of oars. At least 12 Senators, including veterans Brad Smyth and Dennis Bonvie, are free agents; top prospect Jason Spezza and captain Brian Pothier will likely open next season in Ottawa; defensemen Radim Bicanek and Steve Bancroft, roommates the past three months, are under contract to different organizations.
That leaves centers Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly, rugged winger Brian McGrattan, defenseman Christoph Schubert and maybe goalie Ray Emery, himself a candidate to make the parent club, as next season's nucleus.
"It's not too often you have a nucleus like we had," said Paddock, who took few breaks from his 15-minute-long Break-Up Day meetings with each player. "Certainly, I think some guys will be back, and I'm sure the organization will add some veterans like Dennis, (Smyth) and Stevie Martins.
"Those guys were signed not just to play here, but to give the organization depth. They did that, to some extent, so I'm sure they'll bring some guys like that in again. That should give us our nucleus."
Smyth, an Ottawa native, and Bonvie, who added Binghamton to the list of AHL towns where he's become a fan favorite/cult hero, said they'd like to stay with Ottawa. But both figure to command hefty salaries simply due to their veteran status, and Ottawa might not have the budget to foot the bill, even with wealthy new owner Eugene Melnyk on board.
Murphy, coming off a career-high 22-goal season, said he's more optimistic now than three months ago that he'll be re-signed. But, at age 28, he'll be an unrestricted free agent, and thus have more freedom to move to another team.
Langfeld and Bala will be entering their third pro season, and both endured roller-coaster sophomore years. But Langfeld impressed Ottawa general manager John Muckler during a February call-up and was among the Baby Senators' best forwards in the postseason.
"I had a tough time at the beginning, and I owe a lot to John and (assistant coach) Gene (Reilly) for sticking with me," Langfeld said. "I went to Ottawa with nothing to lose, and I was happy I played well there.
"Now it's up to (Ottawa) if they want to bring me back. After talking to John, he seemed to think they would, but you never know. Maybe I don't fit their plans."
Bet on Ottawa retaining Langfeld, who like Vermette, should have a shot to make the parent club if he has a strong training camp. If they don't make it with Ottawa, they'll be counted on as the first recalls if injury strikes.
But you've probably seen the last of backup goalie Mathieu Chouinard (to be replaced by rookie Billy Thompson) and center Jeff Ulmer, who doubted his contract would be renewed after two subpar seasons.
"It's too early to really have a blueprint for next year," Paddock said. "I'm sure there will be some discussion about players some time this month. Then, we'll go into the draft and make some other decisions. I'm sure we'll have four or five rookies slotted in, and maybe by August, we'll have a little better idea."
As long as Paddock returns, the Senators should remain competitive. He's the AHL's winningest active coach, and barring any unexpected coaching changes in the NHL, he'll be back to honor the second season of his two-year contract.
"It's hard because it was a real good bunch of guys we had here," Paddock said. "Character-wise, they learned how to win and came together well as a team, and that showed down the stretch. We had a heck of a run in March and a decent run in the playoffs. We understood what we needed to win."
Joe Murphy und Brad Symth sind Free Agents und werden von Ottawa nicht weiter als AHL'lert bezahlt werden können, bleibt abzuwarten ob wir einen von ihnen sehen werden
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