Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray has been a busy man of late. And he’s likely to be even busier in the coming weeks.
Murray locked up two valuable members of the organization on Thursday, signing coach Dave Cameron and forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau to two-year contract extensions.
Cameron proved to be the shot in the arm the Senators needed after he took over for Paul MacLean, who was fired on Dec. 8. An assistant under MacLean, he guided Ottawa to a 32-15-8 record — including a 23-4-4 mark over the final 31 games that helped earn the team the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.
“He opened it up to more skating, more aggressive forechecking and better puck skills,” Murray told reporters. “We spent a lot of time on that at practice, and that made us a better hockey team.”
A center who appeared in 168 NHL games with the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils franchise, Cameron was no stranger to the position of head coach. The 56-year-old held the spot in the Colonial, Ontario and American Hockey leagues and also led Team Canada to the silver medal at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship. The experience of coaching young players helped him get huge contributions from Calder Trophy finalist Mark Stone and fellow rookies Mike Hoffman and Curtis Lazar.
Hoffman led the Senators with 27 goals and Stone, who finished one tally off the mark, topped all NHL rookies with 64 points. Drafted 17th overall in 2013, Lazar registered 15 points in 67 games with Ottawa while also serving as captain of Team Canada as it captured the gold medal at the 2015 World Junior Championship.
“It opened a lot of lanes for young players, in particular,” Murray said, regarding the coaching change. “The young guys got a chance to play and Dave wasn’t afraid to take a veteran out if he had to. In some cases it was injury, but in a couple of cases he just put other guys in and played them. He gave them a chance to grow.”
A restricted free agent, Pageau is another youngster Cameron has helped develop. The 22-year-old appeared in 50 games in 2014-15, recording 10 goals and nine assists.
Becoming one of 10 players on the Senators to reach double digits in tallies, Pageau was rewarded for his efforts with a two-year extension. The Ottawa native will receive $700,000 in 2015-16 and $1.1 million the following campaign.
The Senators also have offers on the table for their other four restricted free agents: Hoffman, Stone, Mika Zibanejad and Alex Chiasson.
Murray began the offseason by inking goaltender Andrew Hammond to a three-year, $4.05 million contract in late May. That deal has led to the general manager’s desire to trade one of his other goaltenders.
Robin Lehner is the likely one to be dealt, as veteran Craig Anderson has three years remaining on his contract. The 23-year-old Lehner has seen action with the Senators in each of the last five seasons, registering career highs of 12 wins and 36 games played in 2013-14.
“I think we’ve rated our goaltenders and we’ve got a pretty good idea about who we want to keep, but there’s no doubt that we’re open-minded in that if we got a good offfer on the guy that we think is the No. 1 at this point and time, we’d certainly listen,” Murray said.
Murray could have competition as Vancouver reportedly is looking to trade either Eddie Lack or Jacob Markstrom. But he isn’t likely to pull the trigger on a deal only to beat the Canucks to the punch, as a satisfying return is paramount for the Senators’ future.