‘Calm’ Auld just what team needs, Murray says


There’s never a shortage of advice for National Hockey League general managers, something the Ottawa Senators’ Bryan Murray knows all too well. <br>


Ottawa • There’s never a shortage of advice for National Hockey League general managers, something the Ottawa Senators’ Bryan Murray knows all too well.

After his team got off to a horrendous 2-5-1 start, fans and media commentators had half the roster on a bus out of town, so Murray was in a predictably good mood Sunday given that the Senators had won a few games.

He gave much of the credit for the Senators’ recent turnaround to the surprise starter in goal, Alex Auld, the NHL leader in goals-against average at 1.84. With a 4-0-1 record in his past five games, Auld has almost single-handedly muted calls for Murray to trade for a high-end netminder such as the Chicago Blackhawks’ Nikolai Khabibulin.

Murray suggested the big journeyman netminder had been underrated for some time.

“It’s easy to talk about people with names or reputations,” Murray said. “Khabibulin won a Stanley Cup and, you know, he has had a real good career and he is supposedly a high-end goaltender in this league.

“But Alex Auld has been a real consistent goaltender. He hasn’t always played for the best teams, and I think, when you play for a team that maybe gives up a lot of chances, it’s hard to build a reputation. … If you don’t win a Cup because of that, then you’re kind of relegated below a certain level.”

Auld has had NHL stints in Vancouver, Florida, Phoenix and Boston, playing just one full year as a starter for the Canucks.

“Alex brings a calmness, that’s the person he is,” Murray said. “He’s a real low-key guy in many ways; he has got some real personal confidence, he’s a real good character guy and, yeah, I think that always reflects on the makeup of your hockey team.”

In short, Murray believes he has found the perfect substitute for the Goalie Who Cannot Be Named in Ottawa.

“I think, last year, we were erratic because we saw what was going on off the ice with one of our goaltenders,” Murray said of Ray Emery, whose rumoured partying, road rage and chronic lateness were never-ending distractions.

“My first inclination with Alex was just to make sure our next goaltender, whoever it might be, is a good person that will work hard, has the basic skills to play and the temperament to play. And Ottawa’s not easy because the reputation around here for goaltenders in particular has not been an easy one.”

That isn’t necessarily an indictment of Martin Gerber, who has been relegated to spot backup duty since Auld started his run, though Gerber’s ability to deal with pressure situations has been debated ever since he arrived in the nation’s capital in 2006-07.

“I think Martin has been, you know, kind of short-changed a little bit, in that the team didn’t play well in front of him early on,” Murray said.

Without question, Auld has benefited from the defence-first structure the rest of the team appears to have embraced under new Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg.

Another nice surprise has been the emergence of defenceman Filip Kuba, who was acquired in the deal that sent Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Finding a puck-mover was another concern for Murray earlier this season, but Kuba’s performance has eased the heat somewhat.

“Filip Kuba has brought as many points as anybody and he has got a poise about him and a character about him,” Murray said. “He’s never going to be flashy, but, if he can continue to play at a good level for us, (Alexandre) Picard continues to improve, you know, we might have (a solution) in-house.”

Not that offensive defencemen are easy to find, anyway. Murray blames the dearth of them for big-dollar contracts handed to players such as San Jose’s Dan Boyle and Chicago’s Brian Campbell.

That fact wasn’t lost on Murray as Kuba racked up 14 assists in the first 14 games. The 31-year-old Czech is making $3 million this season and is headed towards unrestricted free agency next summer.

“This is the dilemma we all run into in the market today,” said Murray, who had to part ways with Meszaros and Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros. “When you get a point-getting defencemen, they become fairly valuable commodities.”

The next two weeks will go a long way toward determining what changes, if any, Murray wants to make to his roster for the balance of this season.

Four of the Senators’ next six games are against the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers. Any prolonged Eastern Conference playoff run is expected to go through the Bell Centre and Madison Square Garden.

“I think, when you have to play those types of teams, it shows a lot about you,” Murray said. “It shows if you’re close or not, it shows you can compete at the best level and maybe it determines, for me, some of the things that have to happen as we go forward.”


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