Ottawa Senators "can't spend with biggest-market teams"

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 11: Chris Phillips #4 of the Ottawa Senators is presented with a painting and stands along with Jason Spezza #19, Daniel Alfredsson #11, Jim Gregory (3rdFL), Brian Murray (4thFL), general manager of the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk (2ndFR), owner, governor and chairman of the Ottawa Senators during a pre-game ceremony to honour Phillips having played 1000th career games prior to an NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Place on February 11, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

In a fairly broad and mostly uneventful conference call that was published online yesterday, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk touched on everything from the Rink of Dreams to the Senate Reform and everything in between. One of the most interesting points of his came during the discussion of a potential contract extension for Erik Karlsson, where Melnyk commented on the future budgets of his team:

"Look, we can't spend toe-to-toe anymore with the highest- and the biggest-market teams, so all we can offer is opportunity to some of these players. That's the opportunity to be part of a great organization with a shot. There's no question that we have put the foundation in place to be a very competitive team and, if we had the right pieces together, an extremely competitive team. If you want to be a part of that, then our doors are open.

"That's what we have to sell. We have the environment, we have the fanbase, [and] we can pay you, but it has to be within our reasonable budgets.That's all we can do."

It's an interesting development. Notice that Melnyk says they can't spend as much as other teams "anymore;" although the Senators have never been at the top of the league in terms of payroll, they have been near the top at times, most notably in 2009-10 when the Sens were the sixth-highest-salaried team. Even last year Ottawa went into the season precariously close to the salary cap, but it came down a fair bit as the team moved players out of town towards the trade deadline.

When Melnyk came in, he seemed extremely excited, and was more than ready to write some cheques if it meant keeping players like Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza in town, or (more recently) to bring (former) stars like Alex Kovalev and Sergei Gonchar into the fold. Considering the fact that only one of those four signings has worked out as well as was hoped, it's hard to blame Melnyk for souring on that sort of thing.

This season, Ottawa had the fifth-lowest payroll in the league. Personally, I'm not upset with that, at least not at first glance. The best days of this franchise came when there was a focus on drafting and sound asset management during the middle of the 2000s, and a return to that would be welcome.

That's easy to say now, though, with the team flush with young players on entry-level deals. If none of our current prospects pan out into elite top-line players, it won't be easy for Melnyk or any fans to hold back during free agency. If those prospects do pan out, it's going to be hard choosing some to keep and others to trade away for future assets in order to guarantee the continued presence of good young players in the system. It's a constant balancing act and the hardest part of it all is is avoiding the myopic mistakes that plague so many managers around the league.

Check out Melnyk's full call after the fold

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