The Ottawa Senators realized they were weakened by the loss of tough guys Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka to free agency July 1. Hence, they weren't about to set themselves up for a more serious blow next summer.
To that end, the team signed Chris Neil, its all-time penalty minutes leader, to a three-year contract extension worth $5.75 million. The deal kicks in after the 33-year-old right winger earns his $2 million in 2012-13, when Neil would have been eligible to test the open market.
"I talked to (general manager Bryan Murray) after the season about trying to get something done before (next) season started, just so free agency wasn't weighing on my mind through the season, so I could just show up and play hockey, do what I do best," Neil said. "Just go out and play."
And in his case, hit and fight.
While developing into a defensively responsible right winger who has hit the double-digit mark in goals five times in his career, Neil has never forgotten what gained him regular NHL employment. He's regularly among the league leaders in hits, and he has unofficially been involved in 161 scraps over his 10 seasons.
There's no doubt he's given the Senators more than they expected when they selected him in the sixth round of the 1998 entry draft.
Yet without Carkner and Konopka, even more will be asked of Neil unless Murray can add some muscle. Upon locking Neil up, Murray admitted there were no names on the list of eligible free agents that interested him.
"There's pressure (on Neil), there's no question," said Murray, declaring he'll look to make a trade. "We hope to help him. Now we have to address that vacancy somehow, and we'll try to do that."