OTTAWA – The Senators appear to be giving Pascal Leclaire every chance to take the No. 1 role in Ottawa’s crease this season after hiring Rick Wamsley as goaltending coach on Wednesday.
Wamsley, a 51-year-old native of Simcoe, Ont., joins the organization after spending the past four years with St. Louis, most recently as the interim coach of the Blues’ American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria.
In Ottawa, the former NHL netminder will get a chance to help fix an area that’s often pointed to as a weak spot in the Senators’ lineup.
In doing so, he’ll get a chance to work again with Leclaire, whom Wamsley helped develop with Columbus after the Blue Jackets drafted Leclaire eighth overall in 2001.
“Pascal endorsed him fully,” Senators general manager Bryan Murray said. “He felt he provided a lot of good guidance for him.”
Leclaire, who will make US$4.8 million this season in the final year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent, is coming off a largely forgettable first season in Ottawa.
The 28-year-old suffered through injuries and inconsistent form, playing in just 34 games. He went 12-14-2 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .887 save percentage, losing the No. 1 role to Brian Elliott.
Wamsley, who played 12 NHL seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis, Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs, said he’s looking forward to returning to the role of goaltending coach. His familiarity with Elliott and, further into the system, Mike Brodeur and young Swede Robin Lehner, doesn’t go much beyond seeing them in their draft year as a scout.
Wamsley said it’s up to coach Cory Clouston and the players themselves to decide who will get the majority of the playing time, but he said Leclaire has plenty of tools to turn things around.
“What he has, you can’t teach,” said Wamsley. “He’s extremely quick, really good side to side, he has good hands. What he needs constant reminders of is how to be a goalie, not just stopping the puck.”
Wamsley spent seven years with Columbus as a goaltending coach and pro scout before joining St. Louis in 2006.
Ottawa fired goaltending coach Eli Wilson midway through last season. The Senators used a consultant, John Stevenson, to finish the year.
Wamsley had a career record of 204-131-46 as a player and Murray said his longtime association with the league would serve as an asset.
“Experience. The fact that he’s played, he’s been around a long time,” Murray said. “We’ve got a couple of young guys coming along and we felt he could help.
“We thought having a guy that played in the league was, although not the most important thing, but certainly one of the things that we really needed in getting respect back in the goaltending.”
Murray also provided an update on the contract status of restricted free agent forward Peter Regin, who’s headed for arbitration.
Murray said it’s unlikely the two sides will come to an agreement with the help of a hearing.
The 24-year-old Dane had 13 goals and 29 points in his first full NHL season and was one of the team’s best players in its first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Right now, Murray said that Regin’s camp is asking for more than the Senators want to give, or that they feel an arbitrator will award. He made $620,000 last season and is reportedly seeking to possibly double that.
“I don’t want to overpay them, but I certainly don’t want to underpay them. I want to be fair.”