A stretch of six wins in eight games has the Ottawa Senators achingly close to a playoff spot.
And this recent run of success also has general manager Bryan Murray re-thinking his plans for the near future with the March 5 trade deadline not too far away. Murray, who on Monday agreed to a contract extension through the 2015-16 season, said his team probably needs another piece — most likely a forward — to make a run this spring.
Through Sunday's games, the Senators sat two points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, who hold the Eastern Conference's two wild-card spots.
"Just watching the progress in the last month and a little bit, I think that the objective now is certainly more than it was a month before," Murray said on a conference call. "We are available to make a deal."
As an example, Murray pointed to the July 5 trade with the Anaheim Ducks that landed the Senators Bobby Ryan. Ottawa gave up young forward Jakob Silfverberg and prospect Stefan Noesen to get the winger who filled a void left by Daniel Alfredsson's departure.
Again, the Senators would be willing to trade from their position of youth in the organization.
"We do have a number of players that probably are deserving of playing some games or playing in the NHL that may not get a chance because of our numbers up here that we would talk to teams about for a more veteran-type player," Murray said.
Earlier in the season, Murray expressed a desire to upgrade his team's mobility on the blue-line and talked to "a number of teams" about a puck-moving defenceman. That need has been eased by the recall of 20-year-old rookie Cody Ceci, who has been a mainstay since making his debut in mid-December.
"He's young, but we can't get him out of the lineup now that we've brought him up from Binghamton," Murray said. "He's been real good for us, real solid for us."
Like a lot of teams, Murray said the Senators could use a forward who could help in the scoring department or add a physical element.
"Either-or, and I think that would address a need on our hockey team.," he said.
Perhaps physicality and defensive responsibility should be priorities. The Senators have given up 146 goals in 46 games, which is third-worst in the league.
No matter the area of improvement, Murray has limits on how much he'll draw from Ottawa's prospect pool. Blue-chip centre Curtis Lazar, last year's first-round pick, had three goals and four assists for Canada during the world junior championship and is, at least for now, considered untouchable.
"We're not moving Curtis Lazar, I can tell you at this point in time," Murray said. "We would make the right common-sense trades if there was something there without robbing what would be our future."
The Senators' scouting staff is expected to meet soon to draw up a list of trade-deadline targets.
"We hope to have kind of an objective by the trading deadline, by the Olympic break, whatever the case may be, and then we'll see where we go," Murray said.
The playoffs appear to be back as the most immediate goal. Murray reiterated that "there are no guarantees in this business," and owner Eugene Melnyk understands that specifically applies to the post-season.
"Once the playoffs start, as we all know, anything goes," Melnyk said. "We have to get there first, and then after that, we just cross our fingers and hope for the best."