Things escalated quickly in the nation’s capital.
In the span of about seven months, the Senators have gone from being one goal away from a trip to the Stanley Cup final to being dogged by rumours that Eugene Melnyk might be close to selling the franchise and that organization may consider trading Erik Karlsson.
When general manager Pierre Dorion announced after trading for Matt Duchene that this trade was going to take the franchise to the ”next level”, this definitely wasn’t what he envisioned.
It’s been a crazy last few weeks and it all stems from what Los Angeles defenceman Drew Doughty had to say about the prospective terms of his next contract in an exclusive interview with The Athletic’s Craig Custance.
“I know I’m going to talk to Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he’s looking for. I’ll kind of look at what money I’m looking for,” Doughty said. “I don’t know if he’s going to re-sign with Ottawa, I don’t know if I’ll re-sign with L.A. You just never know what’s going to happen.”
Everyone knew exactly what was going to happen.
Doughty stirred the pot and dragged Erik Karlsson into the fray. He knew fully well that by disclosing the fact that he was going to talk to Karlsson before signing an extension and declaring that “both of us deserve quite a bit more than (what P.K. Subban signed for)”, it put the Senators’ captain on the spot and set the stage for Karlsson to have to answer awkward questions regarding his uncertain future.
“When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” Karlsson told Postmedia’s Ken Warren and a contingent of Ottawa reporters.
“That’s the business part of it. That’s the way every player has been treated ever since this league has started, and I think the players have been a little bit on the other side of things when it comes to negotiations. I think it’s time to realize that when we go to the table, it’s business on both parts, not just (owners).”
Karlsson continued to elaborate on his comments.
“I like it here, I’m comfortable here, I’ve been here my whole career,” he said. “It’s something that I invested all my time in and something I would like to see all the way through. But at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, if it’s not the right fit and it’s not going to work out business-wise, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere because that’s what (owners) are going to do, as well.”
On their own, they are pretty innocuous statements. A once in a generation talent expressing a desire to get what he believes he is worth because it is business and he wants what is fair.
Imagine the audacity of one of the top three players in the world expressing a belief that he deserves an appropriate salary.
During Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Saturday Headlines’ segment during their most recent Saturday night broadcast, the panel touched on the organization’s reaction to Karlsson’s comments.
“And no question Eugene Melnyk did not like the fact that (Karlsson) came out publicly and said, ‘No discount,’” Nick Kypreos told the panel. “(Melnyk)’s going to have to pay top dollar to keep him and to Elliotte (Friedman’s) point, if Karlsson is going to watch half his team get traded from hereon in, does he even want to come back?”
Elliotte Friedman elaborated on this organizational anger in his latest ’30 Thoughts’ column for Sportsnet.
“In the immediate aftermath of Karlsson’s comments, there was a lot of anger inside the organization. Owner Eugene Melnyk is always the flashpoint, but it went deeper. There was at least one tense meeting between the captain and team officials.”
No one could control the timing of Doughty’s comments and sure, it didn’t help that Karlsson candidly answered questions on his future during the team’s then-seven game losing streak.
Nothing Erik Karlsson said warranted criticism from the organization.
If the organization was disappointed with the timing of the Karlsson comments, get over it.
Thanks to the Senators’ futility and fading playoff chances, eventually any questions regarding Karlsson’s impending future would arise as the season dragged along. Things were eventually going to come to a head as the Senators got closer to the July 1, 2018 date – the time when the team could formally begin negotiating a contract extension with him.
The sheer hypocrisy of this owner being angry with the timing and nature of the comments would be hilarious if they weren’t also justifiably depressing.
Melnyk is someone who Sidney Crosby once described as a guy who “likes to hear himself talk” and creates distractions each and every time he speaks into a microphone.
This is a man who: 1) once encouraged Senators fans to “get their own bomb and go blow themselves up”; 2) joked during an appearance on the Fan 590’s ‘Prime Time Sports’ of knowing someone who used to participate in African cage fights to the death (presumably, this person is dead now); 3) hired forensic doctors work on a report to determine Matt Cooke’s intent to injure Erik Karlsson; 4) told Senators fans to “Buckle up, we’re going all the way this year!” before the team infamously missed the playoffs in 2010-11 season; 5) lacking self-awareness, wrote a letter to the editor during the playoffs last season to state that he would not reactively respond to Don Brennan’s assertion that Melnyk was one of the principle reasons why ticket sales were down (without recognizing that penning the letter itself constituted a reaction); and 6) wrote another thin-skinned letter to the editor outlining the reasons why he should not be blamed for putting the possibility of an outdoor game in jeopardy.
Oh, I almost forgot one.
During this same losing streak that Karlsson is being blamed for creating a distraction in, Melnyk wrote a tone-deaf tweet publicly professing how much he missed Bill O’Reilly.
Imagine holding a closed door meeting with Karlsson because he ruled out the prospect of a hometown discount.
This is the same owner who is being sued by the team’s former chief marketing officer for $1.5-million and burns through C-level executives faster than Guy Lafleur could go through a pack of smokes. The same owner who ignored loyalty by firing the team’s president and one of the organization’s founding fathers – who spearheaded the organ donation campaign that saved Melnyk’s life — because it was just business. Not only was the decision to fire Cyril Leeder sold as an opportunity to invigorate the brand, it was done to bring a more experienced hand in Tom Anselmi to the complicated LeBreton Flats redevelopment negotiations – a process that would considerably boost the Senators’ market value for a potential sale.
The same owner whose influence and actions prompted Daniel Alfredsson to leave the organization not once but on two separate occasions.
Even though it is a customary formality, much is being made of the organization’s decision to ask each of the players, including Karlsson, who have no-trade clauses for their list of teams that they cannot be traded to. It’s believed that this is the first time that the Senators have asked Karlsson for his list.
Friedman mentioned offhand that one the theories being tossed around is that “Ottawa’s request for Karlsson’s list was that the Senators were trying to rattle his cage, just as much as he rattled theirs.”
Sure, Erik Karlsson admirably tried to walk back his comments and do a plus-one for the organization in a one-on-one interview with Sportsnet’s Arash Madani.
“I don’t really know why I spoke out about it. It’s not something that’s been on my mind. I love it here in Ottawa, it’s never, ever crossed my mind that I ever want to leave here or go somewhere else. That’s not something I’ve ever considered. That they spun it that way, that’s the way it is.”
“It’s all about winning. I want to be on a – I’ve been here for nine seasons. I’ve invested my entire career into this organization. They’ve given me everything that I feel like I need to succeed. I think we’re moving in the right direction. This is the place I want to win with. I want to win in Ottawa. That’s where I’ll always be. It’s going to be my home, no matter where I end up playing when I get older, if that ever happens. So that’s the thing: I want to be where home is. I’m comfortable at home, I like it at home and Ottawa is home. Not only the organization, but the community and all my friends as well. That’s something that’s very important to me. Then, all the other stuff, they will just follow.”
Karlsson even went one step further and told reporters following today’s morning skate that he hasn’t received any backlash from anyone in the organization regarding the comments he made about his next contract.
The Senators’ rattled Alfredsson’s cage and it cost him his legacy.
When it comes to Karlsson’s contract negotiations, the organization has no leverage beyond the fact that his wife is from Ottawa and the defenceman has spent his entire career playing in this city.
He doesn’t owe this city anything and for the organization to risk irking him, especially in consideration of the fact that he carries this team each and every night and was primarily responsible for carrying this team to within one goal of the Stanley Cup final on one good leg, is simply beyond words.
I wish I could that I can’t believe that this organization’s stubbornness and antiquated behaviour would jeopardize that relationship, but we all watched Alfredsson, Karlsson’s mentor, pack up his family to head to Detroit, of all places, to finish out his career.
Has the organization learned nothing?
It sure as hell doesn’t feel like it.