This summer was never supposed to be an easy one for the Ottawa Senators.
Rumours claiming that Erik Karlsson, the team’s captain and generational defenceman, has lost complete confidence in the Senators’ management and ownership to deliver a winner continue to fester — fuelling rumours that he will most certainly be traded this summer.
As unpalatable as this idea is for many people, the possibility that the Senators could marginalize their own return on the best player to ever wear a Senators jersey feels very real. Not only are the rumours involving the Vegas Golden Knights not going away, Vegas has the cap space to absorb Bobby Ryan’s contract and help Dorion get it off Ottawa’s books.
Beyond the uncertainty over Karlsson’s future, Dorion faces the unenviable of trying to lock Mark Stone up to another team-friendly contract extension while avoiding the pitfalls that will come with offering restricted free agent Cody Ceci a contract extension of his own.
Mike Hoffman’s name is being circulated in the rumour mill.
I assumed the Senators’ best goal scorer was placed back on the market because of a rationale that emphasized Hoffman’s limitations as a player instead of an appreciation for the things that he does well. Having seen the lengths the Senators have gone to overlook the deficiencies of lesser-skilled players and keep them around, I expressed this frustration on Twitter. After publishing this tweet, someone I really respect reached out to me to state that Hoffman will be moved this summer and it has nothing to do with his on-ice performance. Without getting into the full details, this individual stated that “shit went down” and “he’s gone” before expressing a hope that the full story sees the light of day.
Faced with the possibility of losing the best player and most talented goal scorer, Matt Duchene’s future warrants the front office’s attention.
With one year left on his contract before unrestricted free agency, Duchene is entering Kyle Turris territory and the Senators will faced with the same questions that were asked when it came to Turris’ future with the organization. As a centre who turns 28 years old next January, does a seven or eight-year contract extension at big money make sense for the Senators? With Colorado owning the rights to Ottawa’s 2018 or 2019 first round pick, the Senators paid a significant opportunity cost to acquire Duchene so they’ll inevitably feel the pressure to keep him in the fold. Duchene’s unquestionably a very good and exciting talent, but if the Senators trade Karlsson and Hoffman – a winger who Duchene had a ton of success with down the stretch last season – would it serve the organization’s long-term competitive interests to consider moving Duchene?
The answer I’m looking for is predicated on what philosophy the Senators will use to explore trade avenues.
Dorion and his staff have to weigh building trade packages for Karlsson and Hoffman around procuring the best future assets they can get against transactions built around getting players who can help them now – think a trade package that would send Karlsson to Nashville for PK Subban.
Preserving short-term competitiveness at the expense of a long-term plan has always been Melnyk’s mantra, so the idea of adding Subban a very good player who also under team control for the next four seasons and will likely come in at a lower average annual value than what Karlsson will fetch doesn’t seem that farfetched. It only helps that Subban is a marketable star in a league that doesn’t have enough of them. His involvement in a trade could soften the PR blowback that will inevitably come with a Karlsson deal – much in the same way that the Bobby Ryan trade was consummated shortly after Daniel Alfredsson left the organization as a free agent in 2013. (As an aside, as much as I like Subban as a player, I feel like adding a 29-year old Subban for four more seasons with $36-million left on the books is a spinning your tires kind of move. He’s a great player, but if Karlsson’s Norris-calibre years can only drag the Senators into a playoff bubble situation, how would an aging Subban be any different as the supporting cast is expected to be worse? The Senators’ interests might be better served going in a less expensive and youthful direction that allows the organization to continue adding draft picks and prospects to a core that gives the team a longer window of contention than what a prospective Subban trade could allow.)
Whether it’s marginalizing the return by dumping a bad contract or two or a trade return to save the organization face, this offseason was always going to be troubling one to navigate and come out ahead, but no one could have anticipated how this summer would spiral out of control before the player transactions even took place.
Following the well-publicized #MelnykOut billboard campaign, the organization’s series of town hall meetings failed to placate a frustrated fan base.
After Melnyk stressed that the hockey operations department essentially had a limitless budget and that there was a commitment to “investing what is needed to identify, draft and develop the players that embody what it means to be an Ottawa Senator” at one of the town halls, it was revealed that two amateur scouts had been dismissed by the organization.
At Jim Watson’s campaign launch party, Daniel Alfredsson made presumed off the record comments to a former Sun writer who published his expressed desire to see Melnyk sell the team.
Considering Alfredsson left the organization left the organization twice over his relationship with Melnyk, his comments and disdain for Melnyk was never really a state secret, but as shitty as it must have been for Alfredsson to see his trust be abused and have these comments leak out into the public realm, there was a proportionate and therapeutic feeling amongst fans to see these feelings be shared by such a well-respected hockey icon.
A few short weeks later, assistant general manager Randy Lee was arrested and charged in Buffalo with harassment in the second degree for allegedly rubbing the shoulders of and making lewd comments to a 19-year old bus driver.
The Senators support for Lee has been unwavering.
Rather than acknowledge the severity and implications of the accusation in this current climate, the Senators issued a press release indicating that Lee would continue to operate in his current role.
It should have been a no-brainer for the organization to put Lee on administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation or pending the result of the trial, but instead the organization’s press release read like it was dismissive.
The optics were terrible and that was before the Buffalo Police Department’s police report details were published in an article by Postmedia’s Gary Dimmock this past weekend.
“The 19-year-old hotel shuttle driver had already told him to stop touching his shoulder when the front-seat passenger started rubbing it.
Then the passenger offered to massage parts of his body and then ‘tried to get (the teen driver) to look at his groin area because he had an erection.’”
Paul Cambrian, the lawyer Eugene Melnyk hired to represent, characterized the incident as a “misunderstanding”. The hope for Lee’s defence is probably rooted in an attempt to portray the event as some locker room joke that went awry.
When you work for a professional sports organization, you’re always on the job and representing the franchise you work for, but that this all unfolded on the NHL combine weekend where Lee’s working with draft eligible prospects who are near the same age as his accuser makes the charges even more unsettling.
The events on May 30th raise so many questions: If the accuser was female, would the Senators have handled the situation any differently? Is this an isolated incident or has similar behavior happened before? If so, was the organization aware of it or them and will the events in Buffalo inspire more people to come forward? Will Lee’s actions affect the organization’s stock with prospects and people around the game – will agents, parents and the like want young men to become part of this organization or will current and prospective employees wonder if they want to be here and work for Melnyk and this front office? If Lee is found guilty through a plea or through trial, will the Senators then terminate his employment? Is the reason why Lee has not faced any discipline for his actions now because the team is already understaffed in the front office at a time when the NHL Draft is coming up and Pierre Dorion is soliciting offers for Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman?
This was supposed to be an offseason that was shaping up to be all about evaluating the front office and ownership on their direction and personnel decisions.
Now it’s become so much more than that.
Based on the organization’s handling of things, I never really want to hear the organization stress the importance of character again.