The Erik Karlsson Holding Pattern

The Erik Karlsson Holding Pattern

Senators

The Erik Karlsson Holding Pattern

Three days ago Sportsnet‘s Elliotte Friedman made an appearance — a disheveled appearance — on the NHL Network where he was asked to shed light on the latest involving some of the game’s biggest stars.

https://twitter.com/NHLNetwork/status/1020338292859064321

If you want to listen to Friedman’s update on the Erik Karlsson stalemate, you can scroll to the two-minute mark of the video, but I’ve transcribed his full comments below.

“You know, one thing that I believe is that (a trade) wasn’t that close. There were rumours that it was close, but I don’t believe that it was ever really that close. To be honest, I had a long talk with someone last week in the league, a GM, and we talked a lot about Karlsson and it’s interesting. He says the belief from a lot of players that all things being equal, and from other teams that he’s talked to, is that Erik Karlsson would like to be an Ottawa Senator. The problem is he doesn’t want to be an Ottawa Senator under (current ownership). Either he goes and takes his chances… does he think he can wait out the sale of the team? I don’t think that’s the answer. I think the biggest problem is I still think that ownership would like to make Bobby Ryan part of the deal. I don’t see a lot of teams that can do it. I just think that teams like Dallas and Tampa, if he goes to Tampa and there’s an extension involved, I don’t think it’s for what Drew Doughty got. If he goes to Dallas, I think it’s more likely as a rental. I think Vegas might have more interest in a Mark Stone as opposed to necessarily a Karlsson. I just don’t think the offers are there that’s making Ottawa pull the trigger and I think we’re kind of in a holding pattern here.”

Obviously there’s a lot to dissect here.

Friedman’s right in asserting that everything has gone quiet on the Karlsson front since the lead up to the 2018 NHL Draft in late June, but hearing that a deal was never really close helps explain why negotiations continue to drag out.

Nothing about league executives or Karlsson’s peers believing he has a preference to remain in the city where he: 1) has spent his entire professional North American career; 2) is entrenched as the captain; 3) met and married his wife; and 4) admitted he will continue to make his offseason home in the event he’s moved; is surprising.

Karlsson would love to remain an Ottawa Senator, but the only hurdle in his way is his shaken confidence in the organization’s state and its future under the stewardship of Eugene Melnyk.

It’s a pretty damn big hurdle to clear, so who can blame Karlsson for balking committing to a long-term extension after Melnyk refinanced the team’s debt and could remain in the picture for the foreseeable future?

The rumours regarding the Senators’ prospective interest in using Erik Karlsson to rid the organization the four years and $30-million left on Bobby Ryan’s contract date back to late February.

Despite the longevity of this rumour and the fact that well-respected journalists like Bob McKenzie and Friedman keep running with it like it has substance, Pierre Dorion took issue with Marcotte’s source material and took him and the rest of the local media to task in the town halls for their lack of accountability and helping spread rumours that were eventually substantiated by more credible NHL insiders.

Dorion’s sensitivity never made sense, but the idea of ownership pressuring management to make a deal for salary relief when the team is expected to be terrible and bad contracts to players like Ryan are less burdensome makes even less sense.

Moving significant assets to get Ryan’s deal off the books would be understandable if the team was in salary cap crunch where it had talented young players in the fold that needed extensions in the immediate future.

The Senators aren’t in that position however.

Instead, Melnyk is trying to shed a problem he created through his mishandling of the Daniel Alfredsson contract negotiations in 2013. The decision to acquire Ryan was done to placate incensed fans and by acquiring the impending unrestricted free agent, the Senators essentially painted themselves into a corner where they had to offer him maximum and term to keep the in the fold – even though the numbers suggested that: 1) Ryan was not a possession-driver; 2) his production was likely inflated by his quality of linemates in Anaheim; and 3) it wouldn’t be prudent to sign a non-elite offensive forward through his age 27-34 seasons when NHL aging curves demonstrate that a player’s prime occurs between 22 and 27 years of age.

For them to even consider marginalizing the return on one of the best players in the game with where the team is in its development curve is laughable – especially if it’s a situation where the organization keeps compounding the mistake it made in 2013 with a series of really dumb decisions.

The situation reminds me of ESPN’s Keith Law who reflected on the current shittacular nature of the New York Mets.

If the owner’s preference is to cut costs rather than make a trade to put the club in the best position to win in the future, it speaks to how skewed the priorities in Ottawa are.

The plan isn’t to build a Stanley Cup winner, the plan is for the organization to strip everything down so the owner can hold onto the team for as long as he can.

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