The worst-case scenario that fans of the Ottawa Senators have been fearing for several months is now a reality: Erik Karlsson is on his way out of town.
It appears that the franchise defenceman will be shipped out sooner rather than later, with the Dallas Stars, and most recently the Tampa Bay Lightning, emerging as the favourites to to land the all-world defenceman over the past few days.
The thought of the imminent departure of Karlsson cannot be sitting well with anyone involved or supportive of the organization, and it shouldn’t be — as the Eugene Melnyk-run club is parting ways with a franchise player under murky circumstances for the third time in 12 years. It’s a routine that has to be getting old for a fanbase that has suffered through both the departures of future Hall-of-Famer Zdeno Chara plus franchise legend and leading scorer Daniel Alfredsson since 2006.
Now Karlsson — the team’s star blue-liner who Alfredsson himself called the best player in franchise history just last week — is set to be the next Sens captain to be moved out. And though the team will get some kind return on its asset unlike it did with Big Z and Alfy – who both left in free agency – the potential value yielded from the package of players, picks and prospects likely won’t even be close to what Karlsson already brings to the team and city — and what the 28-year-old would’ve likely continued to provide at the same rate or better for a good chunk of the next decade.
There’s nothing the Senators can get back that will turn this debacle of a situation into a success for the franchise. Nada.
The general consensus on an asking price from the Sens seems to be a first-round pick in 2019 (replacing the one they lose in the Matt Duchene trade), a “hot” prospect, and a current roster player, likely a defenceman, to step into the lineup next season.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that’s exactly what the Senators get in return. So how does that package, even if every single piece hits the high-end of their development curve, help fill the void left by Karlsson, who can, among many other things do stuff like this during an NHL hockey game:
It doesn’t — not even close. Whichever club Karlsson gets flipped to is a going to be a contender this season and will, in all likelihood, be a top 10 overall team, meaning that pick coming to the Senators will probably be no higher than No. 20 to No. 30 overall. Barring a steal at the draft table or a miraculous leap over the traditional development path, the chances of that late first-rounder turning into a frontline player, let alone a franchise cornerstone, are slim-to-none.
Same goes for a prospect, who are often very unpredictable and have a very, very small chance at turning into even half the player Karlsson is in the long run. It could happen, but odds are not on the team’s side. This is a rare deal that will see the team take a step back bad in the short term and the long term, which is quite the thing to accomplish — but the Sens have, of coursed, figured out a way.
Ottawa’s captain led the team in scoring each of the past five seasons and ranks first among all NHL defencemen in points since the 2009-10 season (518), 69 more than Brent Burns. He’s secured two Norris Trophies (on top of two runner-up nods) as the league’s best blue-liner and, despite having his worst offensive campaign in five years, Karlsson still led all NHL defencemen in points-per-game last season.
And, as The Point noted late Thursday, the loss of Karlsson means the Senators will be losing the league leader in several play-driving categories.
If / When Erik Karlsson is traded out of Ottawa, the Senators will lose the NHL's leader in puck possession, driving possession up ice and and completing stretch passes from the defensive zone. Not skills they can readily replace. pic.twitter.com/g8yYkEG3tX
— The Point (@PNThockey) July 6, 2018
Oh, and he just turned 28 , so there is, in all likelyhood, a tonne still left in the tank. Good luck replacing that.
It’s obviously going to be a very tough road ahead trying to make up for the loss of the immense on-ice skill and presence one of the best defenceman on the planet provides, but Karlsson’s loss will be felt heavily from a community and marketing standpoint, too.
It’s not often your leader and best player is also your most important figure in the community, but that’s exactly what Karlsson was. From spearheading charity events like the team’s rendition of the ALS ice bucket challenge in 2014 , to being a public and active figure in helping drive donations to the Ottawa Senators Foundation, to forging a larger-than-life bond with Jonathan Pitre and his mother , No. 65 was an invaluable asset for the organization in terms of fundraising, charity work and public image.
It was a privilege getting to know you Jonathan Pitre, thanks for sharing all of your great qualities with us all. You will always be remembered. My thoughts and prayers to Tina and the entire Pitre family.
— Erik Karlsson (@ErikKarlsson65) April 6, 2018
Charity and community work aren’t the only area off the ice where Karlsson’s loss will be deeply felt, as his ability to bring constant (much-needed) positive media coverage to the Senators organization was one of his most important qualities from a marketing perspective, and he was the type of captain that you want in front of the cameras after practice and answering the tough post-game questions on a day-to-day basis. His well-spoken, humble demeanour and ability to break down the complexities of an NHL game in a way the average fan can relate to is second to none.
He sold Senators jerseys. Tonnes and tonnes and tons of No. 65 jerseys. Tickets? He sells those too. Not only is he the most marketable athlete to ever toss on a Senators jersey, he’s one of the most brand-friendly hockey players on the planet. And on top of merchandise, the most important thing he’s helped sell is hope — something that is all but extinct now.
Karlsson’s value on and off the ice has always been known to Ottawa’s management and executive teams, just ask GM Pierre Dorion, who said, “God rested on the seventh day, I think on the eighth day he created Erik Karlsson.” during the team’s 2017 Stanley Cup playoff run that now seems so, so far away. We’v established he’s basically perfect in every way, so how the hell did we get here?
How on earth did a team who drafted and developed this remarkable asset not only lose the loyalty of the player who made it clear he wanted to remain a Senator for life, but also forfeit all leverage it had in a potential trade because of letting inner-organizational drama into public spot light?
* shrug emoji *