Erik Karlsson had to go.
He was too good for the Ottawa Senators.
At least for an Ottawa Senators team owned by Eugene Melnyk.
A different person calling the shots might have taken a different approaching in the handling of the most valuable asset the franchise has ever owned. He could have seen Karlsson as a player that comes along once in a generation and built around him. He may have decided to spend to the ceiling of the salary cap and taken a serious run at the Stanley Cup during Karlsson’s prime years.
But Melnyk can not or will not operate this way. He told us during his fool on the hill rant in front of the Parliament buildings seven months ago. He said there and then that he was going to run the team by keeping a “direct relationship” between revenues and players’ salaries, and that “even $68 million” was too much over the Senators revenue base.
The most recent post on CapFriendly has the Senators projected with a cap hit of $70,800,833 for the upcoming season, with a slew of players set to become UFA’s in July.
Karlsson priced himself out of the Senators budget the moment he said he was going to get what he’s worth upon the expiration of his current contract.
If they offered him $10 million a season it was done knowing he wouldn’t take it when Drew Doughty just signed for $11 million a season with the Los Angeles Kings. Karlsson has outscored Doughty by 96 points while playing 143 fewer games, and he also has a 2-1 lead on him in Norris Trophies.
No way was he going to accept $1 million a year less.
Years ago, Karlsson was unhappy with something I wrote about him. I tried to talk to him about it, but he walked away. When I asked his friend Robin Lehner to pass along some clarification, I was told it was useless.
“Erik is very stubborn,” said Lehner.
Hence, if he had his mind set on becoming the highest paid defenceman in the NHL, he was going to become the highest paid defenceman in the NHL.
And deservingly so, for what he has accomplished to date.
The big question is, what kind of player is Karlsson going to be for the next seven or eight years?
He didn’t win the Hart, but I still think he was the most valuable player in the league during the 2016-17 season, when he he had 71 points in 77 games and followed it up with 18 points in 19 playoff games.
He was outstanding defensively as he was offensively.
Karlsson was a different player last season, however.
Was it because of the ankle injury? Perhaps. He didn’t have the same explosive jump while pushing off his left foot. The strength wasn’t there for him to win as many D-zone battles.
Maybe that’s why he appeared to have less in playing the two-way game. Maybe he was trying to make up for his shortcomings in his own zone by doing more offensively.
It didn’t work out. He had 62 points, but his plus-minus dropped by 35 in a year. He strayed from coach Guy Boucher’s system, and other players followed the leader.
But I think Karlsson will be back to his old form in October, after an off-season to strengthen his ankle and now with the determination to prove that he’s worth what he’ll make on his new contract.
The Senators will suffer without him.
But with Melnyk as the owner, they will continue to be a team that has to operate under a tight budget. Unless there’s a change, Thomas Chabot will likely one day become too rich for their blood, as will Logan Brown and Brady Tkachuk.
They too will be traded away for prospects and promise.