Of all the awful and ridiculous and simply unbelievable things that have happened to the Ottawa Senators over the past year, it is the smallest that most delights the comics and headline writers.
Earlier this month, with the Senators’ annus horribilis supposedly behind them, Health Canada issued a recall for red infant “onesies” that feature the team logo on the front and are fitted with small metal clasps.
The reason for the recall: choking hazard.
Barely a year earlier, the Senators had come within a Game 7 double-overtime goal of reaching the Stanley Cup final. One season later, they finished 30th – the singular bright note being that they were not, quite, the worst team in the league, a dubious honour that fell to the Buffalo Sabres.
But they were, without any doubt, the most dysfunctional. As respected TSN commentator Ray Ferrero put it recently, “They’re the laughing stock of the league. There’s nobody more comical, in a sad way, than Ottawa is now.”
Let us, then, count (some of) the ways – each one a step toward the June bombshell that makes all earlier team explosions appear as mere firecrackers:
- After team owner Eugene Melnyk fired long-time and popular team president Cyril Leeder, supposedly for lagging ticket sales that continued even into the 2017 playoffs, the solution offered by his replacement, Tom Anselmi, to tarp over 1,500 seats in Canadian Tire Centre, backfired. Instead of increasing demand, the covered-over seats only underlined the growing disenchantment with everything from hiked parking fees to the team’s style of play under coach Guy Boucher. After only a year as president, Anselmi left and was replaced by Melnyk himself.
- A fall trade of popular forward Kyle Turris was poorly received. General manager Pierre Dorion picked up a good player from the Colorado Avalanche in Matt Duchene, but it also cost the supposedly rebuilding team future first- and third-round draft picks. Turris, who ended up in Nashville in the three-way deal, and his wife, Julie, openly blamed Melnyk, not Dorion, for forcing the deal in order to save on future salary.
- On the eve of Ottawa’s outdoor game, supposedly to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday and 100 years of the NHL, Melnyk hinted he might be forced to move the team should ticket sales not improve. It would not, the NHL was quick to respond, be his decision – but the mere suggestion outraged the fan base.
- Fans raised money through crowdfunding to put up billboards around the city with the hashtag #MelnykOut. Melnyk may have saved the club from bankruptcy in 2003, but many fans were now of the opinion they had to save the franchise from him.
- Daniel Alfredsson, the beloved former team captain who had returned to the team in an executive role, only to leave pretty quickly, was quoted by a local political blogger as wanting Melnyk gone and a new owner in. Alfredsson said he and Mayor Jim Watson were agreed on this point.
- Watson had clearly grown impatient with Melnyk’s commitment to his partnership in a billion-dollar development on LeBreton Flats that would include a new arena. The residential-retail-entertainment project is expected to revitalize the barren grounds west of Parliament Hill and, in no small part, justify Ottawa’s $2.1-billion light-rail transit (LRT) line that is to be completed this fall.
- Assistant general manager Randy Lee was charged by police in Buffalo, N.Y. at the end of May with harassing a 19-year-old hotel shuttle driver by rubbing the young man’s shoulders after being asked not to do so, and making suggestive remarks. The alleged incident occurred while Lee was attending the league’s scouting combine for young prospects. Lee has pleaded not guilty, but the team has suspended him until the court rules on the non-criminal violation charge.
All this, however, was nothing compared with what came next.
A week ago, news broke that Melinda Karlsson, wife of captain Erik Karlsson, the team’s best player and face of the franchise, had filed an order of protection against the girlfriend of forward Mike Hoffman, alleging that Monika Caryk had undertaken a covert cyberbullying campaign against the Karlssons, including anonymous attacks on their baby son, who was stillborn in March. In the application for a peace bond, Melinda claimed that the attacker wished her dead, as well, and hoped that someone would “take out” Erik’s legs to “end his career.”
Caryk and Hoffman were quick to deny any involvement and, while police are said to be investigating, no charges have been laid.
Hoffman and Karlsson had, ironically, combined little more than a year ago on what will likely stand as the Senators’ most glorious single play: a soaring Karlsson saucer pass from beside his own net that flew three-quarters of the way down the ice before landing, perfectly, on the tape of Hoffman’s stick, allowing him a clear breakaway in which he deposited the puck, one-handed, behind Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.
But all that is in the past. This is the ugly present and, no matter what the legal outcome, the hockey outcome was never in doubt: one or the other, perhaps even both, would be leaving town – and most assuredly not going to the same destination. Hoffman seemed, by far, the most likely to go, as Karlsson is considered the cornerstone of any future return to respectability for the team. Fans are fearful that instead of being offered a rich extension to stay on beyond the end of his current deal, Karlsson could be dealt elsewhere for more cost-efficient players and prospects.
On Tuesday, three days before the NHL gathers in Dallas for the 2018 entry draft, where the Senators have the fourth pick over all, Dorion traded Hoffman to the San Jose Sharks, with the Sharks then handing him off to the Florida Panthers in a subsequent deal.
In exchange for the 28-year-old Hoffman – a proven goal scorer – along with a minor prospect, Ottawa received Mikkel Boedkker, a versatile 28-year-old forward who is Denmark’s highest-drafted player, and a minor-league defenceman.
Initial reaction in Ottawa was lukewarm to cool regarding the hockey sense the trade makes – something that cannot possibly be known for some time.
In common sense, however, the trade’s value was immediate. Never before in the game’s history, perhaps, has a trade announcement emphasized off-ice value above on-ice potential.
“Today’s trade,” Dorion said in a telling statement, “showcases our determination to strengthen the future of the team by improving chemistry, leadership and character in the locker room and on the ice.”
As of the moment, the on-ice concerns of this troubled team, deep as they are, are not the immediate concerns.