Changes are inevitable after the Ottawa Senators finished 30th overall in the NHL standings, but captain Erik Karlsson is hopeful they won’t include him.
As players took part in locker clean out Monday, the biggest question was whether or not Karlsson has played his last game as a member of the Senators.
“There’s always a possibility that’s going to be the case, unfortunately,” the star defenceman said. “That’s not what I hope for, and it’s not something that I’m planning on happening. With what we went through this year, there is going to be a few changes, and hopefully I’m not one of them.”
In a conference call with season ticket holders, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said the team would make a contract extension offer to Karlsson.
Karlsson has one year remaining on his contract and can begin extension negotiations on July 1, but there remains the possibility that he could be moved at the NHL draft.
The Senators entertained a number of offers for Karlsson at the trade deadline, but in the end felt no deal was good enough.
Speculation on Karlsson’s future increased after he picked up the puck following the Senators’ final home game of the season.
“I’m going to deal with that as we move along this summer, but I’m still hopeful that the puck that I picked up is not going to be the one that’s going to be the last,” Karlsson said.
The 27-year-old was emphatic about his love for the city and the organization.
“I do think there’s no question in my mind that this is where I’ve always wanted to be for as long as I can be.”
Karlsson, however, would like to know what direction management has for the team before signing an extension.
“They’re going to sit down and explain where they want to go with a lot of the guys, not only me, what they’re thinking and what they’re seeing,” Karlsson said. “That’s important for guys to know, especially after a year like this, going into the summer and heading into next year and coming here for training camp with a purpose, whatever that purpose is, it just needs to be one way or the other. That’s something that we’ll get to as the summer progresses.”
Karlsson shouldered some of the blame for the Senators’ disastrous season, despite the fact he was coming off serious ankle surgery.
“After Christmas, I felt like I was ready to play the way that I wanted to play; unfortunately, before then, I was not and that obviously had a lot to do with why we weren’t able to take us out of the slump that we were in,” Karlsson said. “I don’t think that I played at the level that I need to for this team to be successful at the time and that’s something that’s on me. I’m very disappointed about that and I’m going to make sure that’s something that never happens again.”
“This has been the toughest year of my career since I came here nine years ago, both professionally and personally,” added Karlsson, who experienced personal tragedy last month when his first child with wife Melinda, a son named Axel, was stillborn.
Karlsson wasn’t the only one shouldering the blame. Head coach Guy Boucher said he was going to take as much responsibility as possible for what went wrong this season.
“We started evaluating everything – my work, the staff’s work, the players’ work and the things that went well, didn’t go well and what we need to do,” Boucher said. “I think we need to improve everything, basically, going into next year.”
One of the problems this season in Boucher’s opinion was the team’s inability to come together.
“This year was more difficult to have everyone on the same page, whatever we were doing, whatever we were choosing to do on a particular day or particular week,” Boucher said. “That’s the main thing, is to get a group that’s going to be on the same page, more accountable, so we have a better product on the ice.”
Dorion is expected to meet with the media on Thursday and Boucher and his staff’s tenure will be one of many discussion points. Boucher has one year remaining on his contract.
The Senators will also need to address the contract status of Mark Stone, Cody Ceci and Fredrik Claesson who are set to become restricted free agents, as well as unrestricted free agents Magnus Paajarvi and Chris Wideman.
There will likely also be discussions on potential buyouts for Alex Burrows, Marian Gaborik and Bobby Ryan.
Like Karlsson, Matt Duchene will also be heading into the final year of his contract and extension discussions could be under way this summer.