Earlier this season the Ottawa Senators ran into somewhat of a public nightmare when dealing with a controversial situation surrounding prospect Mikael Wikstrand. The 22 year-old Swedish defenceman started off the 2015-16 season with the Binghamton Senators. It was his first time playing in North America after being drafted by the Senators in the 7th round (196th overall) in the 2012 Draft. His experience of playing in North America was short-lived when, in late September, Wikstrand reportedly left the team during training camp to be with his brother who was battling leukemia.
The initial problem with the situation was that Wikstrand failed to notify the club his reasons for abruptly leaving for Sweden, which resulted in the Senators suspending him from playing hockey overseas. It was a quote from Senators’ General Manager Bryan Murray that added fuel to the fire and gave Murray a flurry of bad publicity for the way he handled the situation
“If it’s a beer-league team, he can play. I told him that he could go back and be a grocery clerk, he could play in the beer leagues, but he could not play hockey in any shape or form if he doesn’t play for the Ottawa organization, and that’s the way it’ll be.” – Bryan Murray (Globe and Mail)
Certainly a rough response to give to a player whose brother is fighting cancer.
Wikstrand later apologized for the way he handled the situation.
“It was a bad decision. I’m really sorry about that. I should have brought it up in a more professional way and told them why I wanted to play back home. But I’m a guy who likes to keep things to myself, keep them in the family,” – Mikael Wikstrand (Ottawa Sun)
You would think of all people, Murray, the NHL’s champion of defeating the negative stigma towards getting checked for colon cancer, would understand Wikstrand’s wishes of wanting to be with his brother. But, unfortunately, that’s not how the situation unfolded.
Wikstrand Granted Permission To Play In Sweden
After months of this embarrassingly public situation being swept under the rug, it was announced Wednesday afternoon that Ottawa finally agreed to loan Wikstrand to Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. Wikstrand requested to play for this team when he first went back home, but was obviously denied. Now, his wish has been granted, and he will be able to play hockey just two hours away from his brother.
At first glance, this seems like the solution to everyone’s problems. Wikstrand gets to play hockey while being with his family and the Senators can rest knowing that he is back on the ice where they can monitor his development. But, a statement made today by Murray certainly suggests otherwise.
“After further conversations with both the player and his representatives, it appears that playing hockey in North America is not a consideration for Mikael at any point in the immediate future. In an effort to further monitor his development, we have agreed to loan Mikael to Färjestad for the remainder of the season. We will retain his North American rights and should he change his outlook on working towards playing in the National Hockey League, we will be open to discussing a potential return at an appropriate time in the future.” – Bryan Murray (NHL)
From the sounds of it, the relationship between Ottawa and Wikstrand has been effectively tarnished. And here we thought we could move on from this.
To be honest, I doubt Wickstrand will ever play in North America again.
— Dean Brown (@PxPOttawa) January 20, 2016
Can you blame him?
Not The Exit Murray Wants
With Murray facing a big decision to make this coming offseason regarding his future with the team, you can’t imagine this being the way wants to make his exit. Though he has done some amazing things in the league since going public with his battle with cancer, the success he’s had in this and recent years as a general manager is in question.
This situation didn’t exactly help.