On July 5, 2013, Sens Nation was shocked when their long-time captain and face of the franchise signed with the Detroit Red Wings. One year later, on July 1, 2014, the Ottawa Senators lost their new captain in a blockbuster trade with the Dallas Stars. Only four short years later, it seems that once again the Senators are moving on from their man with the “C”.
On top of the inability to hang on to captains, what connects these three situations is the controversy between player and organization leading up to their eventual departure. While Karlsson still remains with the only team he’s ever known, his recent rejection to the contract extension general manager Pierre Dorion offered and the ongoing trade rumors surrounding him suggest that the third Senators leader in five years will be moving on from Ottawa.
Daniel Alfredsson Signs With Red Wings
Daniel Alfredsson played 17 of his 18 seasons with the Senators and was beloved by the entire city. After his retirement, Alfredsson still resides in Ottawa and was even granted the key to the city in 2015. On Dec. 29, 2016, he became the first current-era Senator to have his jersey retired and remains the only one to hold the honor. The Swedish forward finished his remarkable career with 1,157 points over 1,264 regular-season games, adding 100 points in 124 playoff games.
Alfredsson remains the franchise leader for the club in goals (426), assists (682), and points (1,108) as well as power-play points, shorthanded points, and game-winning goals. In the 2006-07 season, Alfredsson led all players in the playoffs with 14 goals and 22 points on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. Alfie was awarded Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1996, King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2012 and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2013.
Ultimately, Alfredsson’s decision to the team that drafted him was his to make. He wanted to play one more year in the NHL and he was going to. As free agency opened up, it only took a few days for the Senators’ captain to move on and sign with the Detroit Red Wings. This came after both parties assumed that the face of the franchise would extend his contract for another year.
Leaving Ottawa was not his first choice, which he made known just a short time after signing in Detroit. Alfredsson’s last contract with the Sens was a four-year deal that was structured to help the team manage the salary cap. It was believed that when he signed, he would retire before the last year, the 2012-13 season. After the 2011-12 season ended, Alfie wanted to play another year, possibly two, and made that known to then-general-manager Bryan Murray, who agreed.
In a press conference in August 2013, Alfredsson said, “Sadly, the contract negotiations went nowhere [in 2012], but I played out the season as I had promised and I believe this past season, was in my view, a very special one.” He continued, “In late June this year, I decided I had it in me to play at least one more season. I told management I was willing to return and I reminded them of our agreement from the year before and to my disappointment the negotiations again quickly stalled.”
Stalled negotiations led to the most beloved player on the team leaving in 2013. Even today, the relationship between Alfredsson and the Senators management has its ups and downs. In July 2015, the six-time All-Star rejoined the team as a senior advisor to hockey operations but stepped down just two years later with no reason given publicly. In May of 2018, Alfredsson told former Ottawa Sun Columnist Susan Sherring that, “We hope to get a new owner soon.” He later said his comments were off the record.
On the current Karlsson trade speculation, Alfredsson has noted that “it’s not all in his hands,” but hopes the fellow Swede ends up staying in Ottawa. The former captain speaks from experience.
Alfredsson on Karlsson “I think it’s a difficult situation for everybody. No question he is a generational talent and the best player to ever wear the Senators jersey. Then we’ll see what happens. I know for me personally I hope he stays.”
— Brent Wallace (@tsn_wally) July 3, 2018
Senators Send Jason Spezza to Dallas
It was long believed that Jason Spezza would one day take the reins from Alfredsson. The Senators second-overall pick in the 2001 NHL Draft did just that in 2013, when he was given the ‘C’ two months after Alfie departed. Spezza spent 11 seasons with the Senators, collecting 251 goals and 436 assists for 687 points. He collected another 52 postseason points in 56 games.
In Spezza’s first year as team captain, the club went 37-31-14 and missed the playoffs. During the playoffs that year, Murray announced that the Mississauga, Ontario native had requested a trade. The request came after Murray and then-head-coach Paul MacLean criticized the center’s game, saying there was “room for improvement” and that he had a difficult time handling the captaincy.
But did Jason Spezza request the trade? As Ken Campbell of The Hockey News reported, Spezza may not have requested a trade at all. Campbell said that sources close to the two-time All-Star didn’t exactly ask for the trade, but rather if the Senators were intent on a quick rebuild, he would like to be a part of it. Or, if the Sens were tearing down the team he wouldn’t stand in the way of being traded and they should trade him to maximize his value.
Then, the Senators had a trade in place to send Spezza to the Nashville Predators just ahead of the 2014 NHL Draft. The Predators, however, were one of the clubs on the forward’s 10 teams he wouldn’t accept a trade to, and he wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause. The deal couldn’t happen, so on the first day of free agency, Ottawa instead found a deal with the Dallas Stars, sending Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson to Texas for Alex Chiasson, Alex Guptill, Nicholas Paul and a second-round pick in the 2015 draft.
There was never any doubt about Spezza’s offensive talent in Ottawa, but his rocky relationships with coaches and general managers and constantly being the “fall guy” ultimately led to the trade needing to happen. Former head coach Jacques Martin said an 18-year-old Spezza was “a boy playing a man’s game,” and Spezza had joked about being the “brunt of (Bryan) Murray’s biting sarcasm.”
For a player holding the weight of the fanbase and the organization on his shoulders, Jason Spezza needed a fresh start. He was given that, along with not needing to be the face of the team behind Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, on the Dallas Stars. That said, his tenure with the Stars may soon be coming to an end as well, as Spezza has been the focus of trade rumors this offseason.
Ottawa Moving on From Erik Karlsson?
Erik Karlsson is the current face of the franchise, the captain and one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He’s a two-time Norris Trophy winner, four-time All-Star and he has 518 points in 627 games, which is remarkable for a defenseman. He was drafted 15th overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, joining the Sens full-time in 2009.
After spending nine seasons with Ottawa, the Swedish defenseman has just one year remaining on his deal. As mentioned above, the Senators did offer Karlsson a contract extension on July 1. The contract is worth a reported $80 million over eight years, but nothing has been signed. Los Angeles Kings rearguard Drew Doughty, who has one Norris trophy but two Stanley Cups, recently signed an eight-year, $88-million contract extension, which Karlsson is expected to be looking for.
Shortly after offering Karlsson the contract extension, the club granted him permission to speak with other teams, building on the heavy trade speculation. While nothing is certain regarding whether the Senators’ best player will be wearing something other than red next season, the uncertainty and turmoil around the team make it hard to see Karlsson wanting to stick with Ottawa.
The star player is attracting the interest of numerous parties, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders. It’s not every day that a franchise player becomes available on the trade block, and teams are jumping at the opportunity to land this one. The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta reports that conversations are ongoing, and as he suggests, the Senators have been exploring the possibility of Bobby Ryan being included in the potential Karlsson trade to relieve themselves of the remaining $29 million on his contract.
These Karlsson trade discussions are very fluid. Ryan part of equation in some respect. None of the notable players potentially involved on any side have been told anything is imminent. Things can change on a dime, but last we’ve been told is talks with multiple teams are ongoing
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) July 6, 2018
Ken Campbell believes that the Senators will 100-percent be trading Karlsson. By offering him an $80-million contract extension after Doughty signed his $88-million deal, it’s essentially a “token offer” to the captain. On top of that, granting him permission to speak to other teams right after offering the extension is a sign that the end is near for the Karlsson era in Ottawa.
Both the team and Karlsson have remained tight-lipped through this process. But the Karlsson situation in Ottawa is still going on, and more details will come as the summer continues if the franchise player does get shipped out. If a deal can’t be made and the defender is a Senator come October, expect the rumors to continue until the 2018-19 trade deadline. As of now, it seems likely that the Sens will need a new captain next season.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.