At this rate, Daniel Alfredsson may be on his way back to the Ottawa Senators too. After all, these days, it seems like every ex-Senators captain is tied to the team. Now it’s San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson’s turn.
Karlsson Interested in Return?
Rumors indicate that, as a pending unrestricted free agent, Karlsson is hoping for an offer from either the Senators or Montreal Canadiens. Unfortunately, just like with his predecessor as Sens captain, Jason Spezza, the rumors will likely remain just that.
In Spezza’s case, he was asked whether he would like to return to the only other NHL team he has ever known besides the Dallas Stars. To his credit, Spezza said all the right things by not closing the door on a return, even though he’s a 36-year-old forward on his last legs without a championship to his name. For Spezza the rebuilding Senators are a bad fit.
It’s a similar story for Karlsson. Even though he remains one of the game’s elite defensemen at age 29, he would likely be looking for a long-term commitment. At this point, the Senators seem only capable of committing to a rebuild, in the most chaotic fashion possible.
Plus, it seems unlikely the Senators, under owner Eugene Melnyk, would be willing to give Karlsson what the Swedish defenseman feels he is worth. That could be well over the $10 million per season the Senators reportedly offered Karlsson before trading him to the Sharks, in anticipation of not being able to re-sign him this coming July 1.
The Chances of Signing Karlsson
So, now that July 1 is around the corner, all of a sudden the Senators are in the mix? Anything’s possible, but it just doesn’t add up. Maybe his wife, who was raised in Ottawa, is legitimately homesick, but, by any objective reasoning, there’s a better chance of Karlsson getting signed by the nearby Habs instead.
However, consider the situation there: The Canadiens’ right side on defense is already stacked with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry filling the top two slots. It’s their relatively desolate left side the Canadiens need to address instead. Sure, the Canadiens could conceivably trade Petry (as Weber isn’t going anywhere) to replace him with the right-handed Karlsson, but, if you’re Habs general manager Marc Bergevin, how much sense would that make?
You’d be giving up a great player in Petry who makes what has turned out to be a bargain $5.5 million per season for what will likely be two of the few remaining productive seasons in his career. You’d be signing a replacement into the long term for effectively double that, amid injury concerns aplenty with regard to Karlsson’s productivity moving forward.
Senators Remain Unlikely Suitors
Granted, this is Karlsson, about whom we’re talking. Injured or not, if you have a chance to sign him, most sane people would. It should nevertheless depend on a few key factors, namely what the Habs could get in exchange for Petry (hopefully a left-handed defenseman of equal value) and whether or not they are able to compete now with both Weber and goaltender Carey Price exiting their respective primes.
Maybe Bergevin takes this hypothetical opportunity to go all-in, but there’s little arguing his counterpart in Ottawa, Pierre Dorion, can do the same. The Senators have been gutted and are coming off a league-wide last-place finish this past season. Try as he might, Karlsson alone can’t correct the course of this franchise. Keep in mind, he was a Senator as recently as 2017-18, when they finished with just three more points in the standings. And that was before the latest string of injuries that limited him to 53 regular-season games as a Shark.
Karlsson, even as a former Sens captain, can’t realistically hope to fix what ails this franchise by himself. He may not even want to at this juncture. The Senators, as a young team, do need more leadership, but, right now, it would be best if it came from management. Whether that managerial leadership is likelier to materialize than Karlsson in a Sens jersey again is anyone’s guess.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.