DALLAS – The Ottawa Senators are dealing with crisis after crisis at every level.
Former captain Daniel Alfredsson called for owner Eugene Melnyk to sell the team, assistant general manager Randy Lee is suspended pending his court date on a harassment charge, and 20-goal scorer Mike Hoffman was traded amid an off-ice dispute with captain Erik Karlsson, whose own future is uncertain.
Thirteen months ago, the Senators were a goal away from the Stanley Cup Final. Now they’re in turmoil.
“Through adversity we find people’s true character,” general manager Pierre Dorion said Thursday. “We find out who wants to be with you in a war in tough times. It’s great when people want to be around you when you’re a goal away from getting to the Stanley Cup Final, but we really find out about people’s true values and true character and real integrity when it’s difficult situations. All I can say is we at the Ottawa Senators, we have great people.”
As if Alfredsson’s pointed criticism wasn’t enough, Lee was charged with second-degree harassment after allegedly making lewd comments and rubbing the shoulders of a 19-year-old male hotel shuttle driver at the scouting combine. Add to that, Melinda Karlsson filed an order of protection alleging harassment and cyberbullying against Hoffman’s fiancee, Monika Caryk, for posting hundreds of derogatory online messages about her and her husband.
One of these crises would be enough to challenge an organization, let alone them piling up. Fans in Ottawa are unhappy with Melnyk, who mused about moving the team and infamously said he’s “not going to blow a lifetime of working hard on a hockey team.”
It’s hard work now for Dorion and the front office to get things back on track. He began earlier this week by trading Hoffman to San Jose, a deal that he explained as a way to fix team chemistry and character.
“Trading Mike Hoffman was something that we needed to do,” Dorion said. “Our dressing room was broken. We have to have a dressing room that wants to win together. Key components for us moving forward are character, leadership, accountability, and we’re very happy with the return we got on Mike Hoffman.”
The return of forward Mikkel Boedker and the fact that the Sharks flipped Hoffman to Florida to clear salary-cap space was almost inconsequential. The relationship between two of Ottawa’s top players seemed irreparable after Karlsson’s wife said in a sworn statement that “Monika Caryk has uttered numerous statements wishing my unborn child dead.” The Karlssons’ first child, a son named Axel, was stillborn in March.
Dorion said no players came to management last season to talk about any concerns. But something was wrong for Ottawa to go from a playoff contender that was difficult to play against to 28-43-11 and second-to-last in the NHL.
“We finished in 30th place last year,” Dorion said. “There is great room for improvement.”
On the ice, Dorion hopes a full season with center Matt Duchene and an influx of talent including the player selected fourth overall Friday night will make the Senators competitive again. He refused to speak about Karlsson, the elite puck-moving defenseman who could become a free agent in the summer of 2019 and on whose shoulders the franchise’s best hopes rest.
Dorion said only the Senators “have a good game plan” and could table a contract offer to Karlsson as soon as July 1. He wouldn’t comment as to whether trading Hoffman might help the cause of re-signing Karlsson and didn’t want to commit to a rebuild or a retooling effort or label the front office’s direction.
“People like to brand things,” Dorion said. “Whatever direction we’re going, we need core players to be part of that. You can’t just put a bunch of young kids on a team. You need core players.”
Lee has been a key part of the Senators’ front office for decades, but he’s not with them at the NHL draft because of his suspension ahead of a court date July 6 in Buffalo, New York. Lee pleaded not guilty to the harassment charges.
“We felt we made the right decision with Randy Lee,” Dorion said. “In 23 years with the organization there’s never been an incident recorded. It’s an on-going process. On July 6, Randy will have his due process, and from there we will re-evaluate.”
On the topic of Melnyk, Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the Stanley Cup Final that the Senators were not for sale. Any complaints about ownership, from Alfredsson or the fan base, are above Dorion’s head, but he said it’s on his shoulders to help get the Senators back to the playoffs and hopes he can convince free agents of the strong belief he has in the direction they’re going.
“Come to Ottawa,” Dorion said. “We’re going to be a good team. We were really close a year ago. We had a bump in the road. We have good players. You can be part of this group that can be part of a good team and build toward a great future.”
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