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Why Ottawa Has Their Hands Tied

Karlsson should be the franchise’s only focus.

It has not been a great few weeks for the capital of Canada and their franchise. The Ottawa Senators are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and are on the outside of the playoff bubble. They are dealing with the fallout of the Kyle Turris trade and are about to see their franchise cornerstone Erik Karlsson enter free agency on the back of his comments that he isn’t taking a hometown discount. 

While the downward direction of the franchise and their issues financially could be talked about in a full-length novel, the focus should be on what is going to happen with Karlsson and that a decision needs to be made immediately. 

Keeping Him

Much like I discussed with the John Tavares situation (check out that article here), an extension relies partly on what will happen with the franchise in the next few years. Owner Eugene Melnyk has discussed a new stadium, but talks are now on selling or moving the team if the situation becomes ‘a disaster.’

“I’m not going to blow a lifetime of working hard to support a hockey team. It’s not gonna happen.”

Melnyk’s comments are directed more at the current financial state of the team, and he won’t spend to the cap if the team isn’t generating the revenue that other teams are. Their current team cap hit is at $73 million, which is in the upper-half of the league this year.

Erik Karlsson is going to get more than P.K. Subban, who holds the largest average annual value (AAV) for a defenseman at nine million. This is without mentioning that Ottawa will only have 10 players under contract at a total of almost $40 million. This includes Clarke MacArthur, who may not play in the NHL again and is taking up a $4.65 million cap hit, although long-term IR is a possibility. 

Defenseman Dion Phaneuf is costing the team seven million a year. He is putting up terrible possession numbers, with the team controlling 6.4% more of all shots with him off the ice this season. His name has also been appearing in expansion draft and trade talks.

Dion Phaneuf Advanced Possession Stats
CorsCorsPDO ZoneZone
SeasonLgGPCF%CF% reloiSH%oZS%dZS%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/16/2017.

To one-up Phaneuf, forward Bobby Ryan is making $7.25 million a year for five seasons including this one. He hasn’t put up more than 56 points in an Ottawa uniform, including 25 last year in 62 games. He is on pace to average half a point per game this year. He is making over a million more per year than Brad Marchand and just 250k less than Vladimir Tarasenko.

Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports

Combine these three players and only a portion of that money could go to Karlsson with some left over to sign a decent second-line forward and probably another depth player. Instead, it looks like the Senators will only have about $20-25 million to fill more than half of their roster spots depending on how much they give their stud defenseman. 

While it’s easy to say that it doesn’t make sense to sign him, he led a team that could have easily been in the Stanley Cup Final last year, with two fractures in his heel.

Trading Him

Trading him is much easier said than done, which is why it hasn’t happened yet. A trade will launch Ottawa into a rebuilding mode, but again, they have dug themselves a hole.

In landing Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche in an attempt to make a run at the cup before EK65 hits free agency, they gave away their own first and third round picks in 2018’s draft in addition to 2017 first-round pick Shane Bowers.

They would also have to figure out a way to trade the aforementioned Ryan and Phaneuf for some kind of future asset. 

A rebuild would shine light on young defenseman Thomas Chabot and Codi Ceci and rely on them to develop into young defenseman and replace (some) of what Karlsson brings. Mark Stone is still only 25 and would need a new contract but could be part of the process. Ryan Dzingel is another young piece who could develop more with added playing time. The rest of Ottawa’s top prospects are detailed here.

Now if the Senators traded Karlsson, they would have to start with the foundation of the Duchene trade. The Avalanche received first, second, and third round picks, young but NHL ready defensive prospect Sam Girard, late first-rounder Bowers, former second round pick and prospect Vladislav Kamenev, and Andrew Hammond, who was included for salary purposes.

Now that’s a pick in each of the first three rounds and three high-level prospects. Duchene was dangled as trade bait for almost a year and is not near the level of player that Karlsson is, but that is not a knock on his talent at all.

A trade for Karlsson would have to include even higher-level prospects, higher picks, some current players who are decent in their own right, and if possible, another team taking Dion Phaneuf’s contract. Like Colorado was able to do, we may see the Senators take from two teams and see a lot of moving pieces.

Better Option?

As of this article, Ottawa has asked for all of their players’ no-trade lists. Karlsson’s clause allows him to submit a 10-team no trade list. Ryan has the same clause. Phaneuf is allowed to pick 12 teams he would like to be traded to. There are also seven more players with a modified no-trade clause as well. 

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Ottawa is keeping their options open, and it is not out of the question to try and move a guy like Ryan for some cheaper help, but his albatross contract makes it difficult. 

Trading Karlsson will be difficult for every single person in the meeting room, every fan in Canada’s capital, and the all-star himself. However, Ottawa cannot afford to have a player of his caliber walk at the end of next season and should do everything they can to get pen-to-paper or trade him for a huge return by the time the off-season rolls around.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

Erik Karlsson Finished Either 1st or 2nd In Norris Trophy Voting How Many Times
Created 12/16/17
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