KANATA, Ont. – Erik Karlsson’s time as an Ottawa Senator has gradually yet suddenly expired sooner than he ever wished it to.
So, he’s buying a little more.
A cluster of credentialed messengers are gathered in the club’s press room. Some have been hanging around the Canadian Tire Centre for more than eight hours waiting for Ottawa’s most dynamic hockey player to appear at camp and speak his mind.
They can wait a few extra minutes for his heart.
Karlsson — now devastatingly, dangerously a San Jose Shark — is making his way around the bowels of a rink he wowed for nine seasons with those sky-high saucer passes that grazed the Jumbotron and a skating stride that blew his hair like a poem, on half an ankle you’d swear was a full and on an Achilles he’d make you forget was once hanging by a thread.
Two floors removed from the cameras, the man they affectionately call “Karl” wants a moment to dish out hugs to employees, to friends, those who watched all those thrilling highs and crushing lows of arguably the franchise’s greatest pure talent. A gift whose unceremonious departure is being cursed.
“I wanted to say goodbye to everyone first,” says Karlsson. “I don’t think I’d ever in my wildest imagination thought I’d leave this place.”
In truth, the way things, hockey and otherwise, unravelled in the nation’s capital over the past 12 months, Karlsson must’ve known.
Twitter traded him thrice already.
He’d made a point of digging out the game puck of his final home game here from the net and tucking it into his pants for a keepsake.
But what the left side of the brain understands, the left side of your chest can’t always process.
“Ultimately, having been through it in Anaheim, [trades] all take time,” says Bobby Ryan, who thought he might be part of the parcel.
“Then, when you’re least ready for it, it happens.”
So once the dispatched captain wraps his goodbyes and finally goes up to the podium, he brings no prepared statement. He wants to speak unscripted, and while grateful to the Sharks for wanting him to join a contender, he has no interest in turning this into a celebration. This isn’t time to dream about how he and Brent Burns will keep Pacific Division coaches up at night.
“It’s a very emotional and sad day for me and my family,” says Karlsson, successful in his effort to fight back tears. “Even though I’m not going to represent this hockey club anymore, it’s always going to be my home and a community I’m going to be involved in as much as I can and give back in whatever way I can.”
He dubs Ottawa “my forever home.”
Tellingly, in his list of thank-yous, the two-time Norris champ expresses his gratitude first to the late Bryan Murray and Daniel Alfredsson, the best man at Karlsson’s wedding and another Ottawa icon who has left the organization under prickly terms.
Never mentioned by name are lightning-rod owner Eugene Melnyk or general manager Pierre Dorion, the man tasked with taking a machete to his 2017 Eastern Conference finalist roster for inexpensive youth and advertising these cost-cutting moves as a rebuild toward a faster, younger contender down the road sometime.
“They made it very clear what direction they were going with,” said Karlsson, avoiding a chance to dig into the Sens’ low-ball contract-extension offer this summer.
“Unfortunately, you know, I wasn’t part of that.”
Of the several Sens veterans available for trade, Dorion understood Karlsson would yield the greatest return. Karlsson never once requested a trade.
“Today we made the proper decision,” Dorion says. “We all know when you get to a certain point and it is probably best for all parties to move on.”
Dorion knew the Sens wouldn’t or couldn’t pay Karlsson what he’s worth (think: Drew Doughty dollars) on July 1, 2019 and didn’t want to bank on blind faith and come up empty, the way Garth Snow did on Long Island.
The GM says he’s happy with the return Doug Wilson provided, outbidding Dallas, Vegas and possibly others with a six-piece package of players, picks and prospects that better yield something but couldn’t possibly yield something quite like Karl, right?
We ask some players.
Matt Duchene: “You’re never going to replace a guy like that. You can go in a different direction and shore up other parts of your hockey club, but that’s a piece you’re not going to replace.”
Colin White: “A one-of-a-kind talent. It’ll definitely be a loss.”
Mark Stone: “He’s a superstar player. He’s our best player. He’s our captain. But if he’s not, then we’ll have to move on with the group we have.”
Thomas Chabot: “One of if not the best D-men in the world. You see the way he thinks the game, and it’s different from anybody else. That’s what makes him so special. He’s a great guy off the ice, too. Loves to have fun. Loves to make jokes and laugh. You learn a lot from him.”
In Ottawa today, regardless how a man in a suit might sell it, the opening of training camp feels more like the end of something rather than the start.
A day where Quantity used to the trap to defeat Quality in a blowout, and the curtain drew on another class act.
As Erik Karlsson steps away from the podium and on his way to San Jose, he takes time to look his questioners in the eye, shake their hands, say thank you, and summon that killer smile.
“I was not part of the plan. That’s why we’re standing here today. And from my point of view, that’s sad,” he says.
“I never wanted to leave this place.”