SAN JOSE – It was just a few hours before Elliotte Friedman’s report dropped that the Senators had approached Erik Karlsson, asking for a list of teams he’d be willing to be traded to. Ottawa had won only one of its last eleven games, and was on its way to being crushed 5-0 by the Sharks later that night on a nightmare 16-day road trip that seemed never-ending.
Amidst the turmoil within the Senators dressing room – Mark Stone calling out the team in Winnipeg days earlier for not being ready in a 5-0 defeat to the Jets; Bobby Ryan wondering aloud of how beat up the team’s psyche and confidence level is – came the quote from the captain that he would seek out every last dollar once he reaches unrestricted free agency at the end of next season.
Just days later, Karlsson told a Swedish newspaper his comments were taken out of context.
And so early Saturday afternoon, Karlsson visited with Sportsnet outside the visitors’ locker room at SAP Center, in a conversation where the veteran defenceman opened up about the present and the future, doubling down on his desire to remain with the only team he’s played for in the NHL.
SN: Just so it’s clear, what is your thought process on the contract coming up?
Karlsson: To be honest with you, it’s not something that I’ve really thought of. I don’t really know why I spoke out about it. It’s not something that’s been on my mind. I love it here in Ottawa, it’s never, ever crossed my mind that I ever want to leave here or go somewhere else. That’s not something I’ve ever considered. That they spun it that way, that’s the way it is.
I’m happy where I am. It’s not something I try and focus on. I try and do my job right now. When that time comes, that’s something that we’re going to deal with. And, again, it’s a business, it’s a two-way street. I’m happy where I am and I hope that they’re happy where I’m at. And again, it’s a two-way street. So, I’m going to do my part, and I’m sure they’re going to do theirs. It’s not something – leaving – that I’ve ever considered.
SN: Some guys believe it’s their duty as members of the players’ association to get the top dollar, to move the number up and send a message out to the entire industry. Is that something you buy into and you believe in?
Karlsson: No, I mean I think at the end of the day, you know the player – whether it’s me or someone else, you’re going to get what you’re worth. Whatever that is at the time is what it is. So I wasn’t speaking specifically about me. Once you go to the market and your deal is up, whether you’re a fourth-line player or first-line player, or D-man or goalie, at that time whatever the market is, you’re going to get that. And you know it’s going to be no different for me or anyone else. So, again, money is not something I’ve even thought of since I haven’t really thought about, you know, my deal being up. As I said, I’m comfortable and happy where I’m at right now, and this is where I want to be and this is where I always planned to stay. When that time comes, I hope that’s in Ottawa.
SN: So when that time comes, what’s important to you? Is it a chance to win? Is it money? Is it term?
Karlsson: It’s all about winning. I want to be on a – I’ve been here for nine seasons. I’ve invested my entire career into this organization. They’ve given me everything that I feel like I need to succeed. I think we’re moving in the right direction. This is the place I want to win with. I want to win in Ottawa. That’s where I’ll always be. It’s going to be my home, no matter where I end up playing when I get older, if that ever happens. So that’s the thing: I want to be where home is. I’m comfortable at home, I like it at home and Ottawa is home. Not only the organization, but the community and all my friends as well. That’s something that’s very important to me. Then, all the other stuff, they will just follow.
SN: Have you spoken with anyone else who has gone through this before?
Karlsson: No, as I said, I haven’t really thought about it before. It’s not something that’s on my mind. It’s still a ways away. When that time comes to deal with that, it’s something I’m going to do. But as of right now, it’s not something I’m worried about. I’m worried about getting out of this slump and (making) the playoffs.
SN: If they come at you this summer with an offer that is market value for a top-end defenceman, is that something you’d want to entertain, or do you want to go to market to see what’s out there?
Karlsson: That’s something we’re going to have to deal with when that time comes. It’s not something we’ve considered, since those are discussions haven’t even started. When the summer hits here, we’ll re-evaluate and see what’s going on and what’s best, and, as I said, I’m happy where I’m at, I want to stay in Ottawa and hopefully they want to keep me here.
It’s been clear that Karlsson hasn’t been the same player this season. He had surgery in June to repair tendons in his foot and did not have a summer to train, nor did he participate in training camp.
“You can play through it, but it will take a while before you get accustomed to it,” he said on Saturday. When asked how long it would take for his body to adapt, Karlsson paused and said, “a long time.”
Senators coach Guy Boucher said the Senators are “starting to see the real Erik,” with his mobility, timing and conditioning. His lateral movement still isn’t where it was last year, nor is his explosiveness and acceleration.
So how long until he’s back to his old self?
“It takes a lot longer than just the process of healing,” Karlsson said. “You can come back and play, but it’s going to be a while before you get accustomed to it, and you need time to work on it.”
Time that just doesn’t exist in an NHL regular season.
Boucher said Karlsson has been letting go of expectations of what his body should be able to do.
“That is helping him mentally,” Boucher said.