When the Senators traded Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks, it was seen as a real low point in the history of the franchise.
The star defenceman and two-time Norris Trophy winner was perhaps the best player in his prime to ever suit up for the Senators and although last season was a disappointment, they were still just a year removed from an Eastern Conference Final appearance. It all came unwound in an instant.
On top of that, the decision to keep their 2018 draft pick and choose Brady Tkachuk fourth overall opened up the possibility that they’d have to fork over the first overall pick to Colorado to complete the Matt Duchene trade. With Karlsson out the door it was seen as a near-certainty the Sens would finish last overall in his absence — and even though the team would still only have roughly an 18.5 per cent chance at keeping the first overall pick in the lottery with this scenario, the majority of fans thought it was a mistake to take Tkachuk.
But now the conversation has completely flipped on the Senators. They play a fun style of game, are loaded with exciting young talents, buoyed by the skilled veterans who stuck around, and are 3-2-1 out of the gate.
This isn’t an expansion team full of players cast off from other teams, but it is a collection of players written off by the hockey community at large. So has this, in a sense, led to a ‘Vegas effect’ that gives the players in the dressing room something to rally around?
“It’s a massive difference, absolutely massive. Some players are talking quietly and some not so quietly about the change in atmosphere since captain Erik Karlsson has left.” Sportsnet’s Wayne Scanlan said on the Tape to Tape Podcast this week.
“I mean one player off the record said the dictatorship is over and the democracy is in vogue again, and those are very strong words and didn’t mention Karlsson by name, but we get the idea that it’s very much everything by committee. The power play is by committee, the leadership is by committee, they don’t have a captain. They have this infusion of young blood with Brady Tkachuk and Maxime Lajoie and others and Dylan DeMelo has come over from San Jose and Chris Tierney as pieces in that Erik Karlsson trade and they’ve taken on a major role.”
With the captain out the door it’s cleared the air and given rise to a new core of leaders. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene are the veterans contributing to this off-ice difference while continuing to be high-end contributors on the ice, and the vacancy of Karlsson’s minutes have given the likes of Thomas Chabot and Lajoie looks they may not have otherwise had.
“They’re getting opportunities they didn’t get before because Karlsson ate up so many minutes on the blue line and first unit power play and it was often bleeding into the second unit and these guys are now all getting opportunities and a little bit added responsibility they didn’t have before.”
Now we’re wondering if Duchene and/or Stone will re-sign. And as the positive performances continue to come from the youngest players on the roster, maybe the outlook of this rebuild doesn’t need to be so dim, nor does it perhaps need to take so long to come out of.
It’s a long, long season yet and as the goals league-wide start to turn down again, perhaps reality catches back up with the Senators. But we only need to look one year back to see another team that wasn’t thought very highly of and used it as motivation and seized their new opportunities to become the best story of the 2017-18 season.
We’re not saying the Senators are Stanley Cup Final bound, but is there a little Vegas in Ottawa?
All this, and more, is covered off in this week’s episode of the Tape to Tape Podcast.