Toronto adds while Ottawa – apparently – set to subtract

Photo courtesy NHLI via Getty Images

So, how was your weekend?

If you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, not too bad.

With the signing of John Tavares, the Leafs might not be a certainty for a Stanley Cup, but they’ve sure put themselves in a solid position to compete for the championship for years to come.

Meantime, to the east, where the Leafs’ provincial rivals sit, it was pretty damn quiet.

Deathly quiet.

I mean, what exactly did the Ottawa Senators accomplish – to deliver any kind of hope to a droopy fan base – during the most important weekend for this hockey club in years?

Two meaningless free agent signings, but more to the sore point, absolutely nothing positive on the Erik Karlsson front.

I feel for you.


Was Karlsson offered a new deal?


Was there any pomp and circumstance, or anything remotely resembling excitement or encouragement, brought forward during GM Pierre Dorion’s news conference?


“We don’t really want to talk about roster players, contract negotiations, trades, all these things,” Dorion said to the assembled media when pushed for details. “But I think we owe it to our fans . . . We made a promise at our town halls that we would make a contract offer to Erik Karlsson, and we have done so. We’re not going to talk anymore about it. That’s all we’re going to say on the subject. We’re not going to discuss any other contract negotiations, whether it’s about Mark Stone, Cody Ceci, Matt Duchene (or anyone else).”

Nothing there at all about how important Karlsson was/is to the organization.

Nothing at all about retaining the organization’s top skater in its history.

Thanks to Postmedia who documented this further exchange between the media and Dorion:

Q: “What was Karlsson’s reaction to the offer?”

Dorion: “We’re not going there.”

Q: “Did you meet with Karlsson (Saturday)? Was he at Canadian Tire Centre (Saturday)?”

Dorion: “I was told he came here late in the day. I wasn’t aware of where he was in our offices.”

Why all the misdirection?

Why all the dispensing of “non” information?

We might have landed the answer late Monday afternoon courtesy of the New York Post and long-time hockey writer Larry Brooks.

Brooks tweeted out this gem: “Senators have given interested teams permission to talk contract extension with Karlsson. Sounds as if he is looking for Doughty deal (8×11).”

This was shortly confirmed by Sportsnet analyst John Shannon: “Confirming the report from @NYP_Brooksie … Teams with interest have been given permission to talk to Erik Karlsson and his reps about a contract extension. In turn, the Senators and the team would have to construct an acceptable trade.”

Two reputable sources signalling that the move to move Karlsson out of Ottawa is in full swing.

This is not all too surprising. As suggested in this space a few times since the season in Ottawa closed out, Karlsson was as good as gone.

Could be the owner, could be the coach, could be the season-long reality TV battle between the Karlsson and Mike Hoffman camp. There’s enough here to dissuade Karlsson from signing here and staying.

The fan base will be (and already is) justifiably pissed off.

The best player in franchise history wants to leave at age 28. Ugh.

Meantime, down the 401, the hated rival adds its own (soon to be) 28-year-old in Tavares.

Not to drop any more doom on your day, but (I will), can’t wait to see the crowd at the first Toronto-Ottawa game at the Canadian Tire Centre (especially if the seemingly expected Karlsson deal goes through). The saving grace is that the Leafs aren’t in Ottawa until March 16th (and again on March 30th).

The CTC is usually split in allegiance during these hook-ups. Wouldn’t be surprised to see about an 80-20 crowd share favouring Toronto.

And how about those Leafs?

That organization has done an about-face in quick fashion. It started in 2014 when Toronto hired Brendan Shanahan as president. Shanahan oozes gravitas and capability.

And it rolls down from there – from a stocked, well-run scouting department, to a Calder Cup winning team manned by one of the best developmental coaches in hockey (Sheldon Keefe), to the big team’s head coach Mike Babcock (a Triple Gold Club member: winner of a Stanley Cup, winner of Olympic gold – twice – and winner of an IIHF world title).

The Leafs have drafted well, certainly beneficiaries of some down years, grabbing names like Matthews and Kadri and Marner and Nylander and Rielly.

They have what they believe to be their cornerstone in goal in Freddie Andersen (he’ll need to be stronger in the playoffs) and boast arguably the best 1-2-3 punch down the middle with Tavares, Matthews and Kadri.

The defence needs work but as one pundit put it this past weekend: It’s hard to take advantage of a weak blueline when your opponent has the puck all the time.

Ottawa can only hope that hockey is indeed cyclical, and this string of nightmares ends in due time. A time when the Browns and Tkachuks and Whites and Chabots lift the organization from the trash heap.

Until then, this season of misery looks destined to continue.

To be continued. Unfortunately.