The Ottawa Senators were a lost cause long before last night, but I think this play from Thursday was the official end, in which Victor Hedman faces only the mildest of resistance as he skates to the net for a goal that would give his Lightning a lead they’d never relinquish. It pretty well summed up the bored, disappointed sigh that’s been this Sens season.
The only exciting talk right now around Ottawa—which made a great run to the conference finals only last season—isn’t coming from anything they’re doing on the ice, but from a question over whether they’ll trade captain and top defenseman Erik Karlsson before Monday’s deadline, with Tampa emerging as one of the top potential suitors. They should. They really should, for the benefit of all. Karlsson, who’s still only 27, doesn’t deserve to whither on a complacent, rudderless team like Ottawa. He should go to a first-tier contender. And he maybe kind of knows it.
Karlsson at his best is a wonderful, dominant presence who, when he’s needed most, can control the ice for as much as half the game. His offensive defense was the fascinating centerpiece of Ottawa’s weird playoff run in 2017, and he remains much better than anyone currently in his locker room. The Lightning, meanwhile, have probably the most fun offense in the league this year, headlined by MVP favorite Nikita Kucherov and the still-strong Steven Stamkos. Karlsson anchoring the blue line, dishing out assists to those scorers is a tantalizing idea. It would make for both beautiful hockey and create the closest thing to a superteam that a salary-capped NHL can muster.
There’s no question that a deal has been discussed by both teams—the only issue is what Ottawa wants in return. One of the rumors out there is that the Sens are looking to dump the bad contract of Bobby Ryan on Karlsson’s new team. It’d be a way for owner Eugene Melnyk, who’s never shown much interest in improving his roster, to make a profit, and it would disqualify Tampa Bay, who has draft picks and young guys to offer but couldn’t cover all that extra salary under the cap.
But it’s still a little bit hard to imagine the Senators suddenly becoming hard-line dealmakers. The Ryan talk could be a bluff, and there’s a chance that some future promise may be enough to move their captain. If that’s the case, Karlsson should immediately go from playing against Tampa Bay to wearing the white bolt on his sweater. If all the Lightning have to do is part with some future assets to become the clearcut Stanley Cup favorite, that is a chance they absolutely have to take.