OTTAWA — Hockey fans in Ottawa reacted to the news that Senators star defenceman Erik Karlsson had been traded with everything from sorrow to more-measured responses — hate to see him go, but it had to be done.
The Senators shipped Karlsson, the team’s captain, to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday for four players and draft picks.
The team struggled last season and many supporters on the streets of downtown Ottawa on Thursday said it was a clear sign that a rebuild is necessary — which means it was also time for a high-priced player like Karlsson to move on.
— Brent Burns (@Burnzie88) September 13, 2018
Either way, it was difficult for them to say goodbye to the smooth-skating fan favourite, who is among the best blueliners in the game.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Matt Melbourne, a self-described “huge Sens fan” who happened to be wearing a red Senators T-shirt when someone told him about the trade.
“Maybe I’d be better off cheering for another team. It will take me a long time to get over it.”
His sister texted him as soon as she found about the trade and told him she was fighting back tears. Karlsson, she told him, was the only reason why she loved the team.
When asked about what Ottawa got in return, Melbourne called it “scrap, nothing, absolute garbage.” He said he follows hockey closely and he hadn’t heard any of the names before.
“Compared to what he’s worth? Absolutely nothing,” said Melbourne, whose shirt was emblazoned with the number and name of forward Mike Hoffman, whom the Sens traded in June.
Coincidentally, Hoffman and Karlsson have an alleged connection that may have a played a role in their trades. In the spring, news surfaced that Karlsson’s wife had filed a peace bond against Monika Caryk, Hoffman’s fiancee, for alleged cyberbullying.
Hoffman, who was traded a week later, and Caryk have denied the allegations. A civil suit is ongoing.
Kyle Schlathau sees the Karlsson trade as a positive for the 28-year-old from Sweden, especially as the Sens begin what he considers a long-term rebuilding phase. Karlsson played nine seasons in Ottawa.
“He’s going to go somewhere and have a better chance to win a cup,” said Schlathau, who thinks the franchise as a whole is facing existential challenges.
He said the club has little choice but to move its home arena to the downtown core from its current location in suburban Kanata — and it has to get started on it soon. Otherwise, he wonders if the team will still be around in five years because lots of people are tired of driving so far — and often through rush-hour traffic — to catch a game.
Others said by trading away someone as good as Karlsson the team has parted ways with one of those rare players that can sell tickets on his own.
Talk about the Karlsson trade also veered into discussion about the team’s controversial owner, Eugene Melnyk.
Last season, Melnyk angered Ottawa fans by musing to reporters that he might move the club if ticket sales didn’t pick up. His comments led to the creation of the #MelnykOut hashtag on Twitter, which prompted him to eventually backtrack on his chatter about relocation.
Asked about Melnyk, Melbourne said it was time to get him “out of here.” He said he’s still upset with how the club handled former star players like Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza.
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press