I am an idiot for tying my emotional well-being to a sports franchise.
This is what I repeated to myself over and over yesterday as the news of the Erik Karlsson trade to the San Jose Sharks came down. There is nothing I can do to affect this team. A man who managed to throw away a $1.5B fortune makes irrational emotional decisions about this franchise to easy his financial strain and because he’s too proud to believe he can do anything wrong. It makes no sense that I would let my emotions be dictated by something as unpredictable and faulty as this, but they are. My feelings depend greatly on how this hockey team is doing, and right now I’m an emotional wreck.
The return was underwhelming to say the least. The return was quantity because I guess the Sens couldn’t get the quality they wanted. A 3rd-line centre, a 3rd-pairing defenceman, a couple of prospects that aren’t on anybody’s list of the top 100 prospects in the league, a 1st-round pick in a couple years, and maybe another pick if some very specific conditions are met. Both the Sharks’ best young roster players (Tomas Hertl) or prospects (Timo Meier, Ryan Merkley) were not in the deal. It bothers me that the Sens got less back for Karlsson than the Canadiens got for Max Pacioretty. There may have been some assurances about an extension there, but still. Matt Duchene brought way more back for the Avalanche. I get that Duchene had an extra year on his deal, but Karlsson is arguably the best defenceman in the league; Duchene wasn’t even the best centre on the Avs.
We were told that trade talk fell apart at the deadline because the Sens didn’t get a good enough offer. We were told the same thing at the draft, and at the start of free agency. I highly doubt this deal was significantly better than anything that had been offered earlier. Instead, the Sens (Dorion? Melnyk?) had decided they had to get rid of Karlsson before the season started, and the Sharks had the best (only?) offer at the right time. Anyone who said this trade was made for hockey reasons is flat-out wrong. The Sens managed to create an unmanageable environment for their captain, refused to offer him what his biggest comparable earned over the summer, and then traded him for a lot of mediocre pieces because they felt like they had to. Taking any return says you felt like you had to make this deal, not that it was beneficial for the team. I get that you’re never going to win a trade with a player like Erik Karlsson, but I might’ve been able to buy it if I thought this team had a coherent plan they’d stick to more than two months, if they had amateur or pro scouts to help with a trade, if I believed anything this organization says. I’ve been lied to so many times by the owner, by the GM, I have a hard time getting behind anything this team does.
I’m not convinced at all by this team’s claim of having a plan for a rebuild. As recently as June 19th, the Sens acquired roster player Mikkel Boedker in a trade, rather than going for a young player, a prospect, a pick, anything you might expect as part of a rebuild. At the town halls in April, no one used the word rebuild, though Melnyk did say “3-5 years” for competitiveness. Still, it seems to me like a full tear-it-down rebuild has only been the plan since Monday, or maybe a couple days earlier when Melnyk planned that video. I’ve been a Sens fan long enough to see how quickly plans change around here.
In 2011, the Senators committed to a rebuild, with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza sticking around as the veteran presence. However, the team acquired Craig Anderson, and quickly became a playoff team. Suddenly the team’s goal was to compete. The Alfie left, and the team traded for Bobby Ryan so that he could be the new complement to Spezza, who was named the new captain. Then Spezza demanded a trade, and suddenly the team was focused on making their young players the big deal. Except then they traded for Dion Phaneuf. Then they traded Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard, and suddenly this “young” team was among the oldest in the league. It’s a little ridiculous that by 2016, every first- or second-round pick from that 2011 “rebuild” draft was gone, because they had become impatient with the pace of a true rebuild. We then saw the plan to compete by acquiring depth (Alexandre Burrows, Tommy Wingels, Viktor Stalberg) followed by the plan to compete by acquiring top talent (Matt Duchene), and by a couple months later, Erik Karlsson was in trade rumours. The Sens haven’t stuck to a plan since the days of John Muckler, though to be fair, his plan was “trade all your depth to compete right now”.
Despite all the reasons not to, I stayed hopeful. I kept believing that Melnyk would be forced to sell and we’d get to keep Karlsson. Even today, when Darren Dreger tweeted that the Sharks had told players they were being moved, I still clung to hope that it wasn’t true. I felt like I needed to — that I held onto blind hope to keep away the devastation. Even now, there’s a part of me that imagines a world where Melnyk sells, and Karlsson comes back as a UFA. It’s hope like this that prevents me from ditching hockey completely.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I could be a rational human being and tie my happiness to things I can actually somewhat control. But for whatever reason, I care immensely about this team. No amount of analysis will be able to change the key result from this trade: I am very sad, and there’s nothing that can happen soon to fix it.