Senators seem to be in no-win situation with Erik Karlsson

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Imagine being an Ottawa Senators fan right now.

Now that you have done that for a second and hopefully resisted the urge to set yourself on fire, try to picture the situation that your favorite team is currently facing.

Less than one year removed from being a double overtime Game 7 loss away from being in the Stanley Cup Final, your team is now one of the worst in the NHL and doesn’t seem to have a terribly bright short-term future in front of it.

Your team does have one of the NHL’s best players in Erik Karlsson, a generational talent on defense that can impact the game in a way few defenders ever have.

That is good.

But now your team is in a situation where it probably won’t be able to keep him.

That is … less than good.

It is no secret that Karlsson, whose contract expires after the 2018-19 season, is going to want to become one of the highest paid players in the NHL (as he should be) and is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Senators are going to be able or willing to handle that demand. And even if they could, Karlsson has to actually want to re-sign there.

Are the Senators going to be able to build a competitive team around him? Is he going to want to commit to the team they might be able to build or are building?

Big questions that leave the team in the situation it is facing right now where it has to decide whether or not to trade him at some point before the end of next season.

There is already growing speculation that it could happen before Monday’s trade deadline.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote on Wednesday that the Senators are at least open to the idea of trading Karlsson this season before the deadline, and that a potential deal could also include the Senators trying to package Bobby Ryan with him in an effort to dump the remainder of Ryan’s contract. That would not only severely limit the number of teams that could actually complete a trade, but it would also probably reduce the return they get for Karlsson.

At this point it’s all just talk and speculation, but it’s still a sad reality to consider for Senators fans.

Think about the message that sort of trade would send to your fans.

It would basically be: Hey, we can’t really keep the best player we have and maybe the best player you will ever see play for our team in your lifetime. Oh, and one more thing, we also took a slightly lesser return for him so we could dump another contract we can’t afford. Sorry about that.

It just stinks to even consider.

Having said that, if the Senators are going to do it, if they are going to trade Erik freaking Karlsson, this might sadly be the best possible time to do it.

Normally I am one billion percent opposed to trading players like Karlsson.

You can’t win without them. They are nearly impossible to acquire. You can rarely, if ever, get fair value for them back in return. It is worth paying them top dollar under the salary cap, even if it means you have to trim somewhere else around the edges to keep them. One truly great player is worth more than two pretty good players.

But if you think your chances of keeping the player are slim — whether because you can’t afford them or because they don’t want to re-sign with you — can you really risk losing a player like that for nothing?

If the Senators wait until the offseason or at some point into next season the return likely diminishes because the team getting him is only guaranteed to have him for one season (or less). Any team that trades for him now gets two potential Stanley Cup runs with him. His value is probably never going to be higher than it is right now.

If the Senators actually go through with it would be the type of move we don’t normally see at trade deadline time. The biggest impact players that have been traded over the past years (Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, etc.) have been players that were already in the final year of their contracts. This is a player that is not only one of the best in the world, but still has term remaining.

In the end, it all just seems to be a no-win situation for the Senators.

Keeping him and hoping that he re-signs is a huge risk because losing him for nothing would be a devastating.

Trading him is a gut punch to your fans because you only get players like him every so often and you’re probably not going to get fair value back.

Waiting to trade him next season probably only lessons the return based on how much time the team trading for him is guaranteed to have with him.

But what other choice do the Senators have? There is nothing to suggest this season is a fluke for the Senators (if anything, the previous season was the fluke) and that better days are ahead. There is nothing to suggest they are going to make significant investments to build a better team around Karlsson in the next year to convince him to stay.

If these are the final days of Karlsson as a member of the Senators, it is a frustrating way to go out.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.