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Senators in crisis: Hoffman, Caryk deny harassing Karlsson; Lee suspended

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Thanks to the decision to keep this year’s pick or risk sending an even better first-rounder to the Colorado Avalanche in 2019,* the looming draft weekend was already going to present the Ottawa Senators with tough questions.

Now GM Pierre Dorion probably dreams about things being that simple.

PHT’s Adam Gretz covered the strange situation between Mike Hoffman, his fiancé Monika Caryk, Erik Karlsson, and his wife Melinda Karlsson earlier this week.

First, a summary of the statements and accusations regarding cyber-bullying:

Melinda Karlsson filed a protection order alleging that Caryk underwent “a campaign of harassment that has plagued the Karlssons after the death of their son and through much of the last NHL season.”

Hoffman responded in a statement that “there is a 150 per cent chance that my fiancé Monika and I are not involved” in the cyber-bulling activities, which Karlsson alleged happened via “burner accounts” on Twitter and Instagram. (Gretz’s post delves deeper into that strange web of accusations.)

The Senators also put out a statement stating that they were “investigating the matter with the cooperation of the NHL.”

A more detailed response from Hoffman and Caryk

The Ottawa Citizen’s Bruce Garrioch conducted an exclusive interview with Hoffman and Caryk, which is worth your time to read in full.

In short, they took further measures to adamantly refuse involvement in the harassing messages.

Some interesting additional details surface as Caryk claimed that she first learned of the accusations late in the regular season (March 22), which eventually led to a discussion between Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson during a practice. Caryk says she received word from Taylor Winnik, wife of Daniel Winnik.

“I got a horrific email from a girl named Taylor Winnik, and I believe her husband plays in the NHL, saying that I’m a horrible and disgusting person, accusing me of writing negative stuff about the fact that Erik and Melinda lost their child,” Caryk said. “It’s all untrue. Just to state the facts. That was the first time that I was aware of any of this.”

If that’s not enough to get your head spinning, consider that the Ottawa Citizen’s Don Brennan reports that Melinda Karlsson “could be liable for defamation” if her claims are proven to be inaccurate.

It’s unclear what the next twists will be in that scandal. Either way, the Senators were already rumored to be shopping Hoffman (and possibly still looking to trade Karlsson), so this only heightens that need. Naturally, the Senators are unlikely to get full value for Hoffman thanks to this crisis.

What’s next?

Again, it’s fair to point out that the Senators were already in a position where it would make sense to trade both Karlsson and Hoffman even before this situation surfaced publicly.

Hoffman’s agent Robert Hooper told the Ottawa Citizen that he hopes the situation gets resolved quickly, but therein lies the challenge. With the investigation(s) ongoing, will a team be willing to deal with questions about the situation? If nothing else, a new team would want some assurance that the situation would be put behind Hoffman. They’d face the type of questions sports teams hate to deal with even if that’s so.

For what it’s worth, Garrioch reports that as many as 10 teams are interested in trading for Hoffman, with the Buffalo Sabres reportedly being in especially hot pursuit. He also reports that the New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes are joined by several Central Division teams (Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild) as among those inquiring about the winger.

The Senators also must grapple with Karlsson’s future. Would he sign a contract extension, preferably during this summer, a time when the franchise is in desperate need for positive news? How much would Karlsson’s trade value sink if they had to move him, but he’d still want to pursue unrestricted free agency instead of signing a deal with his new team? Would the Senators keep him around for 2018-19 alone in part to save face and avoid giving the Avalanche a high-end draft pick as part of the Matt Duchene trade?

* – Garrioch reports that the Senators are expected to keep their 2018 first-rounder (fourth overall), which means they’d send their 2019 first-round pick to Colorado.

An awful time; Lee update

A lousy follow-up to a run within one overtime goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final now feels more like a minor setback for the Senators, considering all the toxic news surrounding the organization.

In early June, assistant GM Randy Lee received second-degree harassment charges. Moments ago, the Senators announced that Lee has been suspended. Here’s an excerpt from their statement (read it in full here):

That said, the questions that must be answered by Randy are unlikely to be addressed until his next court date – on July 6, 2018 – we believe the best way to live our values and enforce our standards of behavior is to suspend Randy Lee until the allegations against him are ruled upon by the courts.

Less than two weeks later, this long-brewing issue between Caryk and Karlsson prompted the filing of that protection order. The Senators now have little choice but to trade Hoffman, and might be wise to move Karlsson.

(One also cannot ignore the tragic passing of former GM Bryan Murray on Aug. 12, 2017.)

Those major events were the most jarring, yet it’s really staggering to consider the mass of other negative developments, some of which stand as unforced errors.

After leaving a gig in the front office, Senators icon Daniel Alfredsson expressed a hope many fans have expressed: Eugene Melnyk no longer being the team’s owner. Many of those fans put up a “Snow Must Go”-like billboard calling for Melnyk to do just that.

Following that brutal 2017-18 campaign, Dorion kept embattled head coach Guy Boucher around, yet he also threw him under the bus and essentially acknowledged that Boucher is on thin ice.

Things only get odder and worse the deeper you dig on this team. Just about anyone can see that this has been a disastrous year or so for the Senators, though.

It’s difficult to believe that Karlsson set up Hoffman for a beautiful goal only about a year ago.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Governor approves activities for pro teams in New Jersey

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Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Tuesday that as long as the NFL’s Giants and Jets and the NHL’s Devils follow health and medical protocols, they could open training camps or even hold competition.

The NFL’s preseason and training camps wouldn’t begin until midsummer — teams are doing virtual workouts in place of the usual on-field activities because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the NHL is planning ways to complete the 2019-20 season. Should those plans include the Devils, they now can reopen their training facilities.

“Professional sports teams in NJ may return to training and even competition — if their leagues choose to move in that direction,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

“We have been in constant discussions with teams about necessary protocols to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, and personnel.”

A Jets spokesman said: “We are working closely with Gov. Murphy’s office, the league and our medical staff to establish prudent, health and safety measures for our staff and players. Based on those guidelines, we will begin to open our facility using a phased approach at a time that is the most practical for our operations.”

The Giants echoed those sentiments and said: “With today’s announcement by the governor, we are finalizing our plans to reopen the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. We will continue to have as many employees as possible working remotely. For employees who need to return to work at our facility, we expect to begin that process next week, and we will do so in a systematic and safe way that adheres to the state’s guidelines and NFL protocols.”

Isolating away from family a ‘hot topic’ as NHL plots return

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Young and single, Thatcher Demko has plenty of time on his hands, with little to do. Quarantining to play hockey wouldn’t be a problem for the Vancouver Canucks goalie.

“I don’t have too many roots,” the 24-year-old said. “I’ve been living pretty much out of my car for the most part for the last six, seven years just going from place to place.”

Older players disagree.

Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk doesn’t think players with children would be interested in spending lengthy stretches away from their loved ones amid the pandemic. And neither does Boston’s Tuukka Rask, who bluntly said: “It doesn’t feel right to take guys away from their families for many, many months at a time.”

It’s a reality players might have to face for the NHL to resume play, something Toronto’s Kyle Clifford calls a “hot topic” among players. While the NHL and its players’ union are discussing a 24-team playoff format to resume the season, figuring out how to incorporate family time in a potential quarantine environment is one of many hurdles to clear.

“For sure that’s a big thing,” said Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk, one of the players on the Return to Play committee and a new father. “No one wants to be away from their family for months on end, and everyone is aware of that with who’s on this committee.”

From Dubnyk and Rask in the NHL to Major League Baseball players Mike Trout and Ryan Zimmerman, pro athletes have voiced concerns about spending significant time away from family. When baseball was considering a containment bubble in Arizona to play, Zimmerman — whose wife is due to give birth to the couple’s third child in June — said he wouldn’t accept not seeing them for four or five months.

“I can tell you right now that’s not going to happen,” Zimmerman said. “Not many people have to go through that, nor should they.”

The NHL, like the NBA, does not face the challenge of trying to complete an entire season. But even an abbreviated return calls for coordinating 600-plus players at different stages of their personal lives.

“I think it’d be easier for guys without families or single guys to kind of go on quarantine and enjoy that process as much as you can,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “But it would be tough being a father myself. It would be tough to live through FaceTime in that situation. But you have to weigh the pros and cons on each side and what’s important for you and your family.”

The league was exploring various locations that could host games, including Edmonton, Columbus and Las Vegas. They could be big enough for players to bring family members with them, or the format might allow for a break in the schedule for teams that advance deep into the playoffs.

“You’ve got to kind of create this bubble, but if families are coming in and out, then I don’t know,” said Carolina’s Jordan Martinook, who has a year-old son he doesn’t want to be away from for more than a month at a time. “That kind of compromises the bubble. I don’t know if they would say your family’s got to be with you from day one the whole time or they can’t come if you’re in the bubble.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said league officials are “sensitive to the issue and are focused on finding a solution that works for the players.”

New Jersey’s Connor Carrick, whose Devils might be off until the start of next season, said he trusts NHLPA executive director Don Fehr and his staff to make a decision in the best interest of as many players as possible. Those waiting on the possibility of playing, like Washington’s Beck Malenstyn, hope there’s a resolution that weighs isolation from family members against the risk of them getting infected.

“I think there’s probably a happy medium between the two,” Malenstyn said. “You definitely don’t just want to close the door on your family in a time like this. But it’s also you have to look at it if we were going to take that step to go back and play, it’s the safety of your family to probably not have them around, either, just with the exposure to everything.”

Added Demko, the Vancouver goalie: “I think everyone’s going to have to make a sacrifice: players, owners, union. I don’t think that there is a scenario where everyone’s going to be happy with the situation.”

Why Hurricanes, Lightning voted against Return to Play proposal

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The NHLPA Executive Board vote on the 24-team, conference-based return-to-play proposal went 29-2 in favor of the idea. Given the circumstances, increasing the field, rewarding the top four seeds in each conference, and using play-in games to determine the 16 playoff teams was what ended up getting approved.

The two teams that voted against the proposal weren’t in danger of missing out, but had their reasons to be against such a format.

As Lightning forward Alex Killorn explained to Joe Smith of The Athletic, the bigger field and his team having a Round 1 bye were the main concerns among his teammates.

“They didn’t feel it was fair that certain teams that probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs would have a chance to make the playoffs in a best-of-five series,” said Killorn, the team’s player rep. “My team also felt it was unfair that the teams with a bye would not be as well prepared for a playoff series as the teams that had already basically played a playoff series to get into the playoffs.”

[NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format]

The approved format sees the Lightning start with a bye and participating in a mini-tournament with the Bruins, Capitals and Flyers for seeding before taking on one of the play-in round series winners. How useful those games before Round 2 would be was another issue with Killorn and his team.

“The only problem I have with that format is that the top teams that have a bye,” he said. “I don’t know how competitive the games will be going forward where the teams at the bottom will be playing playoff games right away and [would be] potentially more prepared for the real playoffs.”

Hurricanes’ view

Carolina is set to be the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and would take on the Rangers in the play-in round. The winner of that series would then play the No. 3 seed — either the Lightning, Capitals, Bruins or Flyers.

The Hurricanes had 14 games to play and were sitting in the first wild card spot at the time of the March 12 pause. Player rep Jordan Martinook and his teammates disagreed with the proposal because they felt this created format made their road even tougher.

“It just kind of limits our odds and makes you play another playoff series, basically. It wasn’t just for our team’s situation,” Martinook told reporters on Monday. “You look at teams that had a 10 percent chance to make it, and now they’re pretty much on a 50-50 playing field.”

Who knows if the Hurricanes would have reeled off a points streak over the final 14 games to improve their standing, but Martinook was confident his team could have finished strong.

“I’m not taking anything away from the top four teams,” he said, “but we felt like we could have kept climbing the ladder. It doesn’t really benefit the teams in 5, 6, 7 or 8, it kind of hinders those teams. Then, it gives a lot to the 9, 10, 11 and 12.”

Martinook acknowledged that the ideal return to play format would be to finish the regular season, but time is of the essence and the Hurricanes will be ready to play.

“We’re fine with the way it’s going to go,” he said. “You’re going to have to win to win. We’re fully prepared with what we’ve got moving forward.”

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL’s dynamic duos; Malarchuk helping veterans

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Which NHL duo could be hockey’s version of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? [TSN]

• “Saluting Jaromir Jagr, the most overqualified sidekick in NHL history” [The Score]

• The Devils showed interest in Rikard Gronborg, but his contract features no NHL out clause and he will honor the remaining term on his deal. [Swiss Hockey News]

• The story of former NHL ref Pat Dapuzzo, whose career came to an end after a freak injury, and how he’s influenced those around him. [Sportsnet]

• On Clint Malarchuk and how he’s helping veterans these days. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• The one trophy Wayne Gretzky keeps in his California home is one that was gifted to him from Maurice Richard. [NHL.com]

• A great read on the history of one of the league’s best logos: the Coyotes’ Kachina’s. [Arizona Republic]

• Work on the Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park is set to resume. [NHL.com]

• The 2020 NHL draft pool for goaltenders is thin. [Featurd]

Robby Fabbri is hoping to make Detroit his home come free agency. [Freep]

• Zayde Wisdom, a 2020 NHL draft prospect, is taking advice from the likes of Wayne Simmonds and the Stewart brothers ahead of taking the next step in his hockey career. [NHL.com]

• Looking back at the short history of the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey program. [The Hockey News]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.