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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.

Pittsburgh prospect’s incredible Ovechkin-like goal (Video)

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Earlier this week James O’Brien continued our “My Favorite Goal” series with a look back at Alex Ovechkin’s signature goal from his rookie season when he scored that seemingly impossible, sliding goal in Arizona.

On Thursday, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Samuel Poulin did his best to try and recreate the finishing portion of that goal in a QMJHL game when he scored on an absolutely bonkers play late in his team’s 6-1 win.

Have a look.

As if the finish wasn’t enough, how about the move in the slot to get around the defender?

Poulin, a forward for the Sherbrooke Phoenix, scored the goal late in the third period of their win over the Cape Breton Eagles. It was Poulin’s 16th goal of the season.

The Penguins selected him in the first round (No. 21 overall) of the 2019 NHL draft as part of a promising draft class that also included Nathan Legare. Those two have been a much-needed boost to a farm system that has been depleted a bit due to trades in recent years to keep the current Stanley Cup window open.

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.

Maple Leafs, Sharks, Golden Knights entering make-or-break stretches

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Even though the NHL season is only a quarter of the way through it is not too early for teams to start worrying about playoff seeding, or more importantly, whether or not they will even be able to make the playoffs.

The St. Louis Blues showed last year it’s possible to overcome a slow start, but there’s a far larger sampling of recent history that suggest it’s not very likely. Once the calendar starts to approach the end of November not many teams that are outside of a playoff position tend to climb into one, and the ones that do aren’t more than a couple of points back. We tend to emphasize the stretch run of the regular season as being the most important games, but it’s really difficult to make up lost points from early in the season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three teams that should be Stanley Cup contenders that are facing some really big stretches over the next couple of weeks that could potentially make or break their season.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Honestly, it’s time for this team and this coach to do something with all of this talent they have assembled. That is not even to say a Stanley Cup should be the expectation, but they should be capable of more than nothing but third places finishes and Round 1 playoff exits.

So far this season they have done nothing to show that anything with this team will be different.

Here’s the situation they are facing: They have lost three games in a row entering Friday’s game against a Boston team that has ended their season two years in a row, they are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division (sixth place by points percentage), and after playing the Bruins will be heading on a six-game road trip that begins Saturday night in Pittsburgh where they will be starting a backup goalie making his NHL debut. That road trip will also take them through Vegas, Arizona, and Colorado and be the start of a 15-game stretch where they will play 12 games outside of Toronto.

They have struggled on the road this season, still have not solved their defensive issues and do not have the goaltending to mask it. Even worse, they will now be without two key forwards (Mitch Marner and now Alexander Kerfoot) for the next few weeks. That is a pretty big challenge they are facing and if they don’t come out of it successfully things are going to get even more tense in Toronto than they already are.

Vegas Golden Knights

There was reason to believe at the start that this could be the best team in the Western Conference with a talented group of forwards, a solid defense, and a really good starting goalie. But so far pretty much everything about the team has been very ordinary. Their possession and scoring chance numbers paint the picture of a team that has maybe been a little unlucky so far, but they still have their share of issues, especially when it comes to finding another goalie that will not force them to run Marc-Andre Fleury into the ground, an issue that does not seem likely to go away anytime soon.

With only 21 points in 20 games they are on an 86-point pace for the season (that probably would not be anywhere near good enough for the playoffs) and have lost eight of their past 11 games entering the weekend. Some of the teams around them in the Pacific Division have been better than expected so far (specifically Edmonton and Arizona), while it is reasonable to conclude that San Jose and Calgary are going to improve as the season goes on.

If you assume 95 points is the “safe” number to secure a playoff spot, that would require Vegas to earn at least 60 percent of the possible points available to them the rest of the way. It’s a not impossible for this team, but it’s still a big number.

Saturday would be a good time to start making up that ground when they visit the Los Angeles Kings. Seven of their next eight games are either against Pacific Division opponents, or teams they are competing directly with for playoff spots in the Western Conference (Dallas, Nashville).

San Jose Sharks

Unlike the other two teams here the Sharks have already started to get their disappointing season back on track, winning five in a row entering the weekend. They are in the middle of a 16-game stretch where 12 games will be played at the Shark tank, and that home cooking has helped them stack some wins together. The offense has been ignited, the goaltending has at least been passable, and they are starting to get some production from their big defense duo of Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns.

Of all the contenders that stumbled out of the gate this always seemed to be the one that had the best chance of righting the ship because of the talent they have and the fact a lot of their problems could easily be solved with only one change (goaltending). They are not there yet, but they are on their way and with six of their next nine games on home ice they have a nice opportunity to keep digging out of that early hole.

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.

Flames’ update on Brodie: Tests negative, no timetable for return

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The Calgary Flames received a huge scare on Thursday when veteran defenseman T.J. Brodie had to be taken to a hospital after collapsing on the ice and convulsing during practice.

On Friday, the team issued an update on his status.

General manager Brad Treliving said that the initial neurological tests on Brodie have all come back negative so far, while also adding that more tests still need to be done and that no stone will be left unturned in trying to figure out what happened.

Team Doctor Ian Auld also added that so far it looks the incident was more likely related to a fainting episode than anything inside the brain.

“An event like this can be caused by something inside the brain, something scary, and it can also be caused by syncope or fainting episodes. The reasons for why people faint are many,” said Auld, via the Flames’ website. “I don’t think we have all the answers yet and we still have a few more tests to go but all the early indications are that it’s very likely more related to a fainting episode than something significant and inside the brain.”

There is obviously no timeline for Brodie’s return to the lineup at this point.

“We’re going to go through the process of checking every box and make sure we administer every test,” said Treliving. “But he’s come through everything thus far and doing well, feeling good. He’s on the mend. He will obviously not travel with us today as we head to Arizona and Las Vegas. He will stay under the supervision of our medical team led by Ian (Auld).”

The 29-year-old Brodie has spent all 10 years of his career with the Flames after the team drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL draft.

With him sidelined indefinitely the team has recalled Oliver Kylington from the American Hockey League.

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.

NWHL buoyed over future after adding financial backers

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The National Women’s Hockey League announced Thursday it had added enough financial backing after a two-month capital campaign to ensure its viability beyond its fifth season this year.

The league declined to reveal specifics in noting its number of private investors has grown beyond 20 with the addition of insurance and technology entrepreneur Andy Scurto. In 2017, Scurto sold his firm for $160 million.

“This infusion of capital from Andy Scurto and our partners who believe in the power and value of professional women’s hockey is another important milestone for the NWHL, our players, supporters and fans,” NWHL Commissioner and founder Dani Rylan said. “This provides us with long-term viability.”

The league is a little over a month into its season with teams in Boston, Buffalo, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota and New Jersey.

The NWHL was able to add investors despite losing the backing of a majority of the world’s top players in the offseason. In May, more than 200 players – including members of the U.S. and Canadian national teams – pledged not to compete in North America this season following the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association to push for establishing a league with what they said needed to have a viable, sustainable economic model.

The Buffalo Sabres relinquished ownership of the NWHL Buffalo Beauts, while the New Jersey Devils ended their agreement with the NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters.

In September, Rylan vowed her league wasn’t going anywhere, and added the NWHL was proving it could be viable without the NHL.

The league said the new funding will be directed toward building the league’s infrastructure, enhancing player development and attracting more investors, including team owners. Two months ago, Miles Arnone led a group of investors to purchase the Boston Pride.

Arnone said the focus on infrastructure and adding owners will eventually lead to an increase in player salaries. The NWHL no longer reveals its salary scale, though players can now earn a bump in pay through a newly introduced 50-50 split of sponsorship and media right revenue.

In September, the NWHL announced players had already earned a 26% pay increase based on new agreements reached over the summer.