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.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

“We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

“Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

“This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

“Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

“I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

ATLANTIC

The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

“You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

CENTRAL

Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

“It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

“Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

PACIFIC

Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

“It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”