WRITTEN BY- Stefan Wolejszo
After months of rumors and speculation the hammer finally fell on the Erik Karlsson trade in the early afternoon of September 13th. Although we all knew this could and likely would happen it was still a huge shock to the collective systems of the fan base, partly because the best player in the history of the franchise is now a San Jose Shark and partly because the return was ludicrously bad. It seemed even Dorion was in a haze as a he stumbled and bumbled his way through interviews half-heartedly telling fans that this trade was necessary for a re-build and that we should be excited because one of the players coming back is Tkachuk’s buddy. Every fan has the right to their own feelings about the trade, but since pot isn’t legal yet I doubt very many fans bought into that messaging.
Instead, in the wake of the trade many fans are questioning their devotion to the team and whether they can continue to support a franchise that appears to be in the process of being stripped to the bone in terms of expenses and run into the ground by team owner Eugene Melnyk. When the weather starts to change in Novembers, and people potentially have other things to do besides go to Sens games, I guess we will all find out how well the video of Melnyk being interviewed by Mark Borowiecki worked to sooth the feelings of fans. My guess is that there will be a drop in attendance again leading to a further drop in team revenue that leads to more crises in the New Year.
My own feelings about the trade are rooted in my past experiences both as a sports fan and as someone who has met Karlsson on a few occasions. I was born and raised in Winnipeg and my formative moments as a sports fan were following the Winnipeg Jets and the Montreal Expos. The only time sports made me cry was when Dale Hawerchuk was traded. When the Jets left Winnipeg I was completely numb and did not watch hockey again until I moved to Ottawa 10 years ago. I adopted the Senators as my team, and even though I was thrilled when the Jets came back I was still a Sens fan. When writers like Travis Yost started to write about the behind-the-scenes financial difficulties of the team I had a “here we go again” feeling. The thing that was different for me is that I never allowed myself to be emotionally invested in the team to the same degree that I was as a young Jets fan. You only fall in love that way once.
One thing that is very different about my fandom this time around is I have had the chance to meet the players on the team a few times. Six years ago my daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and players did visit during treatment along with the annual Christmas visit to CHEO that the team has every year. So when fans made fun of Zenon Konopka, for whatever reason, I was angry and defended him because I remembered times when he would come to visit the CHEO kids when the cameras weren’t around and would do absolutely anything to try to bring a little joy into their lives. Chris Neil is one of the most genuinely caring and compassionate people I have ever met, and Mark Borowiecki is also cut from that same cloth. I could go on and on, but the point I am fumbling and bumbling my way through (I get really emotional with this stuff) is that it is just different when you meet the players and see what they do behind the scenes. The on ice performance just seems….smaller in the grand scheme of things, if you get what I mean.
When Karlsson was traded I honestly did not give a shit about what he brought to the team on the ice. My thoughts were about meeting him, and what a great guy he is. I remember meeting him for the first time at a team CHEO Christmas visit, and he was complete relaxed and open with the families. He hung out with us for a few minutes as the players circulated through the crowd and we joked around about games and puzzles, which made my daughter laugh like crazy. I realized when meeting him again that there was no pretence whatsoever in anything he does there and it was clear that he cared deeply for the kids and the families. When he and his wife started the anti-bullying campaign I thought of what he is like as a person and figured that it really fit with who he is. Much like Kyle Turris he is a heart and soul community guy who makes a difference to those around him.
We all come from our own places and all have slightly different perspectives on the trade, and the end of the day I am sadder about losing Erik Karlsson the person than EK65 the player. I hope he wins many Stanley Cups and that he takes home the Norris ever season from this point forward. But that is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we lost.