Monday, July 8, 2013
Karlsson Now The Undisputed Young Face Of The Franchise
With Daniel Alfredsson having walked away from the Senators (or “bungled away” by the team itself, depending on how you interpret the saga), there’s suddenly a large void in leadership and marketing iconography, and... well, to put it bluntly, kids were crying. Grown men were getting drunk and wiping away tears of shame. Some were even writing weepy country songs and sending them to the Team 1200. It’s not pretty right now, folks.
Some people handled it well, like my wife, who when I tried to explain the magnitude of the situation, just said “Who gives a shit. Go clean the kitty litter.” It was a sobering experience, as going face-to-face with human-sized cat turds can often be.
Yet, in the wake of every Senators fan’s nightmare scenario, there was lots of positivity. Jason Spezza was the instantaneous, consensus choice to get the captain’s “C”, which is the right pick, but also a little surprising considering his past relationship with some fans in this city. There’s been more lauding of Spezza’s character in the last 48 hours than he’s ever received in his Ottawa career. The old fan punching bag suddenly doesn’t look so bad, especially when this Senators team couldn’t score a power-play goal to save their lives in his absence last year.
And of course, there’s Bobby Ryan, parachuted into town at the essential last moment of the day by one of the smartest GM’s in the league. If Bryan Murray didn’t pull off that late-afternoon move, there’s no telling how much worse the fan reaction would have been. There would have been a lot more country songs, that’s for sure.
Thankfully, Ryan is exactly what this team needs – a goal-scorer in his prime with size and star-power. There’s a bit of baggage there, with Ryan’s previous trade demands and unhappiness in Anaheim (uncomfortably similar to Dany Heatley), but he’s going to have a nice honeymoon in the capital for at least two seasons. And if he plays with Spezza as expected and the duo light it up, you’ve got Ottawa’s answer to Toews and Kane, or Getzlaf and Perry.
But it won’t be Spezza or Ryan who sell the tickets in this town, or be heroes to 10-year old girls and 50-year old men alike. It will be Erik Karlsson, the new, better looking Daniel Alfredsson.
Karlsson has everything this team needs in a marketing tool. He’s young, funny, hip, he posts pictures of himself on Twitter wearing “jorts”, he speaks near perfect English, he’s the best defenseman in the league (sorry PK) and he’s probably the most exciting player to watch in Ottawa since the days of Martin Havlat. And don’t forget he’s just 23 and signed for the next six seasons, all of which will be prime years.
The Senators couldn’t have invented a better replacement for Alfredsson than the skinny kid they drafted 15th overall in 2008. And expectations were low for both Alfie and Karlsson when they broke into the league. Alfie seemed to come out of nowhere and overachieve instantly, while Karlsson just looked too small to make a difference right away. Now we’re likely talking about two future Hall Of Famer’s.
For all the crap luck this franchise has had over the years, financially and player-wise, they’ve managed to hit the jackpot twice.
The Senators have a real tough choice ahead of them with the captaincy. Spezza is the right fit right now, but what about in two years when his deal is up? If Eugene Melnyk still owns this team by then, there’s no way to tell if he can afford to keep Spezza in the fold. It’s going to take a big contract to get it done and Melnyk already balked with the Alfie deal, which should have been the easiest decision in the history of the Senators.
There’s no such worries with Karlsson for the next six years. You could give him the “C” and not have to worry about it for a long time. Yet that could alienate Spezza in the same stroke. Not an easy decision.
My guess is they go with Spezza for now, and it sounds like his teammates would be entirely behind that decision, with Karlsson getting an “A” along with Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, Ottawa’s last two “legacy” players on the roster.
Regardless of who gets it, we all know the Senators are Karlsson’s team now. If they win a Stanley Cup, it will be because of him. If they sell out every night, it will be because of him. If a Senator ever makes the cover of GQ, it will be him. When little kids come to the games, they’ll be asking their parents to buy them Karlsson jerseys. He’s the perfect fit at the perfect time for this team and probably the only character capable of rallying the community around this franchise again after the Alfie fiasco.
The Senators are turning a page, and on that next page is a grinning Karlsson in a turquoise shirt and jorts with a flow of locks that would make Ron Duguay weep.