The Ottawa Senators have three games remaining of what will go down as a forgettable season, but it's likely they'll be played without Erik Karlsson, who may have very well played his last game ever in a Senators sweater.
With questions swirling as to whether the Senators captain and two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman would accompany the team for its final three games of the season, at Buffalo on Wednesday, at Pittsburgh on Friday and at Boston on Saturday, the Senators confirmed Karlsson did not join the team for that first stop to play the Sabres.
While his status for the final two games remains unknown, the possibility remains Karlsson will sit out those games, and then head into the offseason with a year remaining on his Senators contract but with major speculation he will be traded. On Wednesday, head coach Guy Boucher said that Karlsson's status for those final two remains up in the air.
He was nearly moved prior to the NHL trade deadline, when the Vegas Golden Knights reportedly nearly acquired the four-time all-star from the Senators. That came after Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning engaged Pierre Dorion and co. in trade talks before moving on and snatching Ryan McDonagh from the Rangers.
Dorion has reiterated time and time again the Senators will offer Karlsson a new contract July 1 when they're eligible to negotiate an extension, which he has said as recently as late March.
While Karlsson's long-term status with the Senators was always going to be a topic of conversation for a player of his caliber, speculation and rumors intensified after Karlsson told The Ottawa Sun, "When I go to market I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going.”
That began a messy back-and-forth between Karlsson and the Senators brass, which snowballed into thinly veiled threats of relocating the franchise.
While Karlsson had a slow start to the season by his own standards, he also missed the first four games recovering from offseason ankle surgery, a procedure that reportedly affected him throughout most of the year. More recently, Karlsson's wife Melinda had a stillbirth very late in her pregnancy, and Karlsson missed two games to be with his family. After he returned, he missed a road game to remain in Ottawa, but has since joined the Senators for a game away from Canadian Tire Centre (last Saturday, at Detroit).
It is unclear which if any of these may be the reason Karlsson is not with the Senators to begin this final road trip.
Speculation continued to intensify though that Karlsson has played his last game as a Senators after he grabbed the puck following Ottawa's home finale on Monday night.
Karlsson is set to make $6.5 million next season, and will carry the 51st-highest cap hit among defenseman in the NHL. Since Karlsson signed that deal in 2012, he leads all NHL defensemen with 369 points, 69 more than second-place P.K. Subban.