OTTAWA – Now this is what an Erik Karlsson return to Ottawa should look like.
This is the scene that met the ex-Ottawa Senators’ franchise player two hours before tonight’s match-up between the San Jose Sharks and the Sens.
Last leg of Karlsson’s Canadian tour pic.twitter.com/DbG3ZZ8RCU
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 3, 2022
It’s a turnaround from what met Karlsson last year.
There was one Ottawa newspaper reporter after a Sharks practice at Canadian Tire Centre last October, and after the Senators had practiced on the same ice just an hour before. Essentially, the local beat contingent was around, they just chose to go home.
It was an unceremonious way to greet arguably the greatest player in Senators history.
Now the reporters and TV cameras are back – and it’s all thanks to Karlsson.
Through 26 games, Karlsson leads all NHL defensemen with 11 goals and 32 points. There’s talk of a Norris Trophy, which Karlsson won twice in Ottawa. The 32-year-old’s comeback campaign has ignited trade rumors, laughable last season because of Karlsson’s age and long, hefty contract.
Elliotte Friedman turned the heat on those rumors up a notch when he shared that the Sharks and the Senators had discussed Karlsson going back to his adopted hometown in a trade.
It’s worth saying, and Friedman noted it too, that a deal between San Jose and Ottawa isn’t realistic for the aforementioned reasons. Also, Karlsson has a No-Movement Clause, so there’s no telling whether he would want to play in the Ottawa fishbowl once again.
That said, he still keeps a home here, and normally, will split his summers between Ottawa and his native Sweden.
In fact, Karlsson said he watched last night’s 3-2 Senators overtime victory over the New York Rangers with good friend and former Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson.
So two of the last three Sens captains watched current captain Brady Tkachuk spur the team to a win with a fight and the overtime goal.
“It’s very different than me and Alfie,” Karlsson joked about Tkachuk’s fists-first leadership style, “it’s fun to see that.”
So does coming back to his adopted home make Karlsson think about playing here again?
Since Karlsson has been in Canada, through Montreal and Toronto, he’s faced the steady drumbeat of similar questions: What’s behind your comeback? What do you think of the trade rumors? Do you want to leave San Jose?
“I’m here right now, I’m happy,” Karlsson asserted again, when asked if he sees himself completing his contract with the San Jose Sharks. “Whatever happens is going to happen. I try and stay in the moment.”
Even I had to ask a variation of the same theme, just because it hadn’t been asked. Talking beyond even his current contract, which expires in 2026-27, would Karlsson want to play in Ottawa again?
“I don’t know. Like I said, it’s so far away,” Karlsson said. “I’m just happy to be here right now and playing at the level that I am. I know that I still got a lot left in me. Hopefully, I got a few more years, even after the expiration of this deal.”
One thing that is of no doubt? Ottawa remains a special place to live – and play for Karlsson.
“It’s always a special time to come back here and play,” he acknowledged, four years from his first homecoming in Dec. 2018, after the Senators traded him to the San Jose Sharks. “It’s still probably always gonna feel weird to be on the other side of locker room.”
Sheng’s Travel Fund
Help fund Sheng's travel! Every dollar goes to the cost of getting to and from Sharks road games.