This is the type of news conference the Ottawa Senators would very much like to have, but they’ve been few and far between the last few years.
Instead of explaining to the media the stunning exit of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson two years ago, or Jason Spezza's trade request that was granted this past offseason, the Sens had smiles on their faces Thursday in announcing a double whammy of good news: Bobby Ryan was signed to a seven-year extension and Erik Karlsson was named captain.
Stability, for now, for a franchise that needs it.
Ryan, who would have been one of the top names in unrestricted free agency on July 1, instead stays put, which not only curtails the exodus of top players from Ottawa for now but also eliminates what would have been a season-long distraction for him and the organization. No question, he would have been trade bait if he hadn't signed and if the Senators were not in a playoff spot come March.
Sure, the extension came with a huge price. By anyone's definition, it's overpaying to give Ryan $7.25 million per year on average (the breakdown per year is $6.5 million, $7 million, $7.25 million, $7.5 million, $7.5 million, $7.5 million, $7.5 million).
When the Chicago Blackhawks have winger Patrick Sharp at $5.9 million per year (similar player to Ryan) and the St. Louis Blues can sign center Paul Stastny at $7 million per year (always a premium on centers) on the free-agent market, there’s no arguing the Senators had to dig deeper in their thin wallets to make sure Ryan skipped next summer’s UFA market. I’m not sure he would have gotten a dime over $7.25 million on the open market, for that matter.
Speaking of which, Ryan’s signing further depletes what is already an unimpressive July UFA crop. If Jason Spezza, Christian Ehrhoff, Martin St. Louis and Marc Staal all sign extensions before June 30, what will happen to NHL free-agent news on July 1?
But that’s what you get in a cap world where most of the young, top players get signed to long-term deals. It thins out the UFA crop. On the other hand, it's great news for the second-tier UFA players who go to market next summer, as teams will overpay out of desperation. See David Clarkson, Ryane Clowe or Stephen Weiss, among many examples, from the past few summers.
For the Sens, however, they were right in paying to keep Ryan. You can’t let your top players walk out every year and expect to stay competitive, not to mention the optics in a marketplace that can be fragile at times. It was a must signing.
Speaking of optics, it was also important to name Karlsson captain. The internal debate within the Senators' organization was not who to name captain -- it was Karlsson all along -- but rather when was the right time. We quoted Sens GM Bryan Murray just a few weeks ago, who pondered whether it might be more prudent to wait and just start the season with alternates, as the Montreal Canadiens decided to do.
But while P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty, among others in Montreal, have to wait to see if they’re captain material, the Sens decided to plunge ahead and name the electrifying 24-year-old Karlsson as their official leader.
Are there risks with this? You bet. Some young players press when the "C" gets stitched on their sweaters, try to do too much, put too much pressure on themselves. Karlsson told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that he spoke with former captain Alfredsson, his countryman and mentor, about the Sens’ captaincy, and you can bet Alfie’s advice to the kid was to stay true to himself.
For the first couple of years, Karlsson's leadership will come on the ice with his play -- I very much doubt in the dressing room with his words.
Again, it’s about optics here. The Senators took a PR beating in back-to-back years with the mishandling of the Alfredsson contact situation, which led to his stunning exit. Then the next captain, Spezza, demanded a trade and left for Dallas.
The new captain should be in Canada's capital for a long time -- Karlsson is signed through 2018-19 -- and that brings stability.
This was a good day in Ottawa, no matter how you look at it.