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Offseason Flurries: Navigating the non hockey news

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The Senators create the largest storm of non-hockey news so far this year

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

For those who haven’t heard, Mike Hoffman is on the market.

A fifth-round draft selection in 2009, Hoffman was a steal by any metric in his 2014-15 rookie campaign. He produced 27 goals and 48 points, putting him on the radar for the Calder Trophy (and likely only falling to sixth in voting due to his age).

He earned a one-year bridge deal in the summer of 2015 to prove to the Senators that he could repeat his performance, then earned a four-year, $20.75 million follow-up contract in 2016 after he hit 29 goals and 59 points in his sophomore campaign. He topped out at 61 points in 2017, but still managed to finish third on the team in scoring this past season and hit the 20-goal mark once again.

On a cost-friendly deal, he’s an easy pickup to inquire after for any NHL club.

Of course, that’s ignoring the revelations that came out about him and his fiancée on Tuesday morning - which, at this point in the game, is impossible to do.

According to the Ottawa Citizen’s Shaamini Yogaretnam, Hoffman’s fiancée is now being investigated on criminal allegations of sustained harassment by the wife of team captain Erik Karlsson, Melissa.

The story, as it reads, is a few different kinds of disturbing. According to the report, Melissa Karlsson has alleged that Monika Caryk - the long-time girlfriend and now future spouse of Hoffman - had spent the last handful of months aggressively harassing her on social media, using burner accounts to wish death upon Mrs. Karlsson and the couple’s child, Axel, who was stillborn this March.

There’s not a ton of ground to stand on that suggests that anything Karlsson alleged is false; given the serious repercussions she could face if the information ends up being incorrect (and false reporting statistics across the board), it’s incredibly unlikely that she’s making things up.

The situation puts the Senators in an incredibly bleak position moving forward, though.

The wives of former Senators Kyle Turris and Andrew Hammond quickly jumped to Karlsson’s defense, confirming that they’d witnessed the situation when it first began in late 2017 and were horrified by how it had escalated into April. They were joined by Kodette LaBarbera, wife of Calgary Hitmen goaltending coach and former NHLer Jason LaBarbera, who said “Her fixation with Mel has always been unhealthy. Then it became scary. So glad Mel is protecting herself”, Mark Stone’s girlfriend Hayley Thompson (who agreed with Turris’ statement), and then by Taylor Winnik - wife of pending free agent Daniel Winnik, who confirmed that she’d seen the harassment documented:

To pile onto the situation, Hoffman himself has begun to explicitly deny the allegations, claiming that “there is a 150 percent chance that [he and Caryk] were involved in the allegations”. He and his fiancée have offered to insert themselves in the investigation in an attempt to find what they allege is a different culprit - although given a confrontation that has been reported between Karlsson and Hoffman regarding the situation weeks ago, it’s unlikely that the Karlssons would accept the offer from the party they’re adamant is at fault.

At very best, Hoffman manages to find a fresh start somewhere else - although there’s not a lot of promise that other teams around the NHL are going to receive him or Caryk very warmly until the situation is solved. And if it comes out that the allegations are true and Hoffman had doubled down on defending his partner, it’s hard to imagine a positive locker room situation for him there, either.

Karlsson seems to be looking for an out as well, though, leaving Ottawa without two of their best players - and understandably so at this point - and a miserable season at their backs. Goaltender Craig Anderson, who is under contract both next year and the one after, favorited a tweet mocking the team for the disastrous situation and the management team’s struggles to ice a competitive lineup - and as of 12 hours after the tweet first went up, he’s sticking to the like. That’s a locker room almost fragmented beyond repair.

Then, of course, there’s the team’s current handling of the harassment charges levied against assistant GM Randy Lee while at the draft combine in Buffalo.

According to a 19-year-old shuttle driver for the hotel at which Lee was staying during the combine, the long-time team staffer requested to sit in the front of the shuttle, then used his vantage point to rub the shoulders of the teen driver - despite the driver asking him to stop.

He then made suggestive comments about his genitalia before getting off the shuttle, rattling the hotel employee so much that he immediately reported it to security when he got off the bus. Security called the police, who filed charges against the Senators mainstay.

As detailed by The Athletic’s Katie Strang, there has been a protection order filed against Lee on behalf of the alleged victim, and he’s heading to trial in July for the charges - which stem from inappropriate conduct with a teen male - yet the Senators have made more negative headlines by refusing to place him on leave with pay during the trial. Instead, he’ll be at the draft next week, which sheds troubling light on how the Senators view the allegations and how they reflect on Lee being provided direct access to the team’s newest, youngest pipeline members.

The Senators absolutely dominated headlines, but two more stories slipped their way into the news stream on Tuesday to really cast a dim light over the day.

First, Strang also filed a piece on Tuesday detailing her findings from the NHL’s concussion lawsuit deposition, which explained that the Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils - while under Lou Lamoriello, who now runs the also-floundering New York Islanders - and Montreal Canadiens were all non-compliant with NHL concussion protocol at one point or another. The Flames and Canadiens had fines or other punishments levied against them at the time, although the Devils saw no repercussions for their transgressions - which makes a line from her piece even more troubling:

“Of the three teams, the Devils were most frequently mentioned in relation to noncompliance. Both deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHL counsel Julie Grand acknowledged in their respective depositions the Devils’ failure to follow certain standards — and in at least one case joked about it.”

In the piece, the new Islanders GM was quoted as saying “I never saw the word in the dictionary, ‘shall,’ to be mandatory but …” in regards to the league’s rule that all players shall undergo baseline neuropsych testing at the start of every season in order to provide a reference point for any behavioral patterns whilst engaging in full contact play. In 2007, the Devils provided no baseline neuropsych testing at all.

That story is then topped off by the news, via Helene Elliott of the LA Times, that Slava Voynov - a convicted domestic abuser who had his deal with the LA Kings terminated and voluntarily left the United States in 2015 to avoid deportation proceedings after a two-month jail sentence - has petitioned the courts to expunge his conviction.

If his record is expunged, he’ll be eligible to apply for a new US work visa, provided that an NHL team is willing to sign him and the NHL - and Kings - agree to it.

It should be a complete non-starter to consider allowing him back into the NHL, given the brutal nature of his crime in October of 2014 and the no contest plea he took at the time. Despite that, Tuesday ushered in rumors that teams are giving him a look.

That’s a lot of, pardon my language, shit to pile on the world all in a single day.

Each offseason is a balancing act, though. There’s always a dual hope that something exciting will happen - Flurries have slowed down, after all, because absolutely nothing has been going on - and that the excitement won’t make everyone immediately sad. These news cycles can be difficult to wake up to (I remember getting ready to head into the office the day that Patrick Kane was accused of rape just a few years ago, and having to sit back down on my couch and call my editor to tell him I would have to work from home for the morning to wade through it all), and they can make it hard to hope for more excitement.

Hopefully, though, we got the proverbial shit sandwich all in a single day. And now that we’ve waded through all of that, we can optimistically turn to the week and change until the draft - where things, undoubtedly, will get very fun and give us plenty to talk about until free agency hits.