FLAG­GING FOR­TUNES

Episode could harm Hoff­man’s ca­reer

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL TRAIKOS

Ban­ners fea­tur­ing Erik Karls­son and Mike Hoff­man out­side Cana­dian Tire Cen­tre re­veal no hint of on- and off-ice trou­bles that have dogged the Sen­a­tors all sea­son, in­clud­ing un­proven al­le­ga­tions of on­line ha­rass­ment of Karls­son’s wife, Melinda, by Hoff­man’s fi­ancée, Monika Caryk.

What’s the trade value for a 28-year-old winger who av­er­ages 26 goals per sea­son, has aboveav­er­age speed and another two years re­main­ing on a cap-friendly con­tract?

A week ago, it might have been a first-round draft pick and po­ten­tially more. But that was be­fore Mike Hoff­man’s fi­ancée was ac­cused of wag­ing a sea­son­long on­line ha­rass­ment cam- paign against Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors cap­tain Erik Karls­son and his wife, in­clud­ing mes­sages sent af­ter the death of their still­born child.

True or not, it’s a bizarre and po­ten­tially ugly story.

It cer­tainly goes a long way in ex­plain­ing why the Sen­a­tors, who went from reach­ing Game 7 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal to fin­ish­ing with the sec­ond­worst record in the NHL, were such a hot mess this sea­son. It could also ex­plain why Hoff­man — and Karls­son — have both been on the trad­ing block.

At the same time, for a team that’s try­ing to move for­ward by part­ing ways with two of their best play­ers, these lat­est ac­cu­sa­tions could se­ri­ously limit their abil­ity to do so. As they say in hockey, in­tan­gi­bles mat­ter. And in this case, a fi­ancée’s off-ice eti­quette far out­weighs a player’s on-ice work ethic.

“He’ll have trou­ble find­ing work,” said for­mer NHLer Jeff O’Neill, a TSN hockey an­a­lyst. “I don’t want him in­volved in my team. Every­body talks about it be­ing a fam­ily. That in­cludes wives, fi­ancées and girl­friends. They’re heav­ily in­volved.”

In­deed, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily that play­ers on other teams wouldn’t want Hoff­man and his offensive skill-set onto the ros­ter. It’s that the play­ers’ sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers prob­a­bly wouldn’t want his girl­friend around the rink.

Kodette LaBar­bera, who ap­peared on the re­al­ity TV show Hockey Wives and whose hus­band, Ja­son, is a re­tired NHL goalie, tweeted on Tues­day: “No team will wel­come this girl to the (wives’) room.”

“This per­son has no busi­ness go­ing any­where near the women in the hockey com­mu­nity ever again,” tweeted Tay­lor Win­nik, whose hus­band, Daniel, plays for the Min­nesota Wild, and who also ap­peared on Hockey Wives.

In some ways, a co­he­sive wives’ room can be just as im­por­tant as hav­ing chem­istry in­side the dress­ing room. Of­ten, the two go hand-in-hand.

“The wives’ lounge is a huge com­po­nent. It re­ally is,” said TSN hockey an­a­lyst and re­tired NHLer Dave Poulin.

Back when Poulin played for the Philadel­phia Fly­ers, the wives’ room was still a rel­a­tively new con­cept. First and fore­most, it was a place for sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers to hang out. watch the game and wait for their hus­bands or boyfriends. But it was — and con­tin­ues to be — more than that.

You were made to feel a part of the team through char­i­ta­ble en­deav­ours, such as the Fly­ers Wives Car­ni­val, which be­gan in 1977. But it went be­yond that. In the early days, a player’s on-ice suc­cess was tied directly to a point sys­tem that al­lowed his wife to cash in for prizes. “The more points you got, the more points your wife re­ceived,” said Poulin. “You cashed them in for din­ners and things.”

There are no longer point sys­tems link­ing play­ers to their wives, but com­pet­i­tive­ness still ex­ists in some cases.

There can be jeal­ousy over ice time, power play us­age and salaries. There can be re­sent­ment. It can some­times get toxic.

“My sec­ond year in the league she was the cap­tain’s wife,” said Poulin. “It’s like be­ing the CEO of a com­pany. You’re looked at dif­fer­ently. Oth­ers are ask­ing, ‘Why didn’t my guy get it? Is he the coach’s favourite?’ All that kind of stuff.”

In some cases, the off-ice drama seeps into the dress­ing room.

One player, who did not want to be named, said he was on a team that was forced into mak­ing a trade af­ter two wives got into a fight in the lounge.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the other wives made it known which wife had to go.

“We traded the re­ally good player, be­cause they wanted his wife out of the wives’ lounge,” he said. “We were like, ‘No! Don’t trade him. Trade the other guy.’ ”

Some Ot­tawa play­ers might be say­ing the same thing of Hoff­man.

Af­ter all, he has been one of the Sen­a­tors’ most con­sis­tent goalscor­ers in the last four years. And this is a team that, af­ter rank­ing 25th in goals scored last sea­son, could use all the of­fence it can get. Is that enough to ig­nore all the al­leged drama that has been go­ing on be­hind the scenes?

That’s not only a ques­tion for Ot­tawa, but for any team in­ter­ested in ac­quir­ing him — and what­ever bag­gage he’s car­ry­ing.

“I feel bad for the kid,” said O’Neill.

“I’m al­ways a be­liever that guys need a sec­ond chance. But if his fi­ancée is guilty of this, then it’s a no-brainer. He has to go. It’s just not worth it.

“Even if he didn’t do it, it’s a black mark on his ca­reer.”

JULIE OLIVER

JULIE OLIVER

Im­ages of team­mates Erik Karls­son and Mike Hoff­man adorn the Cana­dian Tire Cen­tre.

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