Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk says two thoughts ran through his head while watching the collision that knocked his franchise defenceman out of the lineup for the rest of the season.
The first was drenched in anger, the second in fear.
“One, when I saw who did it, I immediately thought, ‘this is the same guy that’s got five suspensions,’ which, somebody like that, you don’t give the benefit of the doubt to,” Melnyk said Thursday, referring to Pittsburgh Penguins agitator Matt Cooke.
“And I was fearing the worst,” he said of watching Erik Karlsson struggle to get off the ice, his Achilles tendon sliced 70 per cent of the way through. “I think I went completely pale when I heard the news of what had transpired, and my heart just sunk.
“It’s like losing Game 7 in double-overtime kind of thing. It’s that sinking feeling that you get.”
Melnyk got that news from his general manager, Bryan Murray, with whom he spent the next hour on the phone getting updates from and trying to figure out what to do next.
“I just wanted to know how (Karlsson) is, what they think it is and what they’re going to do with him,” Melnyk said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he was spending a few vacation days with his kids.
“I think all the players heard what happened, and their mind wasn’t even (on the game). Mine certainly wasn’t, because everybody was concerned about Erik, what does this mean? How serious? Because he really looked bad getting off the ice. He looked horrible.”
Melnyk said he didn’t plan to reach out to his star defenceman for a few days, because “he’s got to go through his, kind of reconcile this in his head, because it is a severe injury.”
Melnyk figures to be reaching out to general manager Bryan Murray a lot in the coming days and weeks, however, as the team prepares for life after 65.
“I was on the phone with Brian for an hour yesterday and he almost missed his flight,” he said. “What do we do next, who else do we have and what else can we do? Because we’ve got to deal with it, and we will as an organization.”
One strategy he won’t pursue is shipping out young talent to bring in band-aids now.
“We certainly aren’t going to trade off our future for this. That’s not going to happen.”
More likely, he’ll ask his team to try and eke out 2-1 and 3-2 wins the rest of the way on the strength of Craig Anderson’s league-best goaltending and solid team defence.
And while he admitted there was a black cloud hanging over his team as it deals with a rash of injuries to key players, he wasn’t ready to give up on the playoffs just yet.
“At the end of the day, all you can hope for is that this somehow mobilizes and motivates the team to say, ‘you know what? Despite all of these adversities, we’re going to do our best, we’re going to have a winning team, we’re going to try to get into the playoffs,’” he explained. “And ultimately, if we can get one or two of these guys back, then miracles can happen.’”
He was clearly still coming to terms with what happened Wednesday, however.
Melnyk said he wasn’t upset with league disciplinarians for not coming up with some form of supplementary discipline, adding he’s not in the business of supervising what they do.
He did have some choice words for Cooke, however, who he described as “a five-time suspended goon who shouldn’t even be playing in the NHL.”
The owner made several references to Cooke’s career-ending hit to the head of former Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard in 2010.
“That’s the question I pose, and I pose it to everyone: ‘What is this guy even doing still playing?’
“I just don’t know what it’s going to take. You take out one of the most elite players in the game by a goon. By a goon … how many times do you let this happen?”
In interviews with the Pittsburgh media after the game, Cooke called the incident “a complete accident” and said he felt terrible about it.
As he’s learning now, however, hard-earned reputations can be hard to shake.