Ottawa Senators and Cohesion: Karlsson versus Hoffman

The Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League are faced with a significant threat to it’s performance in 2018-2019. Fortunately, they are months away from the start of the regular season and they have already made progress.

During the 2017-2018 regular season, there was an ongoing dispute between two members of the Ottawa Senators, Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson. Karlsson is a two-time Norris trophy winner and one of the best defensemen in the NHL. The dispute involved not only these two players but also their significant other where online exchanges were filled with harrassment. Worse yet, these allegations occurred immediately following the death of Axel Karlsson.

For example, Erik Karlsson posted a photo on Instagram of Axel’s footprints along with a message expressing his gratitude for the unanimous support in March 2018. Out of the thousands of comments, one comment stood out to Karlsson and he promptly responded. The comment was about his pregnant wife and her alledged use of pain killers to which Karlsson vehemently condemned.

Disputes between professional athletes and their significant others is a longstanding threat to a team’s performance. They occur frequently however, there are only a few instances where the dispute was made public. The matter is normally kept private since there is an impact in terms of cohesion. Cohesion is about a team’s tendancy to remain united while seeking to acheive their objectives with an acknowledgement that team members have affective needs (Carron, Brawley, & Widmeyer, 1998). In this instance, cyberbullying has caused a negative affective reaction from Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman. With the dispute magnified by the unusual attention given by the public, re-uniting these two players was nearly impossible, even if there happened to be a great opportunity to achieve one overarching goal, such as winning the Stanley Cup.

The untenable situation has concluded with Mike Hoffman being traded to the Florida Panthers on June 19th, 2018. It remains to be seen if Erik Karlsson will respond by signing a new (and lucrative) long-term contract with the Ottawa Senators.

Should the 2018-2019 Ottawa Senators list Erik Karlsson as their captain, the team will be highly competitive even with the departure of Mike Hoffman. It is clear that this mid-season dispute affected the cohesion of the team. Their record from February 17th, 2018 onwards was a pathetic 4 wins, 16 losses, 3 OT wins, and 2 OT losses. They were not united in pursuit of winning hockey games and negative affect continued to worsen with these poor results. These results can be seen as an exageration given that we are looking at a team from a Canadian city that was one goal away from the 2016-2017 Stanley Cup finals.

It means that there is hope for the 2018-2019 Ottawa Senators. Rightly, head coach Guy Boucher kept his job and with his appreciation of sport psychology, he will turn this team around by strategically using the underdog narrative that will surprise most teams and people, except this writer.

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