The regular season hasn’t even started and Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray already has an early contender for quote of the year.
Friday afternoon, Ottawa officially suspended defensive prospect Mikael Wikstrand, who left Ottawa Thursday evening without informing the organization in order to return to his home in Sweden. In addressing the media Friday, Murray was asked to comment on the situation regarding Wikstrand.
“I told him he could go back and be a grocery clerk or play in the beer leagues,” Murray said. “But he could not play (professional) hockey in any shape or form if he doesn’t play for the Ottawa organization.”
Of course, that wasn’t the end of the matter. After Murray had made his comments earlier in the day, Wikstrand took to Twitter to make a statement about his decision to return home.
“I have chosen to leave Ottawa for personal reasons when a close family member is seriously ill,” Wikstrand wrote, roughly translated. “I would now like to be home in Sweden because of this.”
Warren reported that Murray acknowledged that he hadn’t heard of the health issues, reportedly involving the 21-year-old defenseman’s brother, until Friday.
The plan this season was for Wikstrand to play in either Ottawa or with the organizations farm team, the Binghamton Senators, in the AHL. In 2014-15, Wikstrand scored five goals and 20 points in 46 games with Sweden’s Frolunda HC. He had also played three games for Farjestad BK in the Champions League this season before coming to Senators camp.
Wikstrand has been injured for most of his time with Ottawa since returning to the Senators in time for the rookie camp in September. He played one period of the rookie tournament before exiting with a shoulder injury.
“I don’t know what the next step is,” Murray said. “I talked to his agent…exactly that, that (Wikstrand) had signed a contract. We let him go home and play (in Sweden in 2014-15), but he had to play for our organization this year or not play.”
Even if Murray is upset with Wikstrand’s conduct, he is still a believer in the defenseman’s ability. Murray said Wikstrand was good enough to play with either Ottawa or Binghamton this season, but wasn’t sure if he would have been in the NHL to begin the year.
“He’s mobile enough,” Murray said. “He has a good head for the game, he sees the ice pretty well. In the first period of the rookie tournament he looked real good. Was he ready to play up here? I’m not sure.”
When Wikstrand comes back — or if he does at all — Murray didn’t seem to be ruling out his ability to rejoin the Senators. One thing is for certain, though, and that’s that Wikstrand won’t be playing anywhere professionally without Ottawa’s permission.