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Sabres' Lehner says Karlsson drama in Ottawa isn't fair for player

As Robin Lehner watches former teammate Erik Karlsson endure unwanted drama in Ottawa, the Sabres goaltender is reminded that perception goes against players in sports disputes.

"From the team side, it's called business. From our side, it's called loyalty," Lehner said Tuesday. "When it comes to us players, it's called loyalty or not loyal. When it comes to players that have been with a team for a long time that are getting shipped out or traded, it's just business.

"It's unfair."

Karlsson's loyalty to Ottawa has been questioned this month because of comments he made regarding his next contract. He said he's going to get paid what he's worth following next season, which was interpreted as no "hometown discount" for the Senators.

The resulting backlash included a Sportsnet report that Ottawa was asking all of its players with modified no-trade clauses for their list of acceptable teams – including Karlsson.

"That's one of the things that's in my contract, and it's just a formality," Karlsson said Tuesday in KeyBank Center before facing the Sabres. "It's a business. I don't read too much into it.

"Whatever happens, when the decision has to be made, that's something we're going to deal with. The relationship between me and this organization has always been great. That's something that's never been in question and shouldn't be now, either."

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Lehner says the Senators' captain is committed to the team that drafted him in 2008.

"I know he loves Ottawa," Lehner said. "The things he's done for that city and how much he cares about that city, I don't see him going anywhere else."

The uncertainty started when Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty, whose contract also expires after 2018-19, said he would talk with Karlsson about how best to approach free agency for a big pay day.

"I think the whole thing is just blown out of proportion," Lehner said. "He didn't even start this stuff. Doughty started talking out in L.A., and the only thing Karlsson said was he expects to get paid fairly. That's all that's been said. He's expected to be paid fairly in Ottawa.

"I think Karls' main focus has always been Ottawa, and I'm sure they'll figure it out. It's a long time left."

For now, Karlsson wants to focus on helping Ottawa improve its 9-12-7 record, not what will happen with his contract.

"It's not something I'm thinking about or has been on my mind," the 27-year-old said. "It's this season, tonight's game and making sure we get out of this slump. That's all I care about."

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