As the Ottawa Senators prepare to head into their outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night it is really difficult to imagine this is the same organization that was one game away from winning the entire Eastern Conference just seven months ago.
It’s taken a less than a year for all of the goodwill that improbable playoff run created among the team’s fan base to be almost completely wiped away.
And it’s not just because the product on the ice has badly regressed.
Actually, that is probably the least of their concerns at this point.
On a day that is supposed to be a celebration and a highlight of the team’s season — a home outdoor game against the Montreal Canadiens!– the fan base is instead staging a social media rebellion against team owner Eugene Melnyk with the #melnykout hashtag on Twitter.
Pretty much every reply to every Tweet from the Senators’ social media team is being bombarded with that hashtag as fans voice their displeasure. On Saturday afternoon #melynkout was one of the top trending topics in all of Canada.
Just a quick recap of everything that has gone wrong in recent weeks to help get things to this boiling point.
- Erik Karlsson, the team’s best player, a generational talent, and a superstar that has played the past few seasons on a below market contract made some comments that indicated he would not be willing to take another hometown discount when his contract expires after next season. Given the team’s financials it is pretty clear that he already has one foot out the door.
- The team, struggling on the ice and apparently desperate to make a move, is reportedly fielding calls on every player on the roster, including Karlsson.
- Kyle Turris, traded as part of the Matt Duchene trade, suggested the team’s front office wanted to re-sign him but ownership did not. Turris and his new team, the Nashville Predators, have been unstoppable since the trade while Duchene and the Senators have been stuck in neutral.
- General manager Pierre Dorion denied that claim and said all hockey moves go through him, not the owner. That press conference from Dorion included the anecdote that Dorion’s own son said the team’s “level of suckage is high.”
- Then, on Friday night, on the night before the team’s outdoor game, Melnyk poured a bucket of gasoline on the tire fire that is his team and made some ominous comments about the team’s financial situation and future in Ottawa.
Melnyk is no stranger to bringing some less than desirable attention to his team. The whole forensic investigation surrounding the Matt Cooke and Erik Karlsson incident; the way he lost his mind in the wake of the Sidney Crosby/Marc Methot incident. But to make comments like the ones he made on Friday, on the eve of a major NHL and team event, and given everything else surrounding the team and his ownership at the moment, is astonishing even for him.
Oh, and the team itself is still seven points out of a playoff spot and sitting in 15th place in the Eastern Conference.
Given all of that it is really difficult to imagine a bleaker long-term outlook for any fan base in the NHL. Which situation can possibly be worse?
The only one that really comes close at this point from is probably the Detroit Red Wings, and that is strictly from a hockey standpoint. The Red Wings are a sub-par team saddled with a ton of long-term contracts, little in the way of young, impact talent and are in dire need of a rebuild but seem reluctant to actually go through with it. It might be a long time before the Red Wings are a factor in the Eastern Conference again, but at least they are not in danger of moving (or at least having that threat thrown out there). They don’t have an owner that fans are openly revolting against.
Even the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have some reason to be hopeful from a hockey standpoint (Jack Eichel in Buffalo; Arizona is struggling, but they have a ton of young talent).
But the Senators? What is the reason for optimism here?
They have a generational superstar that might be one of the finest players to ever play his position and it is only a matter of when, and not if, he is playing for another team.
The owner, seemingly unwilling to sell the team, doesn’t seem to respect his own fan base and doesn’t seem to have the funds to consistently put a competitive product on the ice.
If you are Senators fan, what can you possibly have to look forward to right now, whether it be for the rest of this season or beyond?
It is a grim situation to be sure.