When Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk speaks, there are solid odds that he’ll say something ridiculous. Speaking generously, you could say that the Crime Scene Investigation-loving Senators owner has a penchant for hyperbole.
So, when Melnyk makes prognostications about his Senators’ chances, your eyes perk up. Even if it’s closer to the sensation you get when you’re about to rubberneck at a traffic accident.
When it comes to Melnyk’s recent appearance on The Bob McCown Podcast, the worst logical collisions feel more like fender benders. Sometimes Melnyk might have even made sense!
Let’s get to some of Melnyk’s comments about the Senators’ future (short, and also long-term), and ponder how much optimism is actually appropriate.
How strong are the Senators’ chances, with or without an All-Canadian division?
For the most part, Eugene Melnyk preached patience about the Senators’ chances in 2020-21 specifically.
That said, while Melnyk didn’t repeat claims about a five-year run of “unparalleled success,” he did pump up the next three years.
“Everybody’s on the same page to try to be competitive,” Melnyk said. “I think our fans would really, really enjoy to see us in the playoffs this year. And then once you get to the playoffs, we all say, you know, then anything can happen … I think our big years are coming in the next three years.”
On one hand, an All-Canadian division could moderately boost the Senators’ chances. While the Atlantic Division features powerhouse teams like the Bruins and Lightning to go along with the Maple Leafs, an all-Canadian grouping would be less imposing at the top. Dom Luszczyszyn of the Athletic notes as much here (sub required).
Unfortunately for the Senators, such a structure is likely a much bigger boon to teams like the Maple Leafs, Flames, and Canucks, though. To some extent, Melnyk realizes that such an alignment doesn’t cure all of the Senators’ ills.
Asked if he wanted an all-Canadian division, Melnyk laughed "No. It's only for a hockey reason. This isn't our year. We'll be competitive but this is the year the Canadian teams are all better. Every one of them _ including mine." #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) November 16, 2020
In the short term, even talking yourself into everything going well still leaves the impression that the Senators’ gains may be modest.
Consider, for instance, the likely top center duo of Colin White and Chris Tierney. Beyond that, Ottawa doesn’t figure to ice much defensive support beyond Thomas Chabot. Even if Matt Murray looks more like the Murray who won two Stanley Cups than the recent, struggling model, it may only help the team save some face.
At least in the short term …
Pondering Ottawa’s long-term chances
So, what are the Senators’ chances of enjoying that “unparalleled success?”
Well, that may come down to development. Ultimately, getting the most out of prospects boils down to mix of luck (how much will that prospect improve on their own merits?) and skill (can Ottawa put them in positions to succeed?).
Looking through various rankings and observations about the Senators’ farm system drills down on my conflicting feelings:
A) On one hand, GM Pierre Dorion‘s done a nice job collecting a bunch of solid-to-very-good prospects.
You can see that reflected, for instance, in Corey Pronman ranking the Senators’ systems third following the 2020 NHL Draft (sub required).
B) On the flipside, will the quality meet that quantity?
In ranking players under 23 years old, Pronman placed Brady Tkachuk highest among Senators at No. 12. That’s excellent for Tkachuk; he’s exceeded already significant expectations so far in his young, agitating career.
But will it be enough to propel the Senators to compete with elite teams down the line? That part’s unclear.
Perhaps the Chris Drury/Buffaslug era Sabres could serve as something of a template if Ottawa is heavier on stars, rather than true superstars? The 2005-06 Sabres finished fifth in scoring, even though they only featured one player above 70 points (Maxim Afinogenov at 73).*
Of course, prospects frequently exceed or fall short of expectations. Ask different scouts or draft gurus about Tim Stuetzle’s potential — and whether he should have actually gone third in the 2020 NHL Draft — and you’ll likely hear many different answers. (Jake Sanderson, fifth overall, also proves fairly divisive.)
So you can see how that can get pretty sprawling, being that the Senators are loading up on prospects like a contestant collecting turkeys in “Supermarket Sweep.”
* – The actual Buffaslug Sabres of 2006-07 featured higher scorers [Daniel Briere with 95 points; Thomas Vanek at 84], so maybe that’s the sexier template. But you can get the idea, hopefully.
OK, here’s some throwback Melnyk Senators hyperbole
Overall, Melnyk isn’t really stepping too far out of bounds with his Ottawa Senators optimism.
That said, if you needed to meet a weird comment quota, the way Melnyk sells the rebuild is still pretty funny.
” … I think history will show that this was a plan that was put together that has never been done before,” Melnyk said. “Nobody’s ever trashed a team like we have. (We) cut our top six guys. Do that to any team and see what happens to them.”
Ah yes, no team’s ever done a dramatic rebuild. True innovators, those Senators.