Frustrated Senators owner talks rebuild, arena future

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Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has picked an interesting time to go on a media tour. With just eight games remaining in the Sens’ season and the team sitting in the basement of the NHL standings, Melnyk decided it was a good idea to rip journalists and other teams over the last 24 hours.

“You don’t do a rebuild with a short-term view. You’ve got to have, and it’s tough in sports, a five-year outlook and if you don’t all you’re doing is patching up. I know a team that you know that’s done it for 53 years,” Melnyk said of the Toronto Maple Leafs on CFRA 580 radio in Ottawa. “They’ve been selling out, but all they do is they’ve been patching up. Finally, they collapsed the team, said ‘We’ve got to a rebuild,’ but mistakes were made and somebody forgot about defence.

“They’re going to have a tough time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. They’re hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in, so they’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful. [The Senators have] something like 17 draft picks in the next three years in the first three rounds and that’s a huge inventory of draft picks, plus everything we have in Belleville, plus, plus, plus.”

Last time we checked, only five teams in the league have more points than the Maple Leafs, while no team has fewer points than the Sens. Again, it’s an interesting time for him to be saying stuff like this.

During that same interview, Melnyk made sure to put his general manager, Pierre Dorion, on notice too.

“This next six months are going to be critical for [general manager] Pierre [Dorion] and his team, and the whole operations [staff] to get their act together in a big way to be able to use these assets – all the 17 picks we have in the first three rounds for three years, plus all of the other prospects. This core group, that’s sitting in Belleville and playing up already are going to stay. And yes, they’re all going to need those big contracts and I’m prepared to step up for that.”

Melnyk also took a shot at TSN 1200 radio host Ian Mendes.

At what point does the NHL have to get involved in this? Even if they don’t want to force him to sell the team, they have to find a way to keep him quiet. The situation in Ottawa has become embarrassing enough that they don’t need the owner to come out and say controversial things about reporters and other teams.

During an interview on the FAN 590 in Toronto, Melnyk also discussed the possibility of the team building that downtown arena everyone’s been talking about.

“It’s dead as far as the process is concerned. They’re now talking about all sorts of different machinations of things and they’re looking at dividing it up into six little projects. I think it’s very fluid right now especially in an election year.

“If there’s an opportunity there, we’ll listen to them. At this point, we’re not in any hurry. I’m still trying to pursue it, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m just as happy to stay in Kanata and do what we’re doing out there and actually expand upon what we’re doing and what we have.”

On the ice, the Sens have some solid youngsters like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Erik Brannstrom and a few others, but it takes more than that to be a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. By their own admission, they’re in rebuild mode, but Melnyk is convinced that this team can turn things around fast. Really fast.

“The whole objective is that three years out we have a true Stanley Cup contender and that we don’t have the gaps that some teams have and that we stay within the cap,” he said. “We know what the cap is going to be but my worry is you’re going to be bumping into that if you have five or six real starts that you’re paying $10 million to.”

Good luck with that, Eugene.

And, oh yeah, the bots are back!

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Senators owner outlines aggressive spending plan for ‘run of unparalleled success’

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At a corporate event on Tuesday, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk pledged that he and the organization would commit the resources necessary to make the team competitive once again, with the goal of bringing the Stanley Cup “to its rightful place in Ottawa.” This news was relayed in a press release sent during Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The statement mentions that more time is needed to rebuild the roster, but that as early as 2021, the team will begin a sustained period spending close to the salary cap ceiling. Here are the final two paragraphs from the release:

“Mr. Melnyk also confirmed during the presentation that on the hockey side of the business, the expectation is that the Senators rebuilding plan will take another season or two from now, but when his general manager confirms that the Senators have all the pieces of the foundation in place, he made the following pledge to the guests in attendance:

“The Senators will be all-in again for a five-year run of unparalleled success – where the team will plan to spend close to the NHL’s salary cap every year from 2021 to 2025. He reiterated that the Senators’ current rebuild is a blueprint on how to bring the Stanley Cup home to its rightful place in Ottawa.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the obvious place to start is whether the Senators could even be in a position to contend as early as this timeline suggests. Of course, so much depends on the future of pending unrestricted free agents Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, the team’s top two scorers. During Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, Bob McKenzie reported that the primary concern for both players does not involve dollars and cents, but rather how soon the team would become competitive. That remains a major question considering the Sens are at the bottom of the NHL standings. To make matters worse, the potential lottery pick they would get as a “reward” for cellar-dwelling actually belongs to Colorado as a result of last year’s Duchene trade. That puts even more pressure on general manager Pierre Dorion to get deals done for his two best forwards.

Optimists can point to the return Ottawa got from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson deal, which included a heavy dose of draft picks. But a Sharks postseason appearance this year (a virtual lock at this point) means that Ottawa won’t receiving a first-rounder from them until 2020. So, barring another significant move, it will be at least another year before the Senators pick on day 1 of the draft.

Another reason to believe Ottawa can pivot quickly is that the modern NHL is rife with parity and turnover amongst playoff teams. Each of the past two seasons, seven teams made the playoffs after missing the prior year. And the Senators themselves are familiar with this, having missed the playoffs in 2015-16 before making it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final the following year. Then again, relying on recent trends does not make for a sound strategy.

Moving beyond the proposed timeline of the rebuild, how will Senators fans interpret the latest statement from their team’s owner? Over the past year-plus, Melnyk has delivered mixed messages about the franchise, most notably in December 2017, when he stirred up a controversy by raising the possibility of relocation. Though Melnyk did walk those comments back shortly thereafter, it is still understandable that fans might view this “blueprint” with a degree of skepticism.

Regardless of how this plays out, it is encouraging that Melnyk offered a specific plan for how the team will approach the future, and it gives fans something to hold him accountable to. But before Melnyk and Dorion can begin spending to the cap ceiling, they must focus on the negotiations with Duchene and Stone so the roster doesn’t suffer another Karlsson-sized subtraction. Perhaps these comments will serve as part of the sales pitch to keep them in the fold long-term.

Senators owner sues partner in Ottawa in development deal

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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is suing his business partner for $700 million in a development deal meant to bring a new NHL arena to downtown Ottawa’s downtown.

Capital Sports Management Inc., a group controlled by Melnyk, said in a statement Friday it has started legal proceedings against John Ruddy, the chair of Trinity Development Group Inc. Melnyk is ”seeking damages arising out of a failed joint venture.”

Melnyk’s group contends the companies were unable to complete an agreement for the LeBreton Flats area of Ottawa, a few blocks from Parliament Hill. The statement alleges ”egregious conflict of interest on the part of Trinity and its principal, John Ruddy.”

The Trinity Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Senators play at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, less than 15 miles from Ottawa’s downtown.

#MelnykOut billboards go up in Ottawa as Senators fans urge change

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The billboards in Brooklyn want the general manager out. The billboards in Ottawa, which went up Monday morning, are calling for the owner to sell.

As the dissatisfaction with the state of the franchise continues to intensify, Ottawa Senators fans have come together to purchase four billboards calling for Eugene Melnyk to get “out.”

The campaign was started by Spencer Callaghan, who raised $5,000 in the first 24 hours after the GoFundMe page was opened.

“What I want to accomplish mainly is for people to just start asking questions, like why is this organization in such turmoil,” Callaghan told CTV News in February. “It’s at the point where if we need a change of ownership to get this organization back on track then that’s what we need to push for.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the four billboards will be up for two weeks and a fifth will go up for one week on April 2.

It’s been a strange year in Senators land. They went from being within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final to having their owner threaten to move the team to then having him walk that back a few months later to now looking at the NHL draft lottery and coming to the realization that captain Erik Karlsson may be dealt in the off-season.

So you can see why they might be ready for some change.

Meanwhile, it will be a very interesting off-season for the New York Islanders. They are going to miss the playoffs for a second straight season and have to worry about whether John Tavares will decide to re-sign with the organization. Fans upset with GM Garth Snow’s lack of progress with the franchise put up their own billboards in February calling for his removal. Head coach Doug Weight doesn’t seem to have any answers, so will ownership decide to clean house and start fresh as the franchise begins to split games between Barclays Center and a renovated Nassau Coliseum next season as they wait for their new home to be built near Belmont Park?

If the campaigns in Ottawa and New York succeed by reaching their ultimate goals, how much of an inspiration will they be for other fanbases who are sick and tired of the lack of direction with their teams?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Eugene Melnyk writes to fans, commits to keeping Senators in Ottawa

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If you’re still listening, Ottawa Senators fans, your owner has a message for you.

Eugene Melnyk wants you to know that things are going to change, that the future looks better than the grim picture Melnyk is responsible for painting.

Senators fans will remember that just a few months ago, it was the same Melnyk writing fans on Thursday that threatened to move the team if disaster struck.

This season for Ottawa has been nothing short of a disaster, but Melnyk was singing a different tune in a letter sent out to season ticket holders and fans on Thursday.

“When I came on board, the Ottawa Senators were in deep financial trouble,” Melnyk wrote. “Together, with your support, we brought this team back to life and we have had Canada’s most successful NHL on-ice performance over the past 15 years. Backed by Ottawa fans and the entire community, I have demonstrated my commitment to giving you the best possible team over and over again. Today, I am just as committed to the Ottawa Senators and to keeping them in the City of Ottawa, as I was in 2003.”

The letter is a lot of what you’d expect from an owner of a struggling team trying to make sure season ticket renewals go as smoothly as possible for a team stuck in 29th place in the NHL, just months removed from being a goal away from the Stanley Cup Finals.

Melnyk reminded fans that the team wasn’t far away from competing for hockey’s holy grail. He went into roster changes at the trade deadline, plans to improve the fan experience and getting the Senators back to winning ways.

“This has been a disappointing season for our team,” Melnyk said in the letter. “Our place in the standings speaks for itself. Trust me, no one is more aware of this — and more frustrated by it — than I am.”

Maybe.

Let’s remember, however, that Senators fans are willing to not only shell out their hard-earned money to watch the atrocity play out on the ice, they’re also willing to spend thousands to erect a billboard showing their immense frustration for Melnyk.

The letter’s biggest omission, however, is the lack of Erik Karlsson‘s name.

The team’s best player, one of the league’s top defenseman, and a player that’s been so horribly mismanaged by the club, to the horror of its fans, is nowhere to be found in Melnyk’s thoughts to his fans.

That’s rough.

The little hope that Senators fans have left remaining is planted in Karlsson’s future. Melnyk failing to commit to repairing that relationship and trying to re-sign a player that is nothing short of a generational talent makes everything else seem superficial.

Time will tell if Melnyk can restore the Senators from being the league’s laughingstock.

But it’s hard not to imagine that fans wouldn’t have rather read a letter from Melnyk that apologized for the shambles it’s currently in; a letter that told the truth to fans, that he has failed the organization, its players, and its dedicated fanbase.

Ottawa deserves that, at the very least.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck