They’re saying Boo-urns: The Eugene Melnyk Story

Picture your dream job. Something you’ve dreamt about, likely for as long as you can remember. Everything you’ve done, all that you’ve worked towards was with this pursuit in mind. Eventually all your hard work and sacrifice pays off and it’s within your grasp. You’re overcome with joy! You’ve done it! Then you wake up, and Freddie Kruger’s pulling the strings…

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I imagine this is how Pierre Dorion feels most days. The Ottawa Senators’ GM has been around hockey for decades. The son of a former Leafs scout, he worked his way up the scouting ranks with the Habs and Rangers before landing in Ottawa. He put his time in and was inevitably rewarded. He took over the reigns after legendary GM Bryan Murray stepped down. This is where many saw a change in the organisation. Murray had the clout and the experience to handle the difficult situations that arose and help put out the fires when needed. That’s not to say things would be drastically different if he were still around: Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris would likely still have been dealt, or that his signings (Bobby Ryan) haven’t lingered on, but there’s little doubt in the minds of most he would’ve handled things more effectively, something that comes with experience and the respect earned over a long career. He was one of the few who could tell ‘mercurial’  owner Eugene Melnyk no, and knew what was best when it came to running a franchise.

That left Dorion to play Smithers to Melnyk’s Mr. Burns. Unable to stop him from doing whatever he feels like, perhaps short of stealing candy from a baby. That’s not to say he hasn’t made plenty of his own mistakes, (we’re a team…seriously Pierre?) but the reality of the situation he’s been put in was hopeless from the get go.

The NHL has 31 teams and to be the GM of anyone of them is an incredible honour.  So much so that you’re willing to tolerate Eugene Melnyk merely to have such a prestigious gig. Why risk losing it by arguing with the boss? You could fall on your own sword and say I’m not going to do this for the sake of the organisation, but there are dozens who happily will. So, you grin and bare it.

Like Charles Montgomery Burns, Melnyk presents an air of little regard for his employees or consumers, seeing them merely as a means to an end to line his pockets. This was never more evident than in the now infamous pre NHL 100 Classic interview last season when he bemoaned the fact that he can’t charge $1000 per playoff ticket like they do in New York. This wasn’t so much a commentary as a window into the void that is his soul.

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When he’s not busy making asinine propaganda videos, (shout out to Boro for taking one for the team. That’s a character guy!) Melnyk’s spent his time whining and antagonising the fan base with each interview, threatening to move the team if it’s not profitable. Now, I’m not going to fault someone for not wanting to lose money on a business. Seems sort of counterproductive. However, when you’re the one to blame, should you really get to complain? The way he’s handled his relationship with fans, cheaped out on the roster and staff, to be so utterly naive that your mismanagement of the organisation and PR is the very reason you’re struggling to turn a profit is mind boggling. The Sens were top 10 in attendance for years! This is a solid, granted at times fickle hockey market, who love their team. They’ve grown to despise Eugene, refusing to financially support him any longer, and as a result the #MelnykOut campaign was born. So why all the vitriol? Let me count the ways…

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Daniel Alfredsson

Captain. Legend. Alfie. Arguably the most beloved Senator of all time was looking for a new deal late in his career. GM Bryan Murray figured it was as good as done, they just needed to sign the paperwork. Then, it wasn’t. Alfie left the Sens to go play with his multitude of Swedish buddies in Detroit and take one last shot at a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings. Now, there are many sides to this: his agent, his own desire to win a cup, but ultimately it was Melnyk who refused to pay up, an insult to a pillar of the organisation that likely drove him away.

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Fast forward a few years, Alfredsson returned to the Sens as part of the management team. Briefly. He left, again, and, again, speculation was it had to do with ownership. Alfredsson took the high road and talked about wanting to spend more time with his family (certainly reasonable and well deserved) but the undercurrent of dissatisfaction was already in motion. Not long after Cyril Leader who had been with the Sens for decades was relieved of his duties as well. There are few more telling things then when quality, loyal people leave or a let go by an organisation.

 

Kyle Turris Trade

From all accounts Turris was one of the most liked guys in the room, a pillar in the community (his work with the Capital City Condors was fantastic) and was coming off a great playoff run. He was due to be an unrestricted free agent and when an agreement couldn’t be reached, he was traded to Nashville in a three way deal (promptly signing a six year 36 million dollar extension). After the trade Pierre Dorion stated that he alone was responsible for hockey deals. This prompted Turris’s wife Julie to write “LOL”on twitter, which seemingly sums up the Sens in three letters more effectively than even the most insightful article (aside from this one of course) ever could.

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Now, with all due respect to Kyle, (who I admire) is he going to be a $6 million dollar a year player by the time this deal is up? Probably not, but he’s a steady second line centre for the Preds, and as with most contracts these days you pay for the upfront performance and hope the guy doesn’t tail off too drastically.

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This all seems cut and dry though, right? I mean, when time came to resign him, he evidently couldn’t come to terms with the Sens and so was dealt for Matt Duchene. Why risk losing him for nothing? Makes sense. However, this deal started a downward spiral last season they never recovered from, and not just on the ice. See, if they never planned to pay Turris that much, getting a piece for him like Duchene, who is an upgrade, would seem like a logical move. That is unless this move is merely to appease the fanbase, to show them you got something of value in return, if only temporarily. Duchene is a UFA after this season and if you consider him an upgrade, logic would suggest it would cost you more money, and possibly term, to keep him around. Does anyone honestly see this happening given the current circumstances? That Melnyk will suddenly open his bank account? Or will he too befall the same fate, being shipped out for parts? A continuous stream of trying to contend without a willingness to pay star players what they’re worth. A true recipe for success…

 

Mike Hoffman Trade

When the gossip columns hit suggesting there was a rift in the Sens room, stemming from online bullying of Erik Karlsson’s wife Melinda by Mike Hoffman’s girlfriend, Hoffman was dealt, perhaps as a sign that they wanted to do right by captain Erik Karlsson in the hopes of signing him long term.

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Hoffman is a proven goal scorer and, though a diminished asset after this circus, should have brought some value. He was moved to San Jose for two players and one pick, leaving many to ask why didn’t Dorion simply get picks/prospects in exchange? If you’re going full rebuild that’s the most sensible thing to do. Surely a man who has been around the game as long as Dorion would completely understand and go that route. Sell the fans base on hope. Unless of course that’s not your mandate. With Hoffman’s money coming off the books and as we know now the knowledge that they were going to unload Erik Karlsson and his salary as well, the Sens needed to ensure they reached the cap floor so instead of making a trade that would coincide with the rebuild he was shipped off for warm bodies to fill roster spots and run the team on the cheap.

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To make matters worse Hoffman was hours later flipped to Florida for a package of picks. Now I understand the idea of not trading within your own division, however Panthers GM, Dale Tallon, when asked, allegedly said that the subject of picks/prospects never came up. Telling indeed.

 

Erik Karlsson Trade

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The best defenceman of his generation, a dynamic on ice player who can change the game by himself. Must be nice to have a guy like that on your team…And it was. Karlsson’s the kind of player that draws fans and admiration from around the league. He’s personable in interviews and a wizard on the ice. He made it clear that he wanted to get paid what he’s worth and seemed to genuinely hope that it would be here in Ottawa. This was evident from his farewell speech to the fan base. Maybe he knew the Sens would never give him his money, maybe he should have taken less if he really waned to stay here. Irregardless, it wasn’t easy for him to leave. Inevitably the relationship with ownership fractured and, as the rebuild loomed, the team decided to move on.

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The organisation was never going to win the PR battle on this one. Karlsson is still a beloved figure with the Sens fanbase and deserving of the large payday he’s bound to get after this season in San Jose, whether it’s from the Sharks or not. He’s a symbol of the hypocrisy of Melnyk complaining about lagging fan support then giving them little to be excited about. Driving elite talent away isn’t exactly an “excellent” recipe for success and until that changes, until there’s a sense this organisation is stable and competent in its decision making, the relationship between fans and the owner may never truly be repaired.

1 Comment

  1. It sucks to be an Ottawa fan now. Melnyk wants a new rink and Betman agrees. It will be hard for the coach and team to move forward. Stay tuned Sens fans.

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