WRITTEN BY- Robertson Davies’ Beard
This is not a tough time to be an Ottawa Senators fan. It is, however, a tough time to be a fan of ownership and management.
The Sens have had dismal seasons both before and during Eugene Melnyk’s tenure. Fewer than any other Canadian team during this period though. In fact, under Melnyk, the team has has been to the playoffs more than any other Canadian team. Although it may not feel like it right now, we’ve actually had it pretty good in Ottawa since Melnyk purchased the franchise back in 2003.
Give ‘Em Enough Rope
There is no doubt that last year’s cuts, deep bruises and harsh feelings have festered. There’s more angst, anger and ambivalence towards the Ottawa Senators today than at any other time in the history of the franchise. It appears to many (most?) that Melnyk and General Manager Pierre Dorion are screwing up royally. Of course this might not actually be the case. And this is why it’s important to give Melnyk and Dorion plenty of rope to work with.
In the 2016-17 season, Sens players and coaches performed well enough that Dorion (with Melnyk’s support) went out and added a number of veteran pieces – including Viktor Stalberg, Tommy Wingels and, err.. Alex Burrows. Whether you supported the Burrows deal, or like most fans you howled in opposition to it – one thing seemed clear. Melnyk, despite his budgetary issues, showed a ready commitment to support Dorion when his GM came looking to make a push for the Stanley Cup. Melnyk went for the win, and trite as it may sound now, the Sens did end up only one goal away from returning to the Stanley Cup finals.
When it really mattered – and certainly the Stanley Cup matters – Dorion and Melnyk did what fans hope and expect they would do. They went for it. And because they pursued that small window of opportunity, Sens fans came closer to the glory of the Stanley Cup than any Leafs’ fan has since 1967.
It’s hard to admit it sometimes but there’s a chance Dorion and Melnyk might actually know what they are doing. It’s just that we don’t know what they are doing. Fans need to keep this in mind before getting roped into the next professionally crafted billboard campaign.
Poorly Timed Suggestions and Shit-storms
Sure, Coach Guy Boucher’s team cratered to the bottom of the standings this year and was a mess in almost every statistical category that matters on the ice. Let’s ignore trading away fan favourite Kyle Turris, Shane Bowers and a possible 1st overall pick for the dynamic Matt Duchene. We can put aside Melnyk’s ill-timed suggestion that the team might move. And yes, a shit-storm blew speedy Mike Hoffman out of town at rates cheaper than a night in a Montreal road motel. Regrettably, Assistant GM Randy Lee is somehow caught up in the ugliness of whatever the hell allegedly happened on that bus in Buffalo. And frankly speaking, Dorion did undercut himself and let the whole hockey world know that the Sens dressing room was “broken” before ultimately hanging up his for sale sign on Erik Karlsson.
These are all just speed bumps on the road. Not to worry. As Thomas Fuller said, “the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.”
Melnyk and Dorion are working from a plan. “The Plan” in fact. The Plan called for July 1st ?to come along – and when it did Dorion was proudly able to keep his word to fans by making an official 8 year contract offer to Erik Karlsson. So far, so good?
Dorion Forgoes Sentimentality
One thing the Duchene trade and The Plan show is that Melnyk isn’t exactly holding his GM back. This highlights the continued maturation of Dorion. Who (like a good GM) confidently chose to forgo sentimentality by sending fan favourite Kyle Turris packing while exchanging him for the dynamic Duchene as part of an “all in” effort to make another Stanley Cup run. Dorion has matured so much as a GM in fact that he is now at a point where he’s able to confidently trade away a possible 1st overall pick and the greatest player in the history of the franchise. This is progress of a sort.
It’s fair to “hot stove” things and question whether these are good hockey moves or not. But it is also fair to point out that Melnyk helped save this franchise during its previous darkest hour. The fact is that Eugene Melnyk is the guy who stepped up to buy the team in 2003. Criticize the man all we like, but he is the biggest reason we are all still able to enjoy the team to this very day.
It’s also fair to point out that the Ottawa Senators Foundation has contributed over $100 million to worthy projects and causes in our community since its launch. Ottawa is a city of givers, so we should at least give the man the applause due for the many good works of the franchise he runs.
Sens to the Vanguard
Eugene Melnyk is no buffoon. He is an intelligent man. He learns. His ill-timed and buffoonish comments at the Outdoor Game about moving the team quite rightly cost him and the Senators an enormous amount of good will. But it also led to the establishment of the town halls and, in a happy development for Sens fans, actually brought Melnyk to the vanguard of the league’s owners.
Credit both Melnyk and Dorion here. They have committed the franchise to a new path for ownership. By holding their town hall meetings, they promised to listen to the fans and act on what fans told them. In a very real sense, Eugene Melnyk transferred part ownership of the Senators to the fans at those town halls. Basically they changed the rules of the game with fans and the league. In effect, this is what took place. “Here is what we are going to do,” they said. “We care what you think,” they added. “You are all owners, too.”
Of course following through on the promises made during those Town Halls is another challenge entirely.
Pull a Melnyk
Like any business owner, Eugene Melnyk makes decisions on how much and when to invest based on the performance of Dorion and his management group; and, crucially, based on the funds he has available to him. Sens fans need to look at things from a new perspective. They need to acknowledge their new role in the ownership of the team and determine their level of satisfaction with management.
Fans need to “pull a Melnyk” of their own and make a plan. Give management a chance to perform, decide on a reasonable level of support and stick to it.
Of course, whether you put your money up before the season starts or whether you decide to hold it back until management gives you a good reason to invest more is entirely up to you. After all, if it is reasonable for an owner like Melnyk to hedge his bets and be careful with his spending, then surely it is reasonable for you, an owner too, to be careful with your money.