Or­ga­ni­za­tion has lost its way

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - WAYNE SCAN­LAN ws­can­lan@post­media.com

The Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors will never find their way out of their haze, lost as they are with­out a moral com­pass.

They are a team wor­thy of rel­e­ga­tion to a lower league. And while their on-ice per­for­mance alone war­rants this — much like it would if they were an English soc­cer club — their off-ice an­tics have left fans bit­ter and an­gry.

Surely the thought crossed the mind of NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman — can we just de­mote Ot­tawa to the ECHL?

Stum­bles of an in­di­vid­ual sport­ing club of­ten res­onate through a re­gion — the ter­ri­tory that cares deeply about each lit­tle nu­ance. Trag­i­cally, the Sen­a­tors are get­ting no­ticed around the con­ti­nent for their in­famy.

Ray Fer­raro, a highly-re­spected TSN hockey an­a­lyst and for­mer player, went on ra­dio Tues­day to say of the Sen­a­tors: “You have got an or­ga­ni­za­tion, top to bot­tom, that is in ab­so­lute sham­bles. They’re the laugh­ing stock of the league. There’s no­body more com­i­cal, in a sad way, than Ot­tawa is now.”

Fer­raro was speak­ing af­ter this news­pa­per broke the story on the lat­est team scan­dal: cap­tain Erik Karls­son and his wife, Melinda, seek­ing a peace bond against team­mate Mike Hoff­man’s part­ner, Monika Caryk, re­gard­ing al­le­ga­tions of re­lent­less on­line ha­rass­ment. Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing. Hoff­man and Caryk deny the al­le­ga­tions.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion can find the source of its myr­iad is­sues with one sim­ple act: look into a mir­ror.

Through­out the lost sea­son of 2017-18, and more point­edly into the off-sea­son, the Sen­a­tors have cho­sen to re­act to crises, many of them self-in­flicted, rather than get out in front of them.

In­stead of liv­ing right and be­ing proac­tive, we get a cul­ture of cover up.

Af­ter owner Eu­gene Mel­nyk mused about mov­ing the fran­chise, then later hedg­ing about shift­ing down­town to a pro­posed new arena at LeBre­ton Flats, he faced the wrath of Mayor Jim Wat­son. The Mel­nyk camp said it would meet with Wat­son. This was in April. The meet­ing never hap­pened.

Fran­chise icon Daniel Al­freds­son told a reporter the club needs a new owner.

When as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Randy Lee was charged with ha­rass­ment for an al­leged al­ter­ca­tion with a 19-year-old in Buf­falo ear­lier this month, the Sen­a­tors were out of the gate quickly with a state­ment. That was the right move.

But when the na­ture of the charges be­came public — es­pe­cially af­ter our story on the po­lice re­port fur­ther de­tailed Lee’s al­leged be­hav­iour — the Sen­a­tors fum­bled the ball. As a sign of the se­ri­ous­ness of the al­le­ga­tion, the AGM should have been sus­pended un­til the mat­ter was re­solved. Mel­nyk’s hir­ing of a high-pro­file Amer­i­can lawyer to de­fend Lee pointed to an em­pha­sis on get­ting him cleared rather than re­spect for the op­tics.

The stun­ning Karls­son-Hoff­man rev­e­la­tions were another clear ex­am­ple of the tail wag­ging the dog.

The Sen­a­tors post-story state­ment that “we are in­ves­ti­gat­ing this mat­ter in co-op­er­a­tion with the NHL ...” was laugh­able.

The po­lice have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing for weeks while the Sen­a­tors failed to act, in any vis­i­ble way. Though the trolling of Melinda Karls­son on so­cial me­dia ap­peared to reach a zenith fol­low­ing the loss of the Karlssons’ un­born son, the Karlssons al­lege on­line abuse dat­ing back to Novem­ber. Again, these are al­le­ga­tions yet to be proved against Hoff­man’s part­ner, but it is the kind of di­vi­sive stuff to ruin a dress­ing room.

And it was left to fes­ter through­out the off-sea­son.

One can’t help but think that if the late gen­eral man­ager Bryan Mur­ray had been on the scene, he would have sniffed out this sor­did mess and nipped it in the bud, likely with­out any­one find­ing out there was even a con­flict.

He would have ei­ther brought the par­ties to­gether to re­solve it or made a trade with one of them (not hard to guess which one).

In­stead — be­hind the 8-ball once again — the Sen­a­tors have Hoff­man on the trade block too late, his trade value se­verely di­min­ished, de­spite a proven abil­ity to score.

Al­ready, there was lit­tle hope of Karls­son re-sign­ing in Ot­tawa, de­spite the Sen­a­tors’ vow to of­fer him a new con­tract by July 1. The su­per­star cap­tain could be traded as early as next week’s en­try draft.

Fol­low­ing the re­lease of Tues­day’s story by Shaamini Yog­a­ret­nam, Ot­tawa’s TSN 1200 opened its phone lines to fans dev­as­tated by this lat­est twist of the knife in their hearts. A man from New Brunswick said he flies in a cou­ple of times per sea­son to see his team. He said he couldn’t see him­self do­ing that any­more.

Another was wear­ing a Sens sweater at a re­cent fan fo­rum in Las Ve­gas. This was long be­fore the shocking rev­e­la­tions of this week. And he said he had never faced more verbal abuse as an Ot­tawa fan.

This is how far we have sunk as a hockey town, Ot­tawa. We’re get­ting burned by Las Ve­gas, oneyear won­ders.

And while it’s not the club’s fault that a Sens baby gar­ment was re­called due to a po­ten­tial “chok­ing hazard,” my God what a fit­ting sym­bol for this cruel sum­mer.

When there is wood rot in your home, you can scrape and claw and dry and paint, but it’s of­ten too deep-rooted for a cos­metic fix. It re­quires a full re­place­ment.

This is the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion with the Sen­a­tors or­ga­ni­za­tion — rot­ten at its core.

JONATHAN HAY­WARD /THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

“You have got an or­ga­ni­za­tion, top to bot­tom, that is in ab­so­lute sham­bles,” TSN hockey an­a­lyst Ray Fer­raro said of the Sen­a­tors. “They’re the laugh­ing stock of the league.”

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