MELNYK PLAYS HIS TRUMP CARD
There are 31 teams in the NHL. All of them fly charter for road trips. But for the last several years, only one of them has allowed reporters to travel together with the team.That is until now.Days after the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun, both owned by Postmedia, published a leaked video that showed a vanload of Ottawa players talking crap about an assistant coach during an Uber ride in Arizona, the Senators informed veteran hockey reporter Ken Warren that the Ottawa Sun and Ottawa Citizen would no longer be allowed to travel with the team.Warren was literally standing at the airport gate when he was kicked off the flight Friday and though he got on a later commercial flight, he ended up missing that day’s practice in Tampa, Fla.The Senators declined to comment on the matter. But the last-minute notice indicates this was their way of hitting back at the Citizen and Sun for publishing the video the Senators had hoped would never see the light of day. Either way, it was a juvenile move. And, frankly, it was not at all surprising coming from an owner who has operated the team with a sort of Donald Trump-ian approach to controlling the message.Also on the Senators’ growing no-fly list is TSN reporter Brent Wallace, who before the team’s Parliament Hill alumni game last December had the audacity to ask owner Eugene Melnyk about a report that suggested he had been withholding bonus money from his employees. Melnyk denied the allegation. Once the cameras were turned off, bystanders saw him turn to Wallace and say, “I’m going to bury you.”Since then, Wallace’s seat on the charter was revoked, leaving Sylvain St-Laurent of French-language newspaper Le Droit with one of the remaining few seats. Well, until he writes something Melnyk doesn’t like. Based on the owner’s thin skin and the team’s propensity for causing controversy, that shouldn’t be too long.This isn’t about saving money or making travel easier for the Sun and Citizen. With or without a seat on the charter, an Ottawa reporter is going to continue to travel to NHL games. Rather, it’s about a franchise that believes it can shape the news with bullying tactics straight out of a five-yearold’s playbook.“We remain committed to covering the stories, both the good and the bad, surrounding the Ottawa Senators — coverage that our readers and their fans expect from us,” said Michelle Richardson, editor-in-chief of the Sun and Citizen. “We will be at (Saturday) night’s game in Tampa providing our usual game coverage and analysis.”The news is not always positive, especially when it concerns a hockey team near the bottom in the standings and in average attendance. It doesn’t help that off the ice the Senators have spent the last year or so embroiled in one controversy after another with the owner having started most of the fires or at the least trying to smother them in gasoline-soaked rags.Shortly after the end of last season, Melnyk invited reporters to a town-hall meeting with season-ticket holders. Cameras and questions were not allowed. Months later, after the Senators traded away two of their best players, Melnyk was so desperate for positive public relations he staged a one-on-one “interview” with defenceman Mark Borowiecki, where Melnyk fielded softball questions on the rebuild and his commitment to keeping the team in Ottawa.“Some people are talking in town, ‘He may move the team!’ Let me tell you something,” Melnyk said in the video interview with Borowiecki. “First things first, I’m going to stick around for a long, long time. OK? I’m not going anywhere. And No. 2, the franchise is not going anywhere. That’s totally solid. So everyone can focus, get rid of the noise.”The thing Melnyk doesn’t seem to understand is it’s not the media making the noise.It wasn’t the Citizen nor the Sun that chased away franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson from a front-office job. They didn’t trade Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman for a bunch of magic beans after the two became embroiled in a cyber-bullying scandal. Who was it that threatened to move the team if attendance didn’t pick up? Whose employee was accused of sexually harassing a shuttle-bus driver at the NHL draft? Who failed to lottery protect a first-round draft pick in a regrettable trade for Matt Duchene that was only made because ownership didn’t want to pay Kyle Turris his market value? It certainly wasn’t Warren. Neither the Citizen nor the Sun installed a hidden camera in an Uber-affiliated vehicle to catch the private conversation of the team’s players. For that matter, the Citizen and Sun didn’t pay for the video. The driver tweeted it out and posted it to YouTube for everyone to see. By the time the Senators told the newspaper to take the video down, the cat was out of the bag. Everyone had it and everyone was running with it.But rather than focus its energy on why these controversies keep popping up, the organization seems more concerned with trying to prevent them from being reported. Of course, that would take a measure of accountability, which is something the franchise is in short supply of.When the Uber video was released, the team’s response was to trot out four players who weren’t even in the van to talk about it.Where was Melnyk? Where was general manager Pierre Dorion? Where were Duchene, Chris Wideman or any of the players who not only bragged to a stranger that they were NHL players, but then proceeded to trash their team and a coach in front of that stranger?All of a sudden, a one-day story became a two-day story that might become a season-long story if an extended version of the video were to get released. Of course, who knows what other controversy will have popped up by then.As Melnyk said in that video interview with Borowiecki back in September: “Right now, we’re kind of in the dumpster.”Truer words were never spoken.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk had an Ottawa reporter booted from the team’s charter flight Friday when Postmedia’s Ken Warren was denied access following Ubergate.
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