Blame falls on Melnyk’s shoulders
Eugene Melnyk invited a group of Ottawa reporters to the Canadian Tire Centre as a public-relations offensive on Wednesday, and as recounted hilariously by colleague Kelly Egan, the Senators owner took a call after about 15 minutes and left the room. He did not return. I like to imagine that it was Gary Bettman on the other end of the phone call, pleading with Melnyk to stop talking.
The owner was well into selling his vision of a new era in Senators hockey by that point, and there’s a good chance it set off AWHOOGA AWHOOGA bomb-shelter klaxons in the NHL offices. With the baffling video interview that the Sens released late Tuesday night, Melnyk had already signalled that his team was about to undergo a down-to-the-studs asset sale of heroic proportions. That video was accompanied by advertisements touting a similar message: The Senators, conference finalists just two seasons ago, are about to get very young and very cheap. And also parking at the arena will be discounted.
Left unsaid by Melnyk and cohorts in all of the# Ottawa Rising cheer leading was the obvious conclusion that all-world defenceman Erik Karlsson was not long for the Senators. Fans who had been holding out hope for years that the team might figure out away for the two-time NorrisTrophy winner to stay in Ottawa after his contract expired at the end of this season were essentially told there was no chance of that, not when the owner was matter-of-factly explaining that he expects almost half the roster to be rookies this year.
And so, it has come top ass. K ar ls son to San Jose, for a package of prospects and picks.
Much will be said and written about the return in the deal while noting, correctly, that general manager Pierre Dorion had little leverage, since it has been an open secret for months that K ar ls son was available to anyone with a decent offer.
I’ll leave it to others to analyze the finer points of the trade. What stands out, and what has been the obvious imp ending result as the Senators slow marched to this conclusion, is that the team has traded a franchise icon, at 28 years old, for whatever it could salvage. That almost never happens in the National Hockey League, and the fact that it did is an indictment of the franchise, and of Melnyk himself.
TheNHL’ssalary-capsystemmeans that teams always have a chance to wrap up their stars with long-term deals before they reach unrestricted free agency. Of the top 16 contracts by total value among NHL defencemen, only one of them involved a player de camping for another team as a free agent, and that was Ryan Suter, returning home to play in Minnesota. The Senators have had ages to ensure that Karlsson didn’t get to the point where they would lose him for nothing, and they failed to get it done.
Only the big Swede knows exactly why things got to the point where the Senators felt they had to trade him, but it’s not hard to come up with a list of what would have been contributing factors. Melynk has managed to alienate Daniel Alfredsson twice, as a player and as a front office advisor, with the not-so-big Swede departing the franchise both times. The owner has also complained about losing money in Ottawa whenever the subject of contract negotiations with a star player is raised. The Senators have never been a team that spends close to the salary cap under his ownership, and Melnyk makes no effort to pretend that will change. When Karlsson himself called the Senators a “budget team” a couple of years ago, he knew what he was talking about.
When he isn’t running off fan favourites, Melnyk has managed to roil what was one a loyal base in other ways, whether it was cashiering the former team president, jacking up parking rates at the arena in Kanata during the playoffs, or making relocation threats and then acting surprisedthat anyone takes those threats seriously. When the team was taking part in the league’ s centennial-celebrationoutdoor game last December, Melnyk managed to take the rare happy moment in a lost season and dump all over it. Hem used about moving the team, and in an underrated part of that television interview, even griped about whether the plans for a new downtown arena were worth seeing through. That came as he was in the middle of trying to finalize a proposal with the National Capital Commission for that downtown arena. It has not gone unnoticed among politicians in the Ottawa area that even as Melnyk bargains with them in (allegedly) good faith over the arena plans, he drops hints that the team still has other, unnamed options.