Being a sports fan is an emotional roller coaster. It can make you cheer, heckle, laugh, or cry. It can make you overjoyed, heartbroken, and constantly on the edge-of-your-seat. One word that should never be used to describe a die-hard fan of a major league sports franchise is “apathetic”.
Unfortunately for the Ottawa Senators, lifelong fanatics like myself are throwing that word out pretty frequently these days… and it has very little to do with the team struggling on the ice. We have grown apathetic of this out-of-touch organization and the message it has been sending.
Who’s to blame for this? Is it former team President Cyril Leeder, a founding member of the team and pillar in the community (before he was fired a year ago?) Is it his replacement of only a year, Tom Anselmi who we only knew from a few media appearances before resigning over the weekend? What about beloved former captain Daniel Alfredsson, who parted ways for the second time in five years for “undisclosed personal reasons”. Could the two dismissed C.F.O’s, former head of ticket sales, or even “Spartacat” be to blame? The answer is no.
The answer is Sens owner, Eugene Melnyk. Yes I am aware he saved the Sens out of bankruptcy in 2003 before Facebook was even a thing. For that I am grateful. And yes, I am aware that he, as the owner of the business, has the right to run his business however he pleases. At the same time, myself and other fans have the very same right as his consumers.
Since our great run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, this team has been defined by mediocrity (squeaking into the playoffs one year, just missing the next year). Not only has it plagued the team, it has also been rewarded. Pierre Dorion is an excellent hockey mind and eye of talent, and he is restricted by a tight internal budget. However, he has not done a great job managing that budget (giving a two year extension to Alex Burrows with a no movement clause or signing AHLer Max McCormick to a one-way contact next year — these are unnecessary moves that other GM’s around the league wouldn’t have even entertained, thus there was no competitive need for this. I know 2.5M is not a big cap hit, but it is when you are a strict budget team. In a year where the Sens sit in the bottom five in the NHL Standings, there is no reason for Melnyk to reward Dorion with a three year contract extension at this juncture.
Between working with a skeleton staff, and strict internal budget, Sens General Manager has his hands full as he looks to rebuild the Ottawa Senators into a contender.
Back to Eugene and “The Internal Budget”…
Of course he has every right to implement a sustainable business model with spending in correlation to revenue. Thus, there needs to be an emphasis on smart drafting and development instead of high-prices free agent signings. I accept that and actually encourage that.
However, this means you need to invest into scouting and development (hockey operations department) and it’s widely known that we boast the thinnest hockey ops staff out of all 31 clubs. We’re driving a car with no engine here folks.
Let me be clear, Eugene has done a lot for our community as well and is heavily involved in many great local charitable causes. But as he said in his comments at the NHL100, “this is about business”.
Finally (and most importantly) is that his attitude and behavior toward fans is the biggest reason for the overall disconnect here. His comments on Parliament Hill in December before the NHL100 outdoor game, when he took the focus off the one exciting event fans had to look forward to in a down year and made it about himself, are proof of this.
Listen, I will always love this team and what it means to this city. But while the hockey operations department is managed like the Trump White-House, and the owner is blaming the results of his poor business strategy on fans on a regular basis, I won’t be buying tickets or merchandise.
I am not a fair weather fan. I have a Sens tattoo for Alfie’s sake! The Sens have just committed to a “let’s just squeeze into the playoffs- and hope for the best” – approach. I’ve simply done the same with my ticket purchases.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the current state of our hometown Senators and how ownership can work to rebuild some of the bridges that have been burnt recently?