His Ottawa Senators are one win away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time and the second time since the team’s 2007 Stanley Cup Final appearance, so Eugene Melnyk joined Bob McCown and John Shannon on the Fan 590’s ‘Prime Time Sports’ to talk about the Senators’ performance thus far.
I did not transcribe the full interview simply because the hosts also delve into The Organ Project and how Melnyk will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, but if you’re interested in organ donation and helping to save lives, I encourage you to check out The Organ Project’s website.
The full interview can be listened to via the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On the team doing well in the postseason and being up 3-1 in their series against Boston…
“Yeah, we’re in Boston now getting ready to get back, but yeah, we had a great game last night. We thought that we played really, really hard. It was close and it was pretty tough. The fans here are pretty brutal. Yeah, (we’re still in Boston) and had work to do here too, but yeah, coming back and getting ready for tomorrow night. It’s a big night for us, so we’re going to have quite the time and we’re hoping to play strong and hope everybody gets a little more healthier and that we’re competitive.”
Melnyk touches on a key point here: the health of his players. Although Erik Karlsson assuredly isn’t the only player who’s battling injuries, it’s imperative for the Senators to keep this series short and afford their franchise player the luxury of getting rest.
On telling his general manager to do whatever he needs to do to get into the postseason and whether he saw something in his club that the pundits did not…
“Well, I had the injury reports – that I always get – and at any one time, we kept getting these nagging injuries. You know, you had one guy out and we had a couple of tragedies as well that the team overcame – Craig Anderson’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and rightfully, he took the time off to be with her for a few months and we survived that with some great goaltending from the backups. And then Clarke MacArthur came out of nowhere to decide that he could play and he passed all of the testing – and it was very, very rigorous testing that we had to do on the guy because he had been out of hockey for almost two years and he comes back. We had (Erik) Karlsson then get hurt then we had (Marc) Methot’s finger sliced off, so it was a whole bunch of stuff and now we’re finally getting back to where we almost have a full roster. You’re never going to be able to get a full one, but people are all healing and we’re only going to get better as time goes on. So getting through this series, if we can win this, I think we’re going to be very strong towards the second and third rounds.”
Heading into the series against the Bruins, the Bruins looked to have a massive advantage in their underlying numbers, but the healthy returns of a few players coupled with injuries to Boston’s blue line have helped mitigate the clear puck possession advantage Boston had.
Through the first four games, the Senators have posted these aggregated five-on-five numbers (via NaturalStatTrick.com):
Some may downplay Ottawa’s success or question their ability to win games in subsequent rounds simply because they haven’t dominated a decimated Bruins team territorially, but who cares?
The numbers are also a function of Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 counterpunch system that helps the opposition hang around the Senators in low-scoring games.
Even if they’re not dominating the Bruins, I’ll enjoy the wins as they come because the Senators are up three games to one and with every game being decided by one-goal, the Senators should consider themselves to be fortunate that they have a series advantage at this point.
I suppose the real danger would come if the Senators won a round or two and ownership and/or management focused explicitly on the results instead of the process and romanticized the composition of this roster – believing it to be closer to a contender’s status than it actually is without addressing their obvious shortcomings – but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it whenever the season is over.
In the meantime, savour the postseason success.
On having to go back years to find a player who has dominated a series like Erik Karlsson has…
“Yeah, you’ve almost got to go back, and I hate to do this, but you’ve got to go back to Wayne (Gretzky) almost.”
On looking at the defence position and believing that no one has dominated a series like this since Bobby Orr…
“You know what, yes. You’re just killing my salary cap, but you’ve got to say that. The guy is phenomenal and the man is hurt. It’s just phenomenal how well he’s doing and how he just will grin and bear it and go out and play as much as he can as well as he can. But, he’s getting better too. I think (his health) is at 75-percent now, but God watch him. When he’s at 100-percent, he still pumps up the team. You know you’ve got some veterans in there now as well: you’ve got (Clarke) MacArthur in there; Chris Kelly was brought in; you’ve got (Dion) Phaneuf in there pumping everybody up. So you’ve got some young players who need that desperately and when you see all that come together, you start daydreaming about all sorts of things. We’re just lucky day-to-day to make sure that we don’t get any major injuries and that we can continue on grinding it out. All these series, if you look at them all, none of them are total blowouts. Everything is a grind. Everything is down to the final minute and anything can happen. It’s nerve-wracking and exhausting and I’m just sitting in the stands, never mind these guys (actually playing the game).”
Holy shit. First a Gretzky comp and now an Orr.
Not bad for a guy who is allegedly playing at 75-percent health. Hell, just when you think there isn’t anything that could make his first round performance any more legendary, Melnyk drops this nugget of information.
On the doubts of naming Erik Karlsson years ago and how he really has grown in the role…
“He has. He’s matured a hell of a lot. He now takes leadership much more seriously than anyone else. It’s taken some time to get recognition that he really is responsible and it is his team that he has to fire up. You see that on the bench, him yelling at others and stuff, that’s all good. But then again, look you go back to Toronto, (watch) Auston Matthews all of sudden (be) captain and look what he does. You never know with these guys. At the time when Karlsson was named captain, we were in the meeting with him and basically he was asked, ‘Are you ready to be the captain because we don’t think so,’ and he made his case. We’ve let him take a shot at it and once a captain is appointed, it’s tough to take it back so you better be sure that this guy can mature in it and he certainly has now as a leader.”
There’s so much going in here with this paragraph.
It’s hilarious that the Senators gave Karlsson the captaincy even though the organization had its own reservations about his ability to handle the job. Considering how the organization bungled the Daniel Alfredsson negotiations, they probably wanted to placate their best player and keep him happy.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing and by Melnyk’s last sentence, I wonder if the Senators ever had thoughts about stripping Karlsson of the ‘C’, but this is Karlsson’s team now and he definitely has matured into the role.
On another note, Melnyk realizes that the Leafs don’t have a captain, right?
On being a little disappointed in Bobby Ryan’s performance since he was acquired and how he looks revitalized in the first round…
“Well, you have to go back to who he is and who he was. When he came out of the juniors, this guy was a superstar and people had big plans for him. Then it took a turn downwards for a little bit. We acquired him, he was all ready to go, ‘Hot, hot, hot!’ He just went through some personal stuff and typical hockey stuff, then he had a significant death in his family – his mother – and it ends up, now all of a sudden I think, his injuries are gone and his mental state is at the 150-percent and he’s just playing what everyone expected him (at) five or six years ago. He is now what we were hoping for when we acquired him, so it doesn’t surprise us but it does surprise us.”
Ryan’s performance thus far is fantastic for a couple of reasons: 1) he’s obviously contributing to the Senators’ on-ice success; and 2) if the Senators ever had any intention of moving on from Ryan, there’s no better platform for him to perform well on than the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With five years left on his deal that carries an average annual value of $7.25-million, Ryan’s contract is going to be difficult to move.
Maybe he has overcome his ailments and the personal tragedies that have afflicted him, but at 30-years old, I have a hard time believing that a now 30-year old who doesn’t skate particularly well is going to have an easy time avoiding the natural aging curve and diminished production that we see so often from these types of players.
On Ryan being the second overall pick behind Sidney Crosby at the 2005 NHL Draft…
“He was. He was number two. You’re not getting Sidney right now, but imagine that, he was right behind him and I think (the decision of Crosby or Ryan at no. 1) was the flip of the coin back then.”
A coin flip? The only way it was a coin flip was if the coin had ‘Crosby’ written on both sides of it.
I have to stop thinking back to the 2005 NHL Draft before the Brian Lee memories seep in… ah, fuck!
On hiring Guy Boucher and the belief that of all the players on the roster, Bobby Ryan would have struggled under the most with this structure and how it probably took time for them to bond…
“Yes, it absolutely does and I think that everybody else has bought into Guy’s program, his structure, the way to play the game properly and (the players) have seen that it actually does work. It’s not the most exciting hockey. This almost reminds me of the New Jersey team that won the Stanley Cup. They were not exciting. They were boring, but they won. It’s like Buckley’s cough syrup, it tastes like hell but it works! In this case, yeah, you have a guy freewheeling and that was his style and to bring him down into a structured environment, it takes time but once it clicks, you’ve got a very powerful player and that’s what we’re starting to see with Bobby right now.”
I don’t understand why the Senators owner, who fired and is being sued by the organization’s former Chief Marketing Officer for his failure to fill the Canadian Tire Centre with butts in the seats, is on the nation’s biggest sports radio program and openly admitting that his hockey team plays a boring and unentertaining brand of hockey that is reminiscent of the 1990’s era New Jersey Devils.
On when he took an equity position with Buckley’s cough syrup…
“Yeah, I’m trying, but it does work. So, I’m very happy with the way the team is going. I predicted, if you remember – maybe if you go back just under a year ago at the end of last season – I told you about what I thought of the Leafs and I said, ‘I think they’re going to be very competitive.’ Everybody opened up their eyes and said, ‘Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Sure enough, they’re coming forward and they’re playing seriously good hockey and I think our team is very competitive this year as well. In this part of the season, once you get past the first round, anything can happen in the next three rounds. Anything. We just have these daydreams and we hope that it works out and we’ll just keep grinding.”
I get that Melnyk’s on a Toronto radio station, but I wish he could shake that habit of bringing up the Leafs in every interview that he does. It’s an annoying and unnecessary pattern of behaviour that exemplifies the obsession and insecurities that many fans have towards Toronto.
On the frequency of these low-scoring games and their entertainment value and whether as an owner, he only cares about wins and losses or whether he also cares about their entertainment value…
“Oh, that’s a tough question. You jumped all over the place. You went from the NHL to what I think and they do (care). Listen, you know me, I don’t defend them that much, but in this case, they’ve done everything they can to get us higher scoring. It’s just that teams come up with ways to make it not higher scoring. There’s a big risk when you go into a game and there are various schools of thoughts on this with some very serious hockey players that say, ‘Hey, our best way to win is to plow out offence. To hell with the back, I don’t care. Put four forwards out there and score, score, score, score,’ and hopefully you get seven, they get five and you win the game. Others, like Guy, have a style that says, ‘No, we’ll wait for them to make a mistake, be opportunistic, jump in and try to score one goal and then protect, protect, protect.’ From my perspective as a fan, I’d want the 7-5 game, but from a winning (standpoint), it’s proven that with the systems that they have in place for a defensive game, wins games. They’re exciting in that they’re nerve-wracking, but it’s a lot more fun seeing eight to 10 goals a game. But, I’ll take the win anytime over an entertaining loss.”
Ideally, your team is malleable and can win playing a variety of styles that you can shape to the opposition, but looking back at Ottawa’s problems over the past few years, they’ve had success playing a run-and-gun style as much as they’ve enjoyed success playing in Boucher’s 1-3-1.
Although this modest success has been there, the reservations I’ve had for the past few years are still the same as they are under Boucher. Irrespective of this team’s success in the postseason, I still have a hard time believing the personnel in place is good enough for this team to create a window of contention that will afford this team the opportunities it needs to win a Stanley Cup.
On how Tom Anselmi is doing…
“He’s doing alright. He’s busy. He couldn’t even make it out here to Boston for the game because he’s got a whole bunch of stuff he’s got to do today. He couldn’t afford getting in at 2:00 in the morning, but he’s doing fine. We’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot of restructuring and stuff like that and we’re now working on LeBreton (Flats) and those negotiations, so he’s zipping around and he’s busy. We’ve got him busy.”
I would have loved to hear more about the organizational restructuring going. I wish the hosts followed up on this.