Eugene Melnyk has broken his silence.
Following his infamous media availability that took place before the Senators’ alumni game on the doorstep of Parliament Hill one day ahead of the NHL 100 Classic outdoor game, the Senators’ owner has taken a noticeable step away from the spotlight and the microphones.
Melnyk first reappeared in a short video that was officially released by the organization shortly after the NCC announced that it had reached a preliminary agreement with Melnyk’s RendezVous LeBreton Group for the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats.
It was the first step in what is plainly a calculated attempt to not only improve his image, but pacify a fan base and soothe the wounds he inflicted with destructive comments in December.
As great as it is that Melnyk finally recognizes (or was made to recognize) the damage that he can wreak with his words, after 15 years of Senators ownership, the challenge for him and his handlers will be to change the opinion of fans and or sponsors.
It may be an instance where it’s too little and too late.
The reality facing Melnyk is that he is depicted as an impulsive and volatile person whose words and actions are rarely of benefit to the organization and if he is going to stick around for the long haul, he is going to have to work really hard to change his behaviour.
Throwing shade at the fans and threatening relocation on the eve of a major NHL event simply cannot be undone by participating in a media blitz.
“I think whatever was said in December was unfortunate that it hit a real nerve in Ottawa,” Melnyk told CTV Morning’s Ben Mulroney. “But, the reality is I love the city, I love the people, I love the fans and it’s actually my privilege to be there and to be able to ice a team like the Ottawa Senators. I’m really pleased so far.”
There was no apology or any remorse for threatening to relocate the team if ticket sales did not improve, only an expressed disappointment on how the fans responded to said threats.
“Well, I think it was spoken in the moment so to speak. I was somewhat surprised (by the reaction), but in hindsight, I was not surprised at the way that it hit the nerve of the city,” Melnyk told Global TV in Toronto. “And I didn’t intend to hit a nerve, but I guess it did.”
Keep in mind, this is the same person who is known for his own emotional reactions like the two separate editorials that were featured in this city’s newspapers (note: one was in response to a Don Brennan column suggesting Melnyk may be the root of the team’s attendance problems during the playoffs; the other was in response to an article that urged Melnyk to have the NHL 100 Classic be played at TD Place rather than have the prospect of an outdoor game be put in jeopardy).
Melnyk’s words are simply a continuation of the problem that has plagued him since he purchased the team out of bankruptcy in 2003.
There is a reluctance take ownership or accept any responsibility for the misdeeds of this franchise.
Even when asked about declining ticket sales, Melnyk attributed it to more fans electing to watch games on televised broadcasts, his employees having to work harder and a need for a new downtown arena.
“The fact that we didn’t sell out 1,000 or 1,500 of the cheapie seats – that’s what wasn’t sold, the seats way up in the rafters. It doesn’t surprise me completely, but I think in the end, we just have to work harder,” Melnyk explained before adding, “nobody works harder than I do to make a greater fan experience and that’s what we’re striving to do.”
Melnyk’s self-bragging nature is Trump-esque, but to put these comments into perspective, here is what the Carolina Hurricanes’ new owner, Tom Dundon, had to say about ticket sales in Raleigh.
“If we don’t sell more tickets, it’s not the fans’ fault, it’s our fault,” Dundon said. “Clearly, this is a winning town, this is a winning place with a team that is ready to win. … They’ll come when we give them a reason to come.”
In Ottawa, a serious disconnect between the owner and this fan base has grown and it’s resulted in distrust and anger.
And really, who can blame fans for being resentful of Melnyk’s declaration that “the market here has to prove itself otherwise you do have to make changes” when a Senators fan donated their liver and saved Melnyk’s life?
Not to mention the confusion that stems when Melnyk acknowledges in December that he has “cut everything to the bone in the organization” and that they “probably (have) one of the thinnest management groups that you have in the league” only to turn around a few weeks later during this media tour and state that the Senators have the wherewithal in place to be successful.
“We’ve got smart people in the organization, the hockey organization,” Melnyk explained on CTV Morning. “We stepped back this year and it’s unfortunate, but it also leads to opportunities for us going forward and I really believe that we have the wherewithal, the vision and we’re very, very committed to bringing a Stanley Cup to Ottawa.”
These types of inconsistencies are frustrating and lead to fans to question what the reality is?
Is it the off-the-cuff openness that fans have endured for the past 15 years or is it the PR-filtered message that is trying to encourage optimism now?
It is going to take more than words to get fans back onboard.
Melnyk can’t simply dismiss fans who lay blame for this organization’s problems at his doorstep like he did in an interview with CTV Ottawa’s Graham Richardson.
“First of all, you’ve got passionate fans,” Melnyk said. “Secondly, I don’t really follow social media, but a lot of those people aren’t necessarily Ottawa fans.”
Following social media, it’s safe to say that the #MelnykOut movement is comprised of a lot of Senators fans. They just don’t happen to love the organization unconditionally. While they grew up with the product and continue to watch the games, relishing the successes while caring about so many of this players, these same fans may no longer have the stomach to endure this organization’s vision or the way that it’s been operated under Melnyk’s ownership.
Loving this organization and disliking its owner aren’t mutually exclusive things.
Melnyk is going to have to come to terms with that.
If he is going to continue to own this team moving forward, people will judge him by his actions.
It starts by answering the question of whether or not this organization can convince Erik Karlsson to sign a long-term extension.
If it can’t, Melnyk will not be able to hang the decision solely on it being a hockey operations department decision or the organization having to “look at everything”.
And don’t be surprised if fans “look at everything” before reaching for their wallets and buying tickets next season.