Yesterday morning James Duthie appeared on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto for his regular hit where he was asked a slew of questions regarding the Ottawa Senators.
If you have not listened to the full interview, you can find it here.
Not only is Duthie from Ottawa, he’s the host of the infamous TSN and was a mainstay on the Senators’ regional broadcasts this season. Duthie’s very well-respected in his industry and given the relationship that his network has with the Senators, his interview became interesting for a number of reasons.
When asked whether the Senators’ 2017-18 season was one of the biggest disasters that Duthie had seen, he did not pull any punches.
“I am 100-percent with you. I was thinking about this yesterday and maybe there’s been worse years in the last 20 for Canadian teams when we thought they were moving because practically, the only thing worse than this is your franchise moving – which who knows down the road for the Senators might become an issue as well. It’s just this is the greatest tire fire that I’ve ever seen in professional sport. Even the Cleveland Browns when they lose don’t have this kind of soap opera happening behind the scenes. I mean, the thing about the (Ottawa) Rough Riders was 20 or 30 years of prolonged pain. This just happened over such a short period of time. We were calling it a tire fire just back when the Karlsson (rumours were happening) at the deadline. That was before Randy Lee and before this Karlsson/Hoffman mess – which is… I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that wives/girlfriends/alleged (burner) account is like one of the top-five sports stories of 2018. It’s so beyond me, it’s just ludicrous. The sad thing is that after everything I’m hearing, we may not have heard the end of craziness coming out of Ottawa. There might be more coming down the chute.”
Ignoring Duthie’s comments about another story coming down the pipeline for a second, those are some pretty candid and aggressive comments.
Given the 12-year and $400 million deal that the Senators signed with Bell Media in 2014, it’s uncharacteristic of personalities like Duthie to speak openly and be critical of a franchise that his employer has a relatively large broadcast agreement with.
With all due respect to the Red Blacks, Ottawa’s always been a bit of a one-horse town in the sense that the Senators corner this market.
It is a rare occurrence for journalists to bite the hand that feeds, so publicly expressed cynicism and negative critiques have been hard to come by. Rather than risk alienation, having access restricted or perks taken away, coverage of the Senators within this market has often been cozy.
This season, the relationship has changed.
Whether it was Brent Wallace asking Eugene Melnyk to address rumours about failing to meet payroll at the NHL Heritage Classic or the organization pinning the blame on the media at the team’s series of town hall events for their mischaracterizations of events, the relationship between the organization and the reporters in this city has never been worse.
Obviously the stakes are a little different because James Duthie is a national broadcast host who is based out of Toronto, but to hear him describe what needs to happen in Ottawa for this city and this franchise was refreshing.
“I don’t know what the more is yet. I just heard there is more. I wouldn’t do that to you guys — just drop something that I knew that I couldn’t say. I wouldn’t pull that on you, but I just had somebody tell me yesterday there might be something more coming that adds to this list (of offseason misdeeds) and it is also something that is off-ice. So, I don’t know. I don’t know that you can have either one of these players back. I really think now and I’ve been saying this for a year, but more than ever, the only thing that can sort of really reboot this franchise is an ownership sale – which that would be a way of saying you get rid of these players. I hate the idea of getting rid of Karlsson, but maybe it’s going to come to that where I can’t imagine he has any interest in coming back now through all of this stuff. So you end up basically starting over again, but I don’t think that just means trading Karlsson, firing Pierre Dorion and getting rid of Hoffman. I think you need new ownership and the new arena that might be coming. You need all of that to almost start over again – which means gone, implosion, let’s start from scratch.”
There is often a tendency to look at the unfortunate passing of Bryan Murray and lament much this organization misses his presence as an individual who could act as a buffer for Eugene Melnyk and help get the organization’s missteps under control.
What’s happening now goes beyond the explanation that we’re sorely missing Bryan Murray. This isn’t just some short-term problem that has afflicted the organization in recent years. It is the culmination of years of mismanagement, impulsive decision-making and poor leadership of Eugene Melnyk.
In fairness to the organization, some of what has happened – like the alleged Hoffman/Karlsson cyberbullying — has been out of its control, but it’s really important to recognize many of this organization’s shortcomings are the product of a volatile owner. The signs and symptoms were always under the hood, but now that the Senators finished at the bottom of the standings, fans and the media are less willing to ignore the problems when the team isn’t competitive.
So for Duthie to come right out and state that the Senators need Melnyk to sell, that is one bold statement.
Whether Duthie’s comments are a reflection on Melnyk’s finances, some overt pressure from the NHL to sell or just a lack of confidence in Melnyk’s ability to improve his image, I don’t know.
What matters is that it never would have happened in the past and it makes me suspect that Melnyk is pretty vulnerable here.