With today’s official announcement that the Ottawa Senators will travel to Sweden to take on the Colorado Avalanche for two regular season games (November 10th and 11th) as part of the NHL’s 2017 SAP NHL Global Series, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk joined TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’ to discuss his club’s participation.
Although this midseason road trip and Melnyk’s thoughts on the NHL’s Olympic participation dominated the early stages of the interview, it was Melnyk’s comments on Sidney Crosby’s slash on Marc Methot that generated a lot of league-wide headlines this afternoon.
To listen to the full interview, which begins at approximately the 4:07 mark, you can use the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On his team going over to Sweden in November next season to play the Colorado Avalanche and how this deal came together…
“We did this nine years ago, I think it was, that we went over there and I was part of that entourage. It was a great, great time. We’re trying to expand the outreach of hockey to all parts of the world and Scandinavia, of course, is a big hotbed for hockey and we are probably one of the best to represent hockey in Sweden with our superstars. Our last two captains were Swedish and it just… we started talking about when we were going to do this next game and it’s been almost a decade. Everybody jumped on this and we’re just pleased to be part of it.”
It’s pretty ironic that the league is balking at expanding the outreach of hockey to the Far East, but has no problems sending teams to Sweden, where the game is already an intrinsic part of that country’s sport culture. Considering that each of the participating teams are giving up a home gate, I’m guessing that the payout is making this trip worthwhile enough for these owners to ship their players off to a foreign country during the middle of the season.
On what the decision process was for having the games in the middle of the season versus the beginning of the season…
“I should say hockey operations, Pierre (Dorion) especially, came back to us and the coaches and just felt, including the players, they just felt that going over there early in the season kind of… first of all, they’re not fully ready yet and you’re burning them out before the first game of the season already because of the overseas trip. So the thought was, if we could do it at some point in October or November – and it turned out to be November – it would be a lot better for us. We’re into the season, we take a little break overseas and we’d be gone for a week and then come back. So it was just a question of seasoning, I think, and making sure we that have a good team. These are serious games. They’re a full two-points each or up to three and last time we were prepared, but it was tough on us. We wound up getting three out of four points.”
Hold on a second, the players were burned out when they returned from the team’s last European trip and that was at the beginning of the season when everyone is relatively healthy and energized from the offseason? And now they’re being sent in the middle of the season to play meaningful games and there aren’t any concerns about the impacts that this disruption in scheduling or travel could have on the players? Okay, that makes sense…
On having the NHL work with him with the outdoor games, this trip to Sweden and possibly going to the Olympics…
“Yeah, we have… even this year, we dropped the ball. It shouldn’t have happened, but you know we had a fully-loaded (schedule). I’ve got to actually count it today. I think we had like 20 games in November and that’s just way too much on the players and way too much actually on the fans. There’s only so many games that you want to see and that showed in the attendance. Now, it’s a little bit more spread out and we’re going on our playoff run, our attendance is up. (It’s) fantastic and it’s been sell out after sell out and the main thing is that the players are getting rest between games.”
The Senators had 15 games in November, but from a record standpoint, the team actually fared quite well going 9-5-1.
By comparison, their next busiest month were December and February when the team played in 13 games. The team has played 15 games in a month before however. Just last season, the Senators played 15 games in both December and March, but unlike this past November, the Senators fared poorly during those months.
To Melnyk’s point about fan fatigue, 10 of those 15 games were played at home during that stretch, so it’s probably reasonable to assume that this stacked schedule didn’t really help the team at the box office.
The oversaturated volume of home games early in the season isn’t the only reason why the Senators were affected at the gate. Fan apathy, Melnyk malaise, the federal government’s Phoenix pay system, the RedBlacks’ Grey Cup run and the accompanying competition for entertainment dollars, all contributed to the Senators taking it on the chin at the box office during the early stretches of the season.
On whether he feels that the NHL will allow players to go to the Olympics…
“You know, we had a vote – which was very confidential – and we didn’t even know the full results. But, we put our votes in and it was kind of an ad hoc thing to say, ‘Hey, how does everyone feel (about Olympic participation)?’ My sense is I’m just echoing what everybody else is kind of saying and that is it’s tough, tough, tough to take that kind of risk on sending over your franchise players. Some owners, God bless them, they haven’t been in my shoes. But, I’ve been there and done that and it’s really not pretty when you find out that something happened overseas.”
As I wrote yesterday when Melnyk made an appearance on Toronto’s Fan 590 radio:
“It’s weird listening to an owner talk about the possibility of injuries in non-NHL games influencing his thoughts on Olympic participation when this year’s World Cup created a condensed schedule where players have fewer days of rest between games to recuperate.
Of course, Melnyk is the same owner who bragged to Ian Mendes during a fall interview from the Senators’ home opener about being at every World Cup game where he complimented Gary Bettman and told him that the tournament was “one of the greatest things we’ve done.”
I guess so long as it’s an NHL sanctioned event wherein the league and its owners can make money, owners aren’t worried about the impacts of those events. I mean, this is the same owner who has no concerns about the impacts of having his team travel to Sweden in the middle of the 2017-18 season to play two regular season games against the Colorado Avalanche.”
Imagine the Senators’ schedule next season if the league agrees to go to the Olympics. Not only will their best players go there for two weeks, the league will also have to condense the schedule and work around Ottawa’s one-week trip to Sweden, its bye-week and whatever outdoor games the Senators get committed to (ie. Ottawa was rumoured as a prospective opponent should Montreal get their own outdoor game).
And just when you thought Bobby Ryan was over-extended, it’s crazy to think about how condensed Ottawa’s schedule could be next year.
On what the difference is in the NHL’s perspective between a player getting hurt in their World Cup versus a player getting hurt representing his country at the Olympics…
“I think it’s best to ask Gary Bettman about that, but just as an observer, even as a fan, I’d say that ther’s a mutual respect amongst players that you’re not going to slam your superstar because in our game, it’s all NHLers, for starters, and it’s NHL officiating. It’s not in the Olympics, not necessarily, I think that’s part of the negotiations, but the NHL is also an enterprise. The World Cup is an enterprise of the NHL, so everybody participates in that and it’s something to promote the game. It’s hockey on our own turf.”
“Ask Gary Bettman,” is such an amazing answer. In other words, injuries are an acceptable risk provided that the hockey is being played on Bettman’s terms and money can be made from it.
On the risk of an injury being there irrespective of what kind of event it is…
“Yeah, that’s the biggest thing for me and it’s unfair to the fans. To sit there and can you imagine now something happened to any of our top players – top five or six? You just… everybody gets optimistic and everybody has dreams of a Stanley Cup, as do I, but (those dreams) are shattered. This is a repeat performance. We’ve seen this with the Islanders and we’ve seen this in Montreal and many, many other situations where a top player is knocked out and a team tanks. It shouldn’t happen, but it does all the time.”
Injuries to hockey players only happen during the Olympics. They don’t happen anywhere else. They never occur in World Championships, All-Star Games, exhibition games, the World Cup or when players eat pancakes. Injuries are only possible in the Olympics. Dread the Olympics.
On Marc Methot suffering an injury to his finger from a Sidney Crosby slash…
“Yeah, I’m sure this is being taken up with the league this morning. I asked for an update and I haven’t gotten it yet. I’m actually on (the west coast). You do anything that’s almost a certain injury and I think the only way to do it is to wipe the guy off the map for not one or two games, ten (games). How about a season for a few of these guys? Really, he takes my guy, I take your guy and that’s my attitude. The guy that creates the injury should be sitting out. They should watch the games together for the rest of the season. That’s the kind of attitude I have. There’s no room for that and you’ve got to think of it. Marc Methot, that’s who you saw, I see the things behind the scenes of what happens from slashes and they’re ugly. They’re just as ugly as Marc’s, but Marc’s was so visible. It was a terrifying thing to look at those pictures. I don’t even want to think about it, it was that disgusting. So that’s the only way to do it: you hammer these guys and you take away their money because they all understand money. You simply say, ‘You know what? You’re done for ten games and guess what, you guys are not going to get even close to the Stanley Cup if it’s an elite player on the other side.’ There’s no room for it in the NHL.”
The Methot injury was pretty gross, but the result is the consequence of a couple of factors:
- The league and its referees have fostered a culture wherein these types of slashes happen dozens of times per game are accepted as normal. As others have noted, if the slash is made to Methot’s stick and it breaks or he drops it, it’s a penalty eight times out of ten. If the league gets strict on slashes and starts calling penalties more appropriately, maybe this doesn’t happen.
- Players sacrifice their own safety by preferring gloves that are lighter and give them more dexterity.
If I’m Eugene Melnyk and I look at the kinds of hand injuries that my players repeatedly suffer, maybe it’s time to look into working with equipment manufacturers to deliver products that can keep my players on the ice.
On the league becoming too lenient with its disciplinary penalties…
“Well again, sometimes we miss these things. I hope this guy is… we all know who he is. The guy is a just whiner beyond belief and you do this kind of stuff. I don’t care who you are in the league. I don’t care if you’re the number one player in the league. You should sit out a long time for this kind of crap. I really do.”
Pot, meet kettle.
I get Melnyk wanting to protect his player in this instance, but I can’t imagine the league will want one of its owners shitting on one of its marketable players as a “whiner beyond belief”.
On expecting to hear a timetable from Guy Boucher on when the Senators can expect Methot back…
“The guy lost the top of his finger! I mean, did you see it? It’s ugly. I wouldn’t want to show that to anybody under the age of 25!”
Great, like this organization needed another reason to keep 20-year old Colin White away from the team.
On looking forward to another matchup with Montreal this Saturday…
“I’m looking forward to it. I think our guys are very, very hungry. They’re not going to mess around at all; not that they did. Montreal is a great rivalry. We’re looking forward to it and that’s why the outdoor game is going to be something, I think, spectacular, especially with this team and the build-up of the rivalry is just getting bigger and bigger. So I’m very, very excited about it and we’re looking forward to the rest of the season. Put your seatbelts on.”
Even if Ottawa wins on Saturday, it’s hard to envision them holding Montreal off. The Canadiens’ schedule is incredibly soft with the Senators representing the only opponent that is currently in a playoff spot.
On what he thinks about the divisional playoff setup…
“I do (like it), but only because (Ottawa’s in the playoffs). I really don’t have an opinion, honest to God. I think we just go with the flow and it’s not something we focus on. We’re trying to constantly, everybody is – the NHL, the owners, the players – everybody is trying to make it a better game. I’ll tell you one thing it does: I don’t know if you remember ten years ago, we all used to go to sleep when things weren’t as close as this and the attendance would drop from 20,000 or 18,000 to (10,000) because if you’re not in the playoffs, people lose interest. So here, many, many teams are (in it) right to the last weekend. We don’t like to be in this position, but remember all those points that we gave up in December – like the one-pointers and stuff – that’s now coming back to haunt us and I knew it would. We’re doing great, don’t kid yourself. We are doing great! Marc’s injury is a setback, but it happens with the game unfortunately and we’ve just got to move forward. I think we have the depth. I think we have the depth.”
Artificial league parity, Melnyk’s a fan.
On whether he can shed any light on the Colin White situation…
“Uh, all I know at this point is that they’re deep in negotiations. So no, I can’t comment. I can tell you, I’ve liked Colin very, very much. He’s part of our future and I hope that everything prevails and he becomes part of our organization in an orderly fashion, we enjoy his company, he enjoys ours and we’re going to do well. He’s a good guy. He’s a good player and him and (Thomas) Chabot, we’re looking at them very, very carefully and there are others within the pipeline that are the future of the Ottawa Senators.”
Get. Him. Into. The. Fold.