What Will the Effects of Salary Cutbacks for the Ottawa Senators Be?

In two tweets TSN’s Frank Seravalli helped shed light on the latest embarrassing situation involving the Ottawa Senators.

One day later, Seravalli expanded on this information in an article on TSN.ca indicating that at least 17 NHL teams have reduced pay to hockey operations staff – including six of the seven Canadian franchises.

No organization cut pay as much as the Ottawa Senators did.

“After seeing their pay reduced by 50 per cent – nearly twice more than the next-highest reduction in the league – the Ottawa Senators’ coaching staff appealed to the NHL for relief. With the NHL’s involvement, Senators’ coaches were recently reinstated to full pay retroactive to July 13, the opening date of training camp before the league returned to play in Edmonton and Toronto.”

To effectively cut salary, organizations have exercised ‘force majeure’ clauses to get out from under certain contractual obligations.

Force majeure clauses are included in contracts to account for circumstances beyond one’s control and exist to absolve the non-performing party of liability should it fail to meet the contractual duties as a result of this extenuating circumstance. Circumstances beyond one’s control are often referred to as “acts of God” and are events that are unexpected and beyond foresight – think weather events, war, acts of terrorism and evidently, Covid-19.

Within Seravalli’s piece, he outlined that the Senators’ cuts went far beyond just the coaching staff.

The Ottawa Senators faced a 50 percent reduction for all hockey ops staff, but as one of his original tweets stated, the Senators’ coaching staff was reinstated with full pay retroactive to July 13th when NHL training camps reopened before the resumption of league games.

At least the members coaching staff are getting paid their full allotment, it just took time.

In order for the NHL to get involved, it required someone from the organization to bring the issue forward. And with only the coaching staff being receiving retroactive full salary allotment, it seems safe to assume that one of the coaches – with the most logical assumption being DJ Smith — was responsible for doing the heavy lifting here.

If true, I cannot help but wonder whether that will create ripples in the relationship between the parties.

In just looking at the organization’s past 10 to 15 years, it is obvious that the lifespan of a coach in the nation’s capital has not been long since Bryan Murray ascended to the general manager’s role in 2007.

John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg did not survive their first seasons as head coach. After favorably impressionable first seasons with the organization, it did not take long for the organization to sour on Cory Clouston, Paul MacLean, Dave Cameron and Guy Boucher as the pressures and increased expectations weighed more heavily on these individuals.

If the lifespan of a coach in Ottawa is on one end of the spectrum, the job security of a general manager here is diametrically opposed to it. Bryan Murray was entrenched until Eugene Melnyk decided that it would be best if Murray took a step back into a senior advisor role so that he could spend more time with family while receiving his stage-4 colon cancer treatments. Since inheriting the reigns from Murray, Pierre Dorion’s job has never felt threatened because he understands how his relationship with the owner has to be.

So here we are, one month removed from what is arguably one of the most important drafts in franchise history. It is an event that is supposed to help foster optimism and renew some confidence in management and ownership that has been lost for quite some time.

Whether that event will help be overshadowed by this latest drama remains to be seen, but the Senators’ hockey operations department, which is already one of the smallest and least expensive staffs in the entire NHL, is presumably working diligently watching video and consolidating its final draft rankings.

Imagine being amateur scouting director Trent Mann or any of the other scouts knowing how much collective influence you will have on the direction and ultimate success of this franchise while collecting half your negotiated salary.

For the coaches and hockey ops staff, it must be difficult knowing that your salary was slashed in half while many of your peers around the league had theirs untouched or cut to a lesser degree.

Most importantly, how could it not affect your relationship with your employer?

And if you are the employer, are you not worried about the optics or the hidden costs of operating this way?

This organization already struggles to attract reputable candidates whenever a position is available — preferring to hire less expensive applicants who either have less experience or have been out of the league for a period of time.

Perhaps it does not matter.

The Senators should be desperate to change the perception of the organization, but this pattern of self-destructive behavior (and their inaction on other issues) speaks volumes.

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