Eugene Melnyk Speaks, Embraces Small Market Mentality

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With today’s announcement that Alfie has decided to play in the 2012/13 NHL season, Eugene Melnyk took to the Ottawa airwaves to talk about the captain’s return and other offseason developments. As always, you can listen to the interview over at the Team 1200′s Facebook page. I transcribed a portion of the interview below. My thoughts are in bold.

On Alfie returning:

“I couldn’t be happier that Daniel is in shape and ready to go for another season and I think that the whole team is pleased with it. Certainly the whole Sens organization, the fans, the city… I mean, everyone is happy that he’s back. There’s no question about it. It’s going to be a thrill having him take on that leadership role that he has for the past many years.”

(Nodding head.)

On the process of

“The thing what we did not want to do, neither myself nor Bryan, was to push a player and put any kind of pressure on him to make the wrong decision because it just comes back to haunt him. It comes back to haunt the organization, but more importantly, (for) himself and his family, so we basically told him that. ‘When you’re ready, come and talk. And either way, you have been a star: in this organization; to the NHL; to the community; to the fans; to the team. So whichever way you (decide to) go, we’re just going to be happy for you that you were here.’ So we just completely left it with him and maybe a few weeks ago, we started getting some hints that he had stepped up his workout routine to the point where he felt that he had it with him. When you’re at the pinnacle of your career, and he’ll be the first one to tell you, you don’t want to step down. You want to be, especially for a guy like Daniel, he wants to contribute. He wants to contribute in a meaningful way and it’s certainly not the money. He doesn’t need any more fame. But he’s got it in him. He wants to get up in the morning and be able to play and his family was extremely supportive of the idea; which was critical to him. And you’ve got a bunch of young Swedes there too that he has taken under his wing. Some of these kids were peewees when they had his poster probably on their bedroom wall and now they’re being mentored by him. He’s going to be a very important part with our younger players; as are our other veterans in mentoring them into another chapter in the Sens’ history.”

Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!

On Alfie being able to overcome last offseason’s surgical procedure and entering this season without those health concerns:

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, I’d be scared if I was in our division after him saying that. That’s not music to their ears, but it is music to ours. Here’s a guy that in all fairness, came off a very, very, very significant injury and all of a sudden, he turned the clock back twelve months and says, ‘You know what, I feel x-number-of-times better than  I did back then.’ He still is a huge contributor. He did extremely well as an elite player, all-star and all-star captain. I can’t imagine… I just hope… we’re all hoping for the best and he’s a smart guy. He’s going to deliver on what he believes is his best.”

Like everyone, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Turris/Alfie duo can do now. With their chemistry and an offseason/training camp that should benefit Turris’ development, I’m hoping for some better production out of Ottawa’s second line center.

On bringing in some help to augment the team’s young core:

“It’s always a tough decision on when you bring in someone from outside into a chemistry that works. And right now, this team showed… I’ll tell you one thing, some of these rookies, talk about learning by throwing them into the fire. The coach throws them into Madison Square Garden in games five and seven. ‘Here, go out and have fun out there on the ice.’ It’s probably one of the toughest arenas to play in and one of the toughest situations. But that’s the way that they gain experience. Whatever mistakes they did – which I didn’t see that many – you’ve got the veterans stepping up and saying, ‘Look, been there done that.’ But even (the veterans) get nervous. To throw these young guys into the fray is just one way that we’ve matured them and I know for a fact that they’ve matured dramatically. I met Erik obviously at the (NHL) awards and he’s a different kid than he was a couple years ago. He is much more mature as a person and his play is maturing. He is working out with Alfie. You’ve got Z(ibanejad) there. You’ve got Stone. You’ve got Silfverberg. You’ve got three NHL goalies. Bryan (Murray) has done one hell of a job putting this new team together. I can’t say enough about it and I think that Alfie was the one final piece to what we’re trying to achieve and that is a Stanley Cup (winning) team.”

With news from this afternoon’s conference call that Alfie could be open to signing another contract extension, this season’s unofficial Senators slogan should change from, “Eulogizing the captain” to “Thrown into the fire”.

On the window of opportunity and fast-tracking the processwhen Alfie only has one or two more years left in him:

“Well, it is ahead of schedule and I can tell you that the biggest thrill is we were actually right. Sometimes you do these things and they just blow up on you and you spend the next five years rebuilding. We said that it was a three year rebuild. After the first year, we showed results. (After) the second year, I think we’re going to show even better results than this year. And let me tell you something, there wasn’t a team in (the Eastern Conference Playoffs) that we could not have beaten going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. How do you pick the LA Kings, who were eighth in their division and barely made the playoffs and all of a sudden, they walk away with the Stanley Cup? Once you hit those playoffs, I’m telling you, anything can happen. Absolutely anything can happen. We were a couple of goalposts away in New York from going to the next round. We could have taken down the next guys. The parity, the absolute parity in this league now is second to none. It’s exciting in the fact that you can dream the dream right through and it happens. And it can happen! And that’s what is going to bring us out and watch it on TV; watch it in the rinks. That’s what is going to make things exciting, so our objective is to be in the upper end of the Conference to make sure that we can get home (ice) advantage. But, it almost doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, you’ve got a shot wherever you are and the Kings are a great example.”

Uh oh, this resounding optimism was a nostalgic trip down ‘Buckle up! We’re going all the way!‘ Boulevard. I’m in agreement with the Euge when he says that Sens may have only been a couple goalposts away (or a couple of game six penalties taken 200′ from their own net), but you cannot get caught up in the events of what happened in the playoffs last season.

Unlike the Euge however , I’m not completely sold on the notion that this team will be better next season. I’ve already outlined a number of reasons why there should be some concern that the Sens could take a step back season. I can also recognize that the circumstances and events are never static and you cannot assume that the same phenomena will replicate themselves or that the team will progressively be better.

On making a big move to put this team over the top:

“I gave up with this theory about going over the top. I really did. We blew our brains out spending to the cap and what we proved last year is that we don’t have to do that. I mean, all that does is cover up our mistakes. Really, at the end of the day, if you invest into scouting, into development of these players, you’re going to get what you’re going to get. And you can’t buy that. You can’t buy heart. You can’t buy the fans. You can’t buy the dressing room. And my attitude, look, we were going to bid on a couple of these (free agents). We were prepared to. We had presentations done. We were all ready to go. We put our July 1st holidays on hold and I called Bryan two days before and I said, ‘Bryan, did you see these contracts and numbers that these people are throwing around?’ and he said ‘Yep. That is what we’re going to have to pay.’ And I said, ‘Do you want to blow your weekend with your grandkids and kids on July 1st and waste our time because we’re not going to spend that kind of money?’ And he says, ‘No, let’s enjoy our barbeques and let somebody else blow their brains out.’ And they did it. I don’t wish them bad luck, but I don’t think that (spending frivolously) is the solution.”

Listen to that spin.

For all intents and purposes, it sounds like the organization’s free spending days in which it spends to the cap ceiling are over. As a small market team, it’s fantastic to listen to Melnyk talk about the importance in investing in scouting and player development. If the organization is financially incapable of bidding with the big market teams for the services of the NHL’s best free agents, it makes more sense for the organization to put emphasis on finding and cultivating its own talent. With enough talent, the effect will be that the team will hopefully improve in the standings or management can parlay that quantity for quality.

On the new CBA process:

“We are forbidden from even discussing that other than how it might affect Ottawa. The only thing to keep in mind is we are a regional team. We’re not the big… we can’t spend toe-to-toe with the Rangers or the Leafs or any of the other big market teams. It’s impossible. You’re not going to be around long if you do that. So for us, we know what we need to make it a success for our team and we’ve expressed those to the commissioner and it’s been put forward in the proposals (to the NHLPA). And we’re of course, waiting for the counter-proposals. Everybody is hoping that everybody is reasonable and that we move on and start the season on time. The best diversion of course has been these Olympics. I’ve never seen a summer go by so quickly. Hockey is six weeks away… potentially. We hope it can happen but it’s going to be up to people outside of what I certainly can control. I’m one of thirty owners and everybody has got their interests but every single owner, I can tell you one thing, is aligned and totally supportive of the positions taken by the leadership – the commissioner and his team. And it’s unwavering, I can tell you that. It’s absolutely unwavering because we know what we need to do. We’ll let them do the best that they can and I’m absolutely knocking on wood for the best results.”

More on the new CBA talks:

“We have to wait for the proposals to come back to see exactly where everyone is. What we can’t do, at least in Ottawa, is we have to be smarter than everyone else. That’s the only way that we can succeed. And that is with coaching; with the development staff; that’s at the general manager level. We have to be smarter and I think we are. I think we’ve got the best people. We invest heavily into the development of these players and that’s the way that you’re going to get better. It takes no genius to go out and cut a huge cheque to buy a certain talent. But it takes a team of people that are talented, devoted and have something to work with to make a team and that’s the attitude. I can tell you, that is much more satisfying to win when you do that than basically buying and putting a team together that way.”

I’m sure Sens fans just want to win, they don’t care how it gets done. I don’t think fans of the Los Angeles Kings are ruing the days that their favorite organization acquired the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter contracts because ultimately, they won the Cup.

The Euge’s comments regarding how he has to be smarter are interesting. Earlier Melnyk spoke about Karlsson’s maturity and a person and player but I feel like the same growth could be abscribed to the owner. After Melnyk rescued the organization from its bankruptcy scare, there was a period of frivolous spending. It wasn’t much different than what Terry Pegula did when he took over the Buffalo Sabres. As a way to show the fans that the new ownership situation was a break from the past, ill-advised free agent signings were made to satiate a fan base that had grown accustomed to the previous regime’s penny pinching ways. 

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