The Euge Speaks

As we joked about on the last episode of the podcast, as the Senators have made the ascent up the Eastern Conference standings, the enthusiasm amongst the fans and players has been palpable. In fact,  things have gone so well Eugene Melnyk’s absence from the Toronto airwaves has been conspicuous.

Well, no more! With an appearance on The Fan 590’s Sportsnet Tonight with Jeff Sammut, the Euge is back baby!

So grab your seatbelt and buckle up, we’re going all the way with this transcript. As always, my thoughts are in bold.

Q: What a year your Senators are having but you knew all along that your team had it in them?

A: Aww, come on. (laughter) First of all, hi Jeff. Listen, we’re very pleased with what’s transpired. I don’t think there’s a single person on the planet, including myself, that expected us to do as well as we have. When you start putting everything together like they have in that dressing room: with the right coaching, the right leadership within the dressing room, young kids that are hungry, throw a little of veterans in there and work hard and enjoy yourself… the next thing you know, you have got a winning combination. This is a fearless team. They don’t care who is coming in or where they’re going but they’re going to fight to the last second and they’ve shown it.

Hmm…(Rapping fingers for keyboard.) Where is the hyberbole Euge? Give me something to work with here.

Q: Talk about your new head coach Paul MacLean and what he has done for this club.

A: He’s done a lot. This was planned out. We had long discussions with Bryan (Murray) of what type of profile of candidate we need. We wanted to bring Mark (Reeds) on board as well as Dave Cameron but he’s done great. This is exactly what you need when you have a young team. You actually need to coach as opposed to bark orders. These are people. These are players that are looking to learn; looking to get better. They want to be told or taught how to be a better player as opposed to being told how badly they’ve played. So this guy is a great teacher and then you’ve got the veterans that have all circled around and said, ‘Hey, this is our team. We’ve been around the block and let me tell you what you did wrong and this is what you did right.  Next time, this is the way we do it. The next thing you know, you’ve got guys stepping up who you never thought would.

Odd. There’s no mention of MacLean’s mustache in a conversation about Ottawa’s head coach. This may mark a new standard in Toronto sports journalism.

Q: How involved do you get with the day-to-day operational stuff?

A: I would say that it all it depends on what it is; especially on a coaching change. Bryan would go through all of the candidates and this is the way that I operate anyways: he would present two, maybe three even if I wanted it; but I just said, ‘No, you give me your best guy’. I just want to know that I like the guy and I can pick up the phone and call him. I spoke to (Paul) today – this afternoon after practice. I caught him in the middle of a haircut. Not that it matters but he’s just a guy I get along with. He calls a spade a spade and that’s Paul for you. If there is that chemistry with an individual, then he’s obviously got the talent so that’s all that you’re after. You can tell from the minute that you meet him that he’s out there… he comes across as a nice guy, and he is, but he’s pretty firm but he knows how to also give everybody a break and say, ‘You know what, we’ve done great. Let’s keep it going.’ He’s got a great style to him. No, I definitely do interview him and if I’ve got questions about the person then… let me put it this way, I’ve never nixed a GM’s decision but I do want to know and I do meet with these people and I do talk to them and I spend time with them. (And I do talk in run on sentences.)

There is still not much to go on here. He may not have nixed any of Murray’s decisions but I sure as hell wish he decided to nix this ‘alleged’ Roy Mlakar suggestion.

Q: Did you expect this kind of production out of Erik Karlsson?

A: Well, we knew that Erik was good. We just didn’t know how good he was or how good he could get. It all depends also on who he is playing with and on what team. The guy has a very unique attitude and I’m being nice here. It’s a very aggressive attitude that is full of cockiness… which is great because that’s confidence and he goes out there and again, the kid is fearless. He doesn’t care. He really doesn’t care. He just goes out and does his thing. He had to learn a few things from the coaches and the veterans because he was giving us all coronaries by doing certain things that he shouldn’t be doing and he’s corrected them. How can you argue with where he is? The kid’s a star and that’s all I can tell you.

In other words, Eugene Melnyk should never represent the Senators organization at an arbitration hearing for Erik Karlsson.

On another note, what are the chances that the nickname Erik ‘Coronary’ Karlsson will stick?

Q: Does it come as a surprise that so many Senators have made it into the All-Star Game.

A: That was hilarious. I couldn’t believe what the fans… but look, we’ve got a great fan base. They were there when we were one and five. That’s the way that we started our season. Everybody kind of… it wasn’t pleasant but it was expected that we would go through a minimum of two years, possibly three, before we had a contender back out on the ice. Now you see people and they are almost giddy. It almost reminds me of when we were going back into the playoffs of ’07. They’re just walking around and they cannot believe their luck in that we’re in a rebuild and you’ve got to see the pipeline that we’ve got. It’s mindboggling. We have probably five players in the minors that are NHL status today that we had to send back because we just don’t have room. Look at (Mark) Stone. Where did this guy (come from)? He was fifth in the draft. Fifth round and he’s the number one kid on the Canadian team in the World Juniors. I mean, that’s our player. We’ve got (Robin) Lehner down in… who’s already played in the NHL as a goalie and he’s hot to go. He can’t wait to get up to Ottawa to play. Then we’ve got Mika… it was kind of sad to see him go back but it was the best thing for him as a player long-term. But he’s one of the top Swedes, if not the top rated Swede, in the Elite league up there. These kids are all like 20 years old, 19, 20, 21. I think we were rated number two by a service that rates everybody’s pipeline of players throughout the whole NHL, so it can only get better as our veterans mature. They won’t be around forever but we really have some great years coming.

That was hilarious? Sounds like Melnyk enjoyed seeing Phil Kessel get usurped from the top of the All-Star Game balloting as much as we did. To correct Melnyk however, Stone was the team’s sixth round selection (178th overall) in the 2010 draft. I wish I knew which scouting service the Euge was referring to. In every online publication that I’ve read that has examined Ottawa’s system, they’ve been slotted in that four to seven range.

Q: From an owner’s standpoint, does it change things at all right now, as far as your approach for the rest of this year for club – given the success that you’ve had thus far?

A: Well, it could. You don’t have to wait until the day before or two days before. Those discussions have already happened internally. In all seriousness, the world has changed. You take a look at Boston and it’s an absolute powerhouse. But look, one injury and it is a different team and it all comes down to injuries at this time of year. We expect to get whacked a bit: guys are tired and guys are getting hurt. We don’t expect that we’re going to continue like this but you never know. I mean some (teams) will fall apart. I feel bad, believe it or not even though they’re a competitor, but I feel bad for Pittsburgh. Look at these guys. Here they had a lock for the Conference with Boston and all of a sudden, the next thing you know, their top two players are out of it and it’s a different team now. If we continue on our road and we’re healthy, we will certainly look at doing something prior to the trade deadline and at the very least, we’ll be looking at doing something. A lot of it also has to do with not screwing around with a good thing. I’ve talked to the coaches and also with the GM and the bottom line is that you’ve got a buy in from that dressing room because that’s critical. You don’t want to mess with a good thing if they believe that you’re messing with it. But if they’re behind it, if you let the players speak, they’ll tell you in a heartbeat, ‘Yeah, we need this. We need that.’ And that’s it. We’ll see what happens. We’ve got a lot of games left to be played before we get there.

I have to admit, when I first heard the Euge say that one injury could completely derail a team, I was braving myself for the ‘It’s the NHL. You just have to sneak into the playoffs and anything can happen’ attitude. Amazingly, the thought was never fully realized. Instead, this is shaping itself out to be the most rational, even-tempered Euge interview that I have ever heard him give.

“We don’t expect that we’re going to continue like this…”?

Expressing the due diligence to explore every possible route while keeping the chemistry and psyche of the team in mind?

Who is this guy?

Q: Does the lack of a new CBA affect the way that you operate right now?

A: I think that started years ago when everybody knew that we were going into negotiations. I think everybody was cognizant. We certainly were. The instructions to the GM from me were to make sure that we don’t get locked into some of these crazy long-term contracts. Unfortunately some of the owners are going to learn the hard way that it’s very dangerous to go into some of these frontend loaded contracts. Look, it’s none of my business. We did our thing. That’s all I can talk about: what goes on in Ottawa and that’s all I care about. We took the right steps of not locking ourselves up into what could become really unknown territory for everyone and we’re ready for it. We prepared for it years ago.

As much as I thoroughly appreciate the fact that the organization has made a concerted effort to be fiscally responsible (well, except for that whole Kovalev thing), it’s going to be interesting to see how this kind of stance affects how the organization handles its contract extension with Erik Karlsson moving forward.

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