Prior to this afternoon's game against the New York Islanders — remember, it's a 1pm start — owner Eugene Melnyk made an appearance on the Fan 590 talking with Roger Lajoie. (Who incidentally also happens to be the Executive VP of Melnyk's St. Mike's Majors.)
To listen to the appearance itself, you can check it out on the Fan 590's website. Nevertheless, I've transcribed Melnyk's comments below. As always, my comments are in bold.
Q: You must be pretty pleased with your team in terms of what the expectations for your team coming into the season, right?
A: I think at the start of the year, we thought at the very least that we would not come in dead last. That was plan A. A lot of people and a lot of sportswriters and media were calling for us to come in 14th or 15th in our Conference and I just didn’t think that was right at all. We were a little better than that. We started off a little slow. That was painful for everyone and the next thing you know, you’ve got Paul MacLean, the new head coach, (we) started seeing what he saw with the lines that we had and players that we had. He started putting them together; they gelled together and then you’ve got a group of young and hungry men who want to make the NHL and veterans who are bringing them along and the next thing you know, we’re right there in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Q: Talk about Erik Karlsson’s season thus far. How good is this kid and how much fun is he to watch?
A: Erik can become anything. He is so young and has got a lot of ways to improve and he knows it. He’s continually being coached on some of the things that he does wrong and he’s patted on the back for all of the things that he does right. He can only get better. Over time, he’ll go down in history as one of the great defencemen of all time. He is that good. It is just amazing what a kid like that can grow into: he’s getting bulkier; bigger; stronger; and faster… You can’t really tell on television how fast this kid is until you get close up. You’ll see him just whiz by people and they’ll go, “Well, what happened there?”
Completely disgusted by the fact that Melnyk didn't reference the sick flow that EK has growing. All he seems to care about his the defenceman's physical stature. Weak sauce.
So we’re really happy with him but there are others as well. You’ve got Colin Greening. You’ve got all the other young kids who are coming up… also in the system itself. You have two guys over in Sweden that are just chomping (at the bit) to come over. You’ve got Silfverberg and Mika. You’ve got guys down in Binghamton that just can’t wait to get back up here including a top-flight goalie in Robin Lehner. I think that we’re there. I mean, we’ve got all the little pieces. There are a few pieces, I just spoke to Bryan (Murray) prior to the game this afternoon and he said that there’s nothing really that we’re looking for that we actually need to put in place. We’re always looking and we’ll just keep drafting well and we can keep growing.
Not really looking for anything that needs to be put in place? Hopefully this is just a case of not tipping the organization's hands. In light of how many players will be competing for roster spots amongst the team's top nine forwards next fall, how about parlaying some of this quantity for more youth and speed on the blueline?
Q: Is there a temptation to do something at trade deadline time considering the lack of expectations coming into the year? Have your philosophies changed at all?
A: You have to stick to the plan. You can never plan on where you’re going to end up as to whether you’re 13th, 10th or 7th… but what you do stick to is the original plan of: growing from within; drafting well; building for the future; and call it a three-year plan. There are other teams out there that should just tear apart their team and call it a five-year plan but they’re not going to do it. But we learned the hard way and that’s the only way to do it and that is to rid yourselves of some of the very expensive, older players that just aren’t producing to what their expectations are. What you do is replace those with hungry, young kids who will do anything to continue on with their NHL careers. As tempting as it may sound, nothing changes. Absolutely nothing changes. Think about it, what are you going to do? You’re in seventh. What happens if you go out spend a boatload of money and you come in ninth? Then everyone looks like an idiot. But if you are prudent and patience… and that’s the key, patience… and just continue on very focused, you will develop a winner over time. What we want is not just not a one-time winner, we want a consistent winning team that is competitive every year and I have to look at some of my competitors and point them out and say, ‘That’s what we should want to be.’ One of them, my hands off to the management there, and that’s the Detroit Red Wings. Every year they’re somewhere in the hunt. They don’t win every year but they’re certainly in the hunt. That’s all the Ottawa fans ask for. They just want to be at the party. Do we want to be the belle of the ball? Yeah, absolutely. We want to win. We are going to win but what we’re not going to do is bankrupt the future for short-term gain. Maybe we go through the first round and get into the second round but don’t get into the third. What did we just do? We blew a lot of money to get into the second round. It’s just not something that’s going to happen.
Already noticing that a few traditional media members here in town are using the above statement as justification that the team will be inclined to move Filip Kuba. Personally, I don't feel the same way. From what I could muster, it was more a reflection on how the organization handled last year's deadline moves. Like it or not, the organization moved those players because they had the 'young and hungry' players who could provide replacement level value at a fraction of the cost. Looking at Ottawa's internal options, no one currently can absorb the workload that moving a Kuba or Gonchar could necessitate. Unless you're willing to let Jared Cowen work through his rookie ups and downs and live with the consequences.
Q: How frustrating is it for an owner to watch your inexpensive team have more success than some of the rosters that you spent more money on?
A: I could have saved myself a lot of money to change my philosophy seven or eight years ago. Things change. Management changes. The coaching staffs change. They come in with different philosophies that you don’t have to spend your way into it. Some do and some always will because they can afford it or cannot afford not to be in the hunt. You can always be in the hunt by spending to the top end at least somewhere but the frustrating part is where you’re nowhere and you’re spending to the cap. That’s what happened to us for a couple of years and that’s what happening to some franchises that spent to the cap for years for many, many years and weren’t even close. It’s really nice to see. I understand why it can happen and what is required. A lot has to do with the GM, the assistant GM, as well as the assistant coaching staff who are true coaches. They’re not just barking orders. They are coaching these kids and they are listening. They in themselves are a great team, so I see a very, very bright future going forward.
I have to say, I just love the backhanded 'listening to these kids' and 'they're not just barking orders' barbs that are obviously directed in Cory Clouston's direction. They've become a fundamental part of every Euge interview.
Q: Can you plan for this coming offseason with a new CBA looming?
A: Well, we can try to plan the best we can try to plan. We don’t know where these negotiations will go. Any negotiation can go sideways, forward or backwards. You just hope that smart heads prevail and do something that’s fair. You can win a negotiation and think that you won and then you walk away thinking of what a genius you are and at the end of the day, long-term you’re a loser.
In any situation, it has to be a win-win. We can’t talk specifics about what’s going on but I can tell you that we’re planning for every eventuality. We know what we would like to see out of the agreement and we have expressed that to the commissioner and we hope that we can get there for the good of the game and the health of all thirty organizations.