Melnyk Speaks – “Hot Dogs Are Important”

With the CBA ratified and the memorandum of understanding signed, the Senators organization held an introductory press conference — featuring the Euge, Alfie, Cyril Leeder and head coach Paul MacLean — to formally kickstart this abbreviated 2013 NHL season.

While Leeder spoke at length about the perks and benefits that Senators season ticket holders would receive and MacLean preserved his consistent message about the Senators being a rebuilding team that needed to provide an opportunity for the organization's youngest players to develop, the real star of the press conference was owner Eugene Melnyk.

You're shocked, I know. 

The following is a transcript of what was said and as always, my thoughts in bold

His introductory remarks… 

“It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it? I almost feel like I have to re-introduce myself. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve put up these fancy nameplates, so you all can remember who we are.

*reaches for nameplate*

I’m going to keep this as a souvenir." 

Prop humour. Awesome. Melnyk's a regular Gallagher. Can't wait until he smashes a watermelon with a sledgehammer at his next Q&A. (Note: His introductory remarks are actually quite long. I'm going to have to interject and break them up as I see fit.)

“All kidding aside, it’s a fantastic feeling to be walking into the building today; especially being back in this room in front of all of you, in front of the players, the coaching staff and seeing everyone excited about hockey (being) back on the ice here in Ottawa. The NHL is back. I’m sure that a lot of people, including the Prime Minister, can now talk about hockey and what Erik Karlsson may be coming to the rink wearing to the rink today. But he doesn’t have to talk about politics." 

Stephen Harper cares about what Erik Karlsson wears to the rink? Was this a reference to Bieber's infamous overalls photo-op? I wonder if Melnyk rehearsed this Yuk-Yuk routine in front of the mirror before coming on, maybe that's why the presser started a few minutes late. I feel like we're just seconds away from watching Eugene spray Garrioch with water for cheap laughs. 

"But for us, it’s especially important because one of the things that has been very, very difficult for all of us as a community is to be without hockey here in Ottawa. We’ve had a great opportunity to finish off last season with something that was very, very unexpected."

Please note that he's talking about Ottawa's success here being unexpected, not the lockout. 

"And I just want to remind everyone, last year was the first year of a three-year rebuild plan. This is year two. And already, I recall this as if it was yesterday, in the warzone in Madison Square Garden, wearing somebody else’s beer and fighting out game seven in the quarterfinals."

Melnyk was covered with some Ranger fan's beer? My money's on that fan being Liam Neeson. 

"Being there right after the game listening to some of the players talking and they said, ‘If we had gotten past this one, we could have gone very, very deep. And I believed it. Needless to say, you know who won the Stanley Cup last year and many of the players believed that we were a much better team."

Lolz. 

"This is going to be an exciting year for us. I think the entire community knows that my ownership is secondary to the passion. I’m more passionate about not owning the team as a business, but as a fan. I know people say that, but I’ve been saying this for nine years now. It’s especially difficult when you have to watch the ECHL every night. It’s kind of tough, but look, these are up-and-coming players and if this is the best we can do, this is the best that we can do." 

The mental image of Melnyk fiddling with some piece of shit ECHL stream amuses me to no end.

"I’m really sorry for all of us, myself included, the players, everybody in the hockey community, because we have had to endure this for the last four months. But we’re going to do a lot of things for fans this season. I think one of the most important things a lot of people have been talking about is, ‘What stuff are you going to give away and that kind of stuff?’ but Cyril (Leeder) is going to talk a little bit later about what kind of stuff we’re going to give away."

"And you get one dollar hot dogs! And you get one dollar hot dogs! And you get one dollar hot dogs!" 

"But the most important thing that we can give is to have these players come out every night and I know they’re going to give 150-percent, but delivering you a winning team. And that is the best possible gift I can think of and that’s going to be up to… from the GM to the coaching staff to each one of the players that are going to contribute this year. If we can do that, we have accomplished more than any free hot dog or anything else that we can give away. Although the hot dogs are important, we were told in a survey. It’s true, hot dogs are (important), I don’t know. Don’t ask me." 

And now Eugene is getting defensive about the reactions to his jokes… 

"But what’s most important as an owner is that, I really do care what the fans expect and what they deserve. It’s a lot easier to go through this season with the fans, as I said earlier, with a winning team. As Paul (MacLean) will tell you in no uncertain terms, I’m not really the nicest guy the next morning after a loss but we’ve managed to put a smile on our faces and move on forward to the next game. I think that one of the things that I wanted to finish off with is a few things to discuss. As a starting point, Paul and his coaching staff, as well as Daniel and his veterans, will continue to bring very, very strong leadership. They have been working right through. In all of my years in ownership, I’ve never seen this team have the kind of the depth that it has today. We are the envy."

'We are the envy' sounds way better than the current 'Ready for more' slogan that adorns the Senators' splash page on their website. Also the kind of grammar the internet can appreciate, please speaks more like this Euge.

"There is a lot of people and a lot whispering, they don’t want to admit it. Even in Leaflet yesterday, I was in Toronto, and a guy had a Toronto Maple Leaf license plate and I’m just walking down the street and the guy is yelling, ‘Go Sens’. Talk about, really, there is a big undertone in the NHL and I know a lot of the hockey people will hear this, that we are in fact, a quiet, quiet favourite but truly, we want to be positioned as an underdog." 

At this stage of the press conference, we've entered the 'dick joke' phase of Eugene's material. When nothing else is working, make fun of that other team in Ontario. Suspect this sorta hamfisted humblebragging actually has a negative impact on ticket sales, what sense does it make to tell the public you're a "quiet favourite"?

"I think what we are going to see this year is a team that many general managers and coaches will envy, because of the depth.  You don’t have to look far, you can look at our goaltending situation as an example. There are a few holes that still have to be filled, Bryan (Murray) will be here tomorrow to talk about some of those specifics, but again, I’ve never been more excited about having the kind of depth that we have – which we’re still continuing to build over the coming months and years. And this will pay off dividends, I hope, for many years to come and we’re not just a one-year or two year kind of team and that’s it. So we’re thinking long-term  but we’re looking to win now this season and bring the best to our fans and the whole hockey community here. The final thing that I want to say is that there are these 29 other teams (in the NHL) and they would just love to have some of the players that are here. I want to thank the players in advance of everything you are about to start doing; for being here as well. Most important is getting on the ice with the enthusiasm that you are going to, so thanks very much guys. We look forward to a very exciting season.”

Depth is great and all, but at some point, this depth either has to pan and be productive at the NHL level or it has to be parlayed in quantity for elite talent. It's fine for Melnyk to sell hope to the fans, that this team's best days are ahead of it, but to reach that elite level, it's eventually going to need some more high-end talent (especially on the blue line) to reach the aspirations that so many seem to have. 

On the relationship between he and the players being strained… 

“Let’s keep in mind that you’re dealing with professionals. These are professional hockey players. This is what they do for a living. They are all pros in every aspect. They are community oriented. They are role models for literally, millions of kids across the world. I think as Daniel said it, when they get into the dressing room, they’re a team. I do whatever I can, whatever I can, to forge positive relationships with the players in many aspects and I’ll continue doing that. There’s certainly no animosity… I hope not. I don’t know. I haven’t talked to the guys yet. But in all seriousness, they’re professionals. They’re not going to do anything other than give you 150-percent and I really believe that.”

Accounting for inflation, 150-percent is the new 110-percent. 

On whether he was fined for comments made during an appearance on the Fan 590 during the lockout…

“No, I was not (fined for that).”

Phew. More money in the coffers!

On the lockout being worth it… 

“Well, thanks for actually asking that question; it was certainly something that I did want to answer. To me, the most important thing that came out of this, and I had my wishlist, and it was really two things – one I didn’t get and one was the most important  — and that was, this is the second lockout that I’ve gone through in nine years. It’s really brutal. For the fans, it’s got to be even worse because… and to the veteran players… because (the Sens) came out of bankruptcy, so it’s almost a triple hit to them. The number one thing that I was always adamant about, and I did speak to the negotiating team virtually on a daily basis and I said, ‘Look, do what you need to do. A lot of this is very technical and… (as an aside), we would like to keep the technical questions on the CBA to Bryan (Murray)… but it was the 10-year deal that was important because we never, ever want to go through this again. It just can’t happen. You can maybe do it once or maybe do it twice. Hopefully people forgive us, but there is no third time. There is no third time." 

Love that he threw Bryan Murray under the bus to answer the specifics about the CBA. Enjoy those questions Bryan. The fact that Melnyk emphasizes that this was his second work stoppage and reinforces the fact that there will be no third time, rings hollow. Many fans have been season ticket holders since day one and this is the third work stoppage under Bettman. Don't tell us there will be no third time. Lockouts are a tactic professional sports owners will continue to use because they work. Melnyk knows this, but he won't say it.

"The fact that it is a 10-year deal, that we know we’re going to be around, you can build towards our fans so they can get affectionate with the team again. And that has been my mantra since the beginning of ownership and that is: to tell fans that this team is staying here. We’re not going to abandon you and I got what I wanted. And that was the key thing, and that was a long-term deal to ensure that this team and this organization stays here in Ottawa and that there is no work stoppage again.”

He got half of what he really wanted! My mind is at ease. 

On whether he fears the possibility of fan backlash being very real… 

“Some of the smartest accounting minds that I could find couldn’t answer that question; because I know I asked it a hundred different ways. But I think… Ottawa’s a very, very different market. Even the market research that we received from the league and from others, it is different here than it is, I think, anywhere else. Not because the fans aren’t more astute, it’s because they’re so astute. They realize, that it’s now ‘let’s go forward’. If they start knowing now and it sinks in that hockey is back for a long time, I can recommit myself emotionally to this game and this team and it will minimize any damage. Is there bitterness right this minute? Absolutely. Is there forgiveness for it happening? I think it exists here in Ottawa. In some towns, maybe not, but here in this city, we’re so interwoven with the community, I don’t think it’s a city of fans that kicks somebody when it’s down. If anything, the players now need more support than ever to be able to compete day-after-day. And nothing is more forgiving that a winning team.”

The players now need more support than ever? Now there's a plea. What a horrible and vacant guilt trip. Fans are supposed to somehow now empathize with the Senators organization after they voted to lock out their labour? That is rich.

On having to mend fences with the fans and needing their support… 

“Absolutely, I think so. We’re trying right now to do that, we’re starting today with the open practices and all the things that Cyril had mentioned. I think we do. There are some fans that will be diehard fans that will come regardless and there will be some that are sitting on the fence, waiting to see how we do. But there’s nothing more exciting than wanting to be part of a winning organization and this city has proven time and time again that it rallies around the little guy. And if you don’t think we are the little guy, we are the little guy. We can’t spend with those goliaths, so we need all the help that we can get. I think this city will rally around the team very, very quickly and I’m hoping that it rallies around (them) quickly, but I’m pretty confident that it will.”

Now you know why Melnyk really wanted to keep his fancy nameplate, the team is one of the 'little guys'. Can't afford to spend too much of the budget on office stationary supplies. To borrow a phrase from Melnyk, 'all kidding aside', this emphasis on fiscal responsibility contrasts with the bravado that he spewed when he first arrived in Ottawa – talking about how the Senators would always spend to the cap so long as he was the owner of this franchise. Ah well, to his credit, his message about spending has been consistent and it reinforces the humble lesson that he learned – spending to the cap for the sake of spending to the cap does not ensure a winning product. 

On being able to take on salary down the road to augment the team moving forward… 

“I hope I have that problem. The answer has always been yes, but it’s really a hockey question. We have so much depth to choose from, if there’s a spot to fill though, because of either an injury or there’s just one small, little piece missing, I think that we have a lot of currency in our depth that we can use that to enhance something in the short-term. I don’t think you want to mortgage the future with the team that we have, but we’re just getting going. And we still have another draft and we have players from the last draft, and it just keeps coming and coming and coming at us. If it’s dollars, yes and if it’s a player, that’s a hockey decision.”

Given how much salary the Senators were willing to absorb in the prospective Rick Nash trade this summer — unless the trade was a red herring — the organization, at least on the surface, seemed willing to take on a significant amount of salary to make themselves better in the interim. 

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