Melnyk Speaks – On Eve Of Home Opener

Following a 2-2-2 six game road trip to kick off their 2013/14 season, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk joined Ian Mendes and Shawn Simpson on TSN1200's The Drive to promote Ottawa's home opener on Thursday versus the New Jersey Devils. 

To listen to the full interview, click here, or stream via the embed below. 

As always, my thoughts in bold.

“No kidding. It was a typical nail biter and it was just so good to finish off with that win. When this whole road trip started… I always just do this, I ask, ‘So what are we expecting out of this?’ and everyone said, ‘Look, what we’re looking for is six points and if we can that – .500 on the road on that kind of trip, then we’re golden.’ Luckily, that came through and now we’re looking – we wiped off that west coast trip and we don’t have to do it again. It’s six extra home games the rest of the year, so I’m great.”

It's not really six extra home games the rest of the year, but I'll let that slide. 

On going into tomorrow night celebrating last season, the new captain and just having some fun…

“Well, it’s going to be a great night. You’re going to see a lot of things in the arena as well that you won’t see on television. We’ve brought in some new people in the in-house entertainment area and the show is going to be great. It’s just going to be electric. I think we’ve pushed past 12,000 season tickets and there are still walk-ups that are going to be coming up and it will be sold out by game time. But we need all the fans screaming like crazy; that really does help. The team is looking forward to being home and showing its stuff. I think you’re going to see a lot of excitement in there tomorrow. I can’t wait to get there.”

In case you haven't heard, former Director of In-Game Entertainment, Glen Gower, is no longer working for the Ottawa Senators. To fill the void, the Sens have brought in Paul Gallant who apparently has spent the past 17 years working for the Habs in a similar capacity. 

On the change to the game day entertainment, hiring Paul Gallant and whether in-game entertainment was an issue for fans…

“Umm, yes, yes. But, I’m the biggest fan so I’m the guy who screams the most about it. We recognized that we have, first of all, we’ve got a great, great fan base. We did a lot of research and we got very interesting results coming out of that research. And one of them is how much the community takes ownership of its team. Even though you call me the owner, at the end of the day they own the team according to the research. So I guess I just pay the bills, and that’s fine. The one thing we do know is that our competition is not other sporting events at this point – it’s television. And we have to do something more than just show a hockey game. We’re not in the hockey business – that was my philosophy. We’re in the entertainment business. We’re there to entertain our fans and one (of the ways) is by winning, but that’s only half the story. The other half is making it entertaining when (fans) get inside the door and give them value for their entertainment dollar.”

Having a stepfather who gave up his season tickets because he preferred staying at home to have a pint at home and watch the game on an HD television, it's not shocking to hear that the Sens are aware of the complications that television (and especially the amount of games being carried) pose. To attract fans to the rink, they need to create an experience that makes fans want to come to the rink and watch the game live. The creation of a bus ramp that helps expedite traffic out of the parking lot following the games should help, but there needs to be better efforts made in every facet of a game day experience. Fortunately, we'll know that if the Senators start taking the ice before games to a Coldplay tune, Paul Gallant will be to blame.

On the how the expectations are higher coming into this season…

“Well yeah, you look at what happened this year and I remember ’07. The difference between us winning a Stanley Cup and not winning a Stanley Cup was when, if you’ll recall, Hasek got hurt at the Olympics. We were on a roll and God knows what could have happened if we had him there. Last year, with all the injuries we had, if you did that to any other team, they would decimate. And we went in(to the playoffs) and won one round and then getting into the next round, I was just waiting for that goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury) to fall apart and you know, with my luck he doesn’t fall apart until the next round. But, we could have gone deeper than we did last year. Sorry, we could have gone deeper. And I think this year, if it all comes together and the injuries are minimized, we could be anything. It’s like we could be absolutely anything. We could be eighth again or we could be in the top three. Who knows? You just hope for the best but I love our group. I really think we’ve got a really solid group of players and we’ve got all the pieces, I think. But if we need to add a piece, I’m prepared to do that. But you know, it’s the beginning and I’m really, really excited about starting off tomorrow.”

I think it's dangerous to start expectating results to replicate or improve because of what your team does. Circumstances and outside factors change all of the time. It is absolutely hilarious that Eugene was banking on a Marc-Andre Fleury implosion though. 

On adding a piece if the situation dictates it and being 26th out of 30 clubs in spending and whether a team with a bottom five payroll can compete for a Stanley Cup…

“Well you know what, there are a lot of numbers get thrown around and you’re, we’re not really 26th. I know that Capgeek and all these guys, they all do these estimates and stuff like that, but that doesn’t really show the whole picture because the difference between being in the third quartile or the second quartile is so miniscule. The high guys… I’ve done it. Look, we’ve done it. Been there, done that. We spent to the cap three straight years and you know what, what did we get done? We spent money for nothing. We didn’t get into the playoffs one year. We got one round in another year and that’s not the way to win. You’re not going to do it. It’s a whole new ballgame. It’s all development, coaching, staying young and staying healthy. But the patching up would be, the wonderful thing that… the big commodity that we have is cap space. If we have an injury and we need to fill a void and that’s going to be the difference between going an extra round or deeper, then I’m prepared to do it.”

Relative to the cap floor, the Sens are spending approximately $11 million above it but Ian Mendes was right in stating that relative to other NHL teams, the Sens are 26th in actual money spent on payroll. As much as I enjoyed the Euge talking about quantiles, the difference between Ottawa and the Edmonton Oilers, ranked 25th in actual spending,  is almost $5 million dollars. To reach the cap ceiling where teams like the Flyers, Leafs, Penguins and Red Wings regularly stay, the Sens would have to spend another $11 million.

Yes, the Senators and Melnyk have spent to the cap and yes, the team's results during those years was awful. But doing so completely ignores the context of why it was done. Having bought the organization from bankruptcy, Melnyk tried to do be the opposite of Rod Bryden. He wanted to reward fans (Eagles concert) and make them believe that he would be willing to do whatever it took to make and keep Ottawa as a Stanley Cup contender. When the Senators made it to the Cup Finals, it was arguably with one of the worst rosters that the team had in years. Recognizing the harmful efforts that the John Muckler regime had had on the farm system through poor drafting and short-sighted trades, the Sens re-signed everyone and made patchwork signings and trades because they simply had no young (and inexpensive) talent coming through the system who could compete for jobs. Signings like Kovalev were designed to sell tickets and serve as placeholders until Bryan Murray's amateur scouting staff could work cultivate prospects. It took some time, but now we're in a situation in which the system has yielded a number of impressive prospects and an absurd amount of depth. Ottawa's situation now is one in which money is needed. No one is encouraging management to spend blindly, but whether it's to re-sign players like Bobby Ryan or Spezza or bring in supplementary (more talented and probably expensive players) via trade, the Sens will need to spend more money to help push this team towards a contending status.

Given Melnyk's examples, to say that the team doesn't have to spend now, at a time when it should be investing money into the payroll, is insulting. The situations couldn't be more different. 

On how the off-ice issues are on the backburner now that the season is underway and the focus is back on the ice…

“Well, that’s it. That’s exactly where we want to be. Everything else is just noise and that’s noise that we don’t want to deal with at this point. Now it’s all hockey and we just want to have a great time; and I think everybody does. I think the fan base can’t wait. It was crazy starting off, I’ve never seen it before, where you start the first six games on the road. But we took it. We could have changed it a little bit if we wanted to, because there is room to discuss it. But hey, the hockey ops people said, ‘We’re fine with it. Get it out of the way and then we never have to deal with it.’ That’s a brutal trip. I don’t know if any of you guys went on that trip, but even the reporters that I talked to that came back, they’re just wasted. I was watching at home and I was dying. You go to bed at 2 o’clock in the morning and go to work at 7:30. You can only do so much, and I’m glad it’s over with. But, I’m also glad for the players. They came out of okay. They’re on a high. Jason (Spezza) is on a high and I think everybody feels good about themselves. The shots was just, that was history being made. I don’t think you’re going to see that again – the number of shots that Anderson and Lehner took; it was just phenomenal. Things change and I really think we’re in for a great year.”

The media covering the Sens were wasted? 

"And the fact I am criticized… There are different journalists. My opinion of Ottawa journalists is that they don't watch hockey at all. When they fly with the team and go through the [metal detector] at an airport, their bags are filled with beer. You realize right away what these people do when they write about the NHL." ~ Alexei Kovalev

Who's giving this interview – Kovalev or Eugene Melnyk? 

On the Ottawa Citizen’s report that the Senators had lost $94 Million…

“Yeah, they were wrong. It’s $110 (million) but go ahead”

The tone of his voice made it sound like he was bragging about it.

On the anxiety and panic amongst the fan base regarding ownership…

“Nah, look, the fact that you lost that but that’s kind of an anomaly – that kind of losses. A lot of it had to do with… there’s a book being written right now by a published author that will explain what happened actually last year where the finances… it kind of went out of kilter because of the financial crisis that took place in ’08 and that actually affected us over the past couple of years, believe it or not. That’s a detail that I don’t really want to get into now, I want you to buy the book. It’s the cost of doing business, but what you can’t do is continue doing that – that’s the problem. See, I’m looking five years out, ten years out. I know the cap is going up. We know. We just know the revenues are increasing throughout the whole league. We get the numbers, we go to the presentations and everything else because we have to prepare for this stuff. You do have to spend but you don’t have to spend toe-to-toe with the guys that have money to throw around and we know all those guys. And a lot of times, they spend money for no reason. What they’re doing is spending money to cover up for mistakes. At one point, there’s a team that has 16 million dollars of excess cap down in the minors, I mean ‘Hello?’ You can’t do that anymore, thankfully. But, we are in a great, great spot where cap space is now a massive commodity where you can pick up, you’ll be able to pick players just to unload salaries. It’s going to happen. We’re going to be in a sweet spot – it’s like having three first round draft picks. I think it’s very important and there’s nothing to fear from that point of view. I mean, this team is staying here. We do need… we do need something and we’re working with the City. It’s not just them, but more importantly, the business community knows that the (casino) file turned into an absolute mess and we’re working with the Mayor’s Office to correct the wrong that I think happened and I think it will be corrected.”

Hopefully we can buy this unnamed book at the Sens Store. Third revenue anyone? 

I'm pretty sure that Melnyk just tipped management's hand and insinuated that the Sens would acquire another team's cap problem if it meant there was an added benefit — draft picks, a better player, a prospect and etc. Think of it like what the Toronto Blue Jays did eating Mark Buerhle and John Buck's contracts to bring guys like Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson (I can't believe how shitty he was in 2013) into the fold. It is pretty funny however that Melnyk can admit that spending money doesn't necessarily equate to winning but admits that massive amounts of cap space is a commodity. Only if you use it Eugene!

I'll believe these words when I see it though.

On there being any hesitation that this could work short-term here in Ottawa…

“Absolutely it can work. If you can continue to deliver… What I’ve learned in ten years of ownership is you have to deliver. (Ottawa) is not Toronto. Those people are dancing in the streets I think 24/7 because of where they are (in the standings). But I lived in Toronto and I know what it’s like going for 40 years without a Stanley Cup or more. I was eight, whatever… But, it’s over 40 years. They don’t even have people selling tickets. They have people that take ticket orders, if there are tickets available. We have to sell tickets, but there’s a magic number that you hit at one point where there’s a scarcity that people will start realizing… because the population will grow… and they’ll realize, ‘I can’t rely on walk-up because I may show up one day and there’s no tickets.’ And I hope you have fun at the bar down the road in Kanata and that’s where you’re going to go because you can’t get a ticket. We have 12,000 seats gone – there’s sellout season ticket holders. That’s up from 7 or 8,000 and once you hit that number around 14,000, you have to stop selling season tickets because then you won’t have enough tickets for the casual buyers. And you know, Ottawa gets behind good teams. They’re very smart fans. I’ve gone into a lot of places and I’m telling you, this is a smart fan base. They’re not stupid. They know exactly what you have and exactly where you’re going to end up. They have expectations, but thankfully, they’re realistic.”

I really thought we were going to go the whole interview without him bringing up the Leafs. We were so close. 

On looking at the renovations for MSG and when the Sens are going to have to spend capital on the arena…

“Well yeah, (sigh), that’s a problem for another day. That’s on the to-do list, along with about 500 things before it. Look, the building is nice. We’re going to be doing… We’re going to make some changes – some really good changes. I think we’ve got way too many boxes. When we built the thing, they designed it after the Detroit stadium. I think Cyril (Leeder) would be able to tell you. But we’ve got way too many suites as an example and there’s a whole new very, very popular thing that’s going on. And I saw it in Tampa years ago, and I thought it was a great idea and now everybody is following that idea. And that’s these kind of like terraces that they build with a seat and food area where (fans) can actually watch the game from. I think we’re going to do some changes in there and one step at a time. We now have a new major sponsor in Canadian Tire – who’s absolutely a fantastic… wait until you see… I haven’t seen it yet, I’m going to see it tomorrow – the new Sport Chek bar. That is supposed to be phenomenal. They are redoing the kitchens. And we’re going to have to put some money into this building, but this building is… you know, we spend several millions of dollars each year in keeping it maintained, so we’ve done a good job in maintaining it, it’s just, it’s going to need some upgrades and I recognize that.”

Too many suites = lack of corporate money in Ottawa. 


Earlier in the afternoon (I believe just prior to his interview on TSN1200), Melnyk appeared on CBC's All In A Day.

The audio is embedded below, but here's the transcript.

On how he would describe the team’s identity after last night’s game…

“Well, I’ll tell you what – I think that we’re on the right road. It was kind of brutal watching those games on the west coast, you know with Anaheim, and San Jose and the Kings – besides it being one in the morning or two in the morning when you’re done, I thought it was complete chaos on the ice. But, I think with the coaching talent that we have – they righted a lot of things that were wrong. And I think yesterday was just a continued progress with this team. They’re still getting their act together and think they’re just going to get better and better as the season goes on.”

Would agree with the "chaos" description.

On why he thinks the chaos was happening…

“Well, there’s a bunch of things I think at work: Number one,  you’re on the road; and number two, it is the west coast. And I’ll tell you something, it is tough on the players. Their systems are out of whack and they’re playing at odd hours. I’ve done it many, many times and it just kind of throws you off. And that’s the home team advantage that you have when you play a west coast team and I’m glad. I’m just so happy that we’ve got this out of the way– and that’s one of the decisions that were made. Let’s get this out of the way early. If we can get out of this thing with six points in the first six games, we’ll be very, very happy. So I was so excited when we won against Phoenix last night because it put us on track with right where we wanted to be. Look, we could have always done better but it just, right now, we’re still feeling each other out and figuring out which lines work and what doesn’t work.”

Bring on the East and the awful, awful teams that inhabit it.

On CBC hearing from fans ready to hit the panic button…

“Oh please, don’t hit the panic button yet. We haven’t even played a home game yet. But this happens – people will always get a little bit of panic. But, don’t forget who you are playing too – these are the elite teams in the Western Conference. These are no slouches and these are big, big boys. The size of the teams – the San Jose team is huge. The Anaheim guys are huge. It’s just… There’s no roo… No, no, no, no…. our best days are ahead of us. We got out of the way, if you think about it, we wiped off six away games. All of December, we are at home every Saturday and every Monday but one, which happens to be a Sunday game. We’re just at home and home and home and we got that out of the way and then we got that brutal west coast trip out of the way too.”

Giving up a franchise record 106 shots in two games is naturally gonna panic a few people.

On the Sens not having sold out their home opener and being the only Canadian team that doesn’t always sell out their home games…

“Well, I saw that. But you know what, and I put in a call to find out what is going on because it is a home opener, but those (tickets) will be gone by game time, I guarantee you. There’s a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing as far as… but we’ve sold… we’ve pushed past 12,000 season tickets. We’ve got 70 new corporate sponsors, so things are going well. It’s just, you know, ‘It’s Thursday. It’s New Jersey. What’s going on? Do I have to go that game? Do I have to go to this game?”

Poor New Jersey.

On the type of fans who don’t go to this game…

“I know, I know, I know. But it is a Thursday night unfortunately instead of a Saturday. I know it will be a sellout. We have a big walk-up crowd. We sell every ticket. It will be gone.”

Incredible they haven't sold this out when the season ticket base is the highest it's been since 2008.

On how he plans to get more fans to make a trip to the Canadian Tire Centre this season…

“Well, it’s pretty easy, #1… well, it’s not actually easy, but #1, you have to have a winning team. You want to go out and see the potential of a Stanley Cup champion. At least dream about it. At least think about it or hope for it. #2 is you need to have better in-game entertainment and we’ve just hired one of the top people in the business. And you’ll start seeing it tomorrow night. What you have to offer people is value for their entertainment dollar and what you’ll see on television is not what the people in the stands are going to see. And I’m telling you, starting tomorrow night, they are going to be wowed by the pregame show and all the little different things that we’ve got planned throughout the year. But it’s still early so that’s fine – wait until it snows and NFL football isn’t on tv, college football is not around, all of a sudden hockey is the name of the game.”

The experience of watching a live game with 19k other people is why anyone goes to a game, the superfluous other stuff like "in-game entertainment" is nice I guess but I doubt it's a dealbreaker for anyone between going or not going.

On the whole conflict around the casino bid and whether that affects the fan base has affected the fans’ view of him and the team…

“I’ve asked that question and my… the feedback I’ve got and these are from neutral people that have nothing to gain by just being nice to me about it. Is they see the victimization of what happened here. They don’t like it. They know it happened. They know that it wasn’t fair and the fact is, is we’re taking the high road from here on in. We’re going to have to do other things to make up what was lost in that process – as far as extra revenues are concerned.”

*keeps mental note of "taking the high road from here on out"*

On what he means by taking the high road…

“Well, somebody said that I called the Mayor an alien.”


On him actually saying that ‘He didn’t know what planet he was from’…

“True, but that doesn’t mean… (laughter) You want to play with words here, that’s great. Alright, alright, alright, you got me. You guys are great, but in all seriousness, we are having productive discussions right now with the Mayor. I think everyone recognizes that the file was mishandled and I’m not alone on this. I’m confident that once the Mayor comes back from Beijing, we’ll have productive discussions on what we can do to fix a wrong for the betterment of the community, the fans, the people of Ottawa and the organization.”


On mending relationships with Alfredsson’s return to Ottawa on December 1st

“Ottawa’s actually, the fans are a forgiving group. If you asked me about other cities, they’d be throwing stuff at him. But I think, I honestly, believe… he may get a standing ova… you know what, it wouldn’t surprise me if they booed him. It wouldn’t surprise me if they gave him a standing ovation. It’s a flip of a coin, I just don’t know.”

Really hamfisted answer, yeesh.

On that’s why people should pay to go to that game…

“I know… it’s going to be a big game. Unfortunately, I already know for a fact that I won’t be there. Oh, no, no… I’ll be at the other ones, it’s just for that specific date, it’s unfortunate but I won’t be able to be there.”