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Eugene Melnyk/Bryan Murray Conference Call

Following this morning's announcement that Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray had agreed to a contract extension that will keep him as the team's GM through the 2015/16 season and as a senior advisor for an additional two-year timeframe, both Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Murray participated in a conference call that aired on TSN 1200. 

To listen to the conference call, click here, or you can stream the embedded file below. 

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

Opening Statements: 

Eugene Melnyk: “On many levels, today’s announcement comes as no surprise. As outlined in the news release issued this morning, I’m very pleased to announce that Bryan and I have agreed to a four-year contract extension that will see him continue as our club’s General Manager for the next two years. Bryan has also agreed to continue to be a significant part of our hockey operations by agreeing to remain with us in an advisory capacity for an additional two years. Bryan stands amongst the best general managers in the National Hockey League and I want to thank him for his commitment to be part our organization for four more years.

My view for many, many years has been to ensure our club builds a strong set of core competencies in drafting well and then on placing a sharp focus on how we develop those prospects and players. From the rise of Erik Karlsson, as one of the top defencemen in the league, to the most recent outstanding performance of Curtis Lazar at the World Juniors, the impact of our drafting and player development, a very significant part of our efforts to bring us closer to our goal of winning a Stanley Cup for our city and for our fans.

Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee are synonymous with our achievements in drafting and player development respectively. Both have developed outstanding reputations across the National Hockey League and the hockey world for their hard work and professionalism.

The decision to promote Pierre and Randy to be our Assistant General Managers was a very easy decision for me and Bryan. And I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate both of them on this well-deserved opportunity. And before I turn things over to Bryan, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge our entire hockey operations group. The fact that we were able to promote two outstanding individuals to take over as Assistant General Managers truly speaks to the fantastic job Bryan has done in assembling such a strong collection of hockey minds. From our coaches to our medical and training staff to our 13 pro and amateur scouts, I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their hard work and continued commitment to our organization.”

Bryan Murray: “Obviously I’m very excited about this announcement today and to be part of the Senators going forward. I think we are building a group here that has a chance to go into something really special and I wanted to be a part of that going forward. I’m fully committed and I know I have Mr. Melnyk’s full support to continue to grow this young group into a team that we hope can bring a championship here to Ottawa. I think the commitment on the part of Mr. Melnyk over the last while here, to kind of allow us to revamp the hockey team and to see the young people grow up, is a big part of why we’re doing what we’re doing today and I’m real proud of that.

I also want to take an opportunity to recognize the promotion of the two guys that Eugene just talked about.

Pierre Dorion will be in charge of scouting and drafting as he has been in the past. We will add other responsibilities such as negotiating player contracts to his workload and we know that Pierre deserves the recognition and the opportunity to move up the ranks in our management team.

Randy Lee has been in charge of player development. He has been with the organization for quite some time. He has had, in the past, development camps in the summertime and he’s gotten somewhat involved in NHL player movement – registration of contracts – and now we’re going to add the role of General Manager of Binghamton to him, which we think fits very nicely into the role of player development that he’s been a big part of for the last number of years. And he’s very responsible for a lot of the young guys getting the chance to play in the National Hockey League. But, most importantly, today’s a great day for all of us going forward and again, thanks Eugene for this opportunity.”

Questions From the Press:

On the expectations for this group going forward after Bryan Murray’s extension…

EM: “Well, I think if we are on the same trajectory that we have been for the last few years, it’s ultimately going to lead to a championship-type team. We think that we have all of the core group in place. I think there are some additions that Bryan has put forth and I know that the group is getting together… the scouting group is getting together very shortly to look at what we might be able to do towards the trade deadline this year and of course, all the drafting that will come on at the end of June. I think that we have a core group. Look, I think we’ve turned things around. I think it’s obvious that it has and I think that people are starting to click together and I couldn’t be happier with our most recent performance, so if this just continues on, you never know what can happen. Once the playoffs start, as we all know, anything goes. We have to get their first, and then after that, we just cross our fingers and hope for the best.”

The Senators can thank an abhorrently weak Eastern Conference for keeping them in the playoff picture. Hell, the Leafs have won twice in regulation in their last 26 games and they're ahead of the Senators by one point in the standings. Under normal circumstances, Ottawa's start to the season should have torched whatever hopes they had of reaching the postseason.

On when Bryan talks about a championship, what realistic time frame is – the two years he’s a GM or beyond…

BM: “No, obviously the objective is to do it when I’m here as a General Manager. I think, as Eugene said, the core we have is a very good core. It’s young. We know inexperience sometimes plays into it, but just watching the progress in the last month a little bit, I think the objective now is certainly more than it was a month before that where we have some people fitting in. We probably need another piece to make that happen, but as Eugene said, we talked about that. We have scouting meetings coming up. We’re going to have hopefully an objective by the trading deadline or by the Olympic break, whatever the case may be and we’ll see where we go. There are no guarantee in this business, we all know that. You have to get into the playoffs, but when you get in, you have to play well at that time. The reason I’m onboard, and I know the reason Eugene has me onboard is to try and get something done in the next short (period of) time.”

It's easy for me to sit here and preach a patient approach because I don't have to worry about selling seats or retaining season ticket holders to get to that magical 13,000 threshold, but hearing that Bryan Murray wants to win a Stanley Cup over the next two years feels incredibly optimistic.

This is a team that has spent the better parts of its last three seasons under Paul MacLean existing as an inconsistent group of players that has not shown that it can hang with the teams in the Western Conference or even the Bostons or Pittsburghs of the East for that matter. To hear that they're ready to go in on trades and move away from their youth movement without demonstrating that they're anything more than a playoff bubble team is slightly offputting. Moreover, I think it is insulting to a fan base that can see through the spin. 

Albeit, like Bryan Murray mentioned, this is a young group, but at the same time, I can't say with any kind of certainty that it's a good enough core (yet), that management is short-sighted enough to mortgage the future to procure the kinds of pieces the organization will need for a two-year run, or that ownership will have the financial means to buy the talent necessary, to beat the NHL's elite teams within this period of time.

It is worth noting that this two-year window not only coincides with Murray's time as GM, but as pointed out in previous blogs, a number of this team's veteran players will reach free agency by the conclusion of the 2014/15 season. The organization can lose players like Spezza, Ryan, MacArthur, Methot and Anderson to free agency and if the organization is committed to becoming a Cup contender within two-years, it will be interesting to see how the organization handles contract extension negotiations with these players. By stating that the organization is looking to make moves to improve this team's success, they may not just be playing to the ears of fans and season seat holders, but also to these players. 

As a team with limited financial resources, I certainly lend myself to the opinion that it's not in the Senators' best interest to extend Jason Spezza a long-term contract extension, but if guys like Spezza or any of this team's other impending UFAs balk at extension talks or don't want to sign cost-effective contracts that are fair to both parties, how will the organization juggle this potential situation? Especially when the revenues from the Canadian national broadcast rights will inflate the salary cap ceiling. Will these players be willing to accept less now for security and certainity? Or will they hold off knowing that management and ownership's talks might just be words to the wind. Maybe the opportunity to handpick their next employer and city to live in will be too much to pass up, especially when you consider the influx of money from the national broadcast deal will mean more dollars and a larger market for their services down the road?

On Eugene Melnyk having any doubts or going in another direction to change the management group…

EM: “Well, I think first of all, congratulations on the good memory. I think what we wanted to do was get in and begin very serious negotiations on an upswing – in a positive frame of mind for everyone within the organization and ensure that nobody ever would think that this is some kneejerk reaction to what was not an optimal beginning of the season. So it was really more of a mindset that I wanted to get this on a positive note, which we are on, and in my mind and also in Bryan’s, we both wanted to have him with the organization. I wanted, I think I stated at that same children’s skate, that I would like during his tenure that he walk away with a Stanley Cup and that’s exactly where we are today.”

What a backhanded crack to start his answer, when the journalist is doing his job and recalling comments made by Melnyk earlier in the season. There's not much of an answer here by Melnyk, but it's worth pointing out his open acknowledgment that they made this announcement now, with the team on a roll because of optics.

On organization’s willingness to move young assets and players to win now…

BM: “Yeah, I think we do have a good number of young people, I would think that other organizations would be interested in. And at the right… as always is the case, the Bobby Ryan deal required us to give up a young player or a couple of young players and I think it’s been a good thing for us, and I believe it will be a good thing for Anaheim, and yes, we’re open to talk about moving a young part or two to get the required player that we would need. So you can get that word out there Pierre (LeBrun) that we are out there to make a deal.”

Anaheim made a shrewd move to acquire a number of future assets that it can use to sustain its success or move in separate deals to make their team better and address specific needs. They made out well and the jury is still out on the Ottawa side of the deal. If they can't retain Ryan or have to move him because they can't re-sign him to a deal beneficial to them, it will be a tough pill to swallow; especially for Murray, if he's serious about winning the Cup within two seasons.

On what do you see as your main priorities for the next two years, including the team’s impending UFAs over the next two years…

“Well, I don’t know that… I can definitely tell you the names that we have to lock into, but very definitely, we understand that we have about five players that are important parts of the present team that we have to make a decision on and then do a contract for – which we’re kind of setting ourselves up to do that and we’ve outlined different priorities right now. And as I think we go forward over the next few months, we’ll make contact with the agents and see in a couple of cases if we can extend them. A couple of them, (we’ll) have to wait until July 1st. Internally, we’re making those decisions and we’ll be in the best possible position to do it, and then it will be up to the player’s agent to deal with us.”

And somewhere JP Barry is thinking, "And if the agents don't cut out a deal, will your owner rag on them like he did with me on the Fan 590?" 

On the team’s succession plan for Murray…

“Well, today’s the day that I’m not doing that, nor do I think Mr. Melnyk is. But yes, we know when we did this contract, and we talked about it… we’ve talked about what will happen after the two years, we just have to now, kind of over the next while, evaluate people and decide what may happen. But, that’s a little ways down the road and I hope we have a lot of success between now and that decision having to be made.”

Success will obviously breed consideration for another internal candidate like one of the team's new Assistant General Managers – which makes Tim Murray's decision to uproot his family from his hometown and leave for Buffalo all the more interesting.

If ownership and management keep espousing confidence that the team will contend within two-years, why not stay and bide your time so that you can help shape the team? Considering Bryan Murray acknowledged the other day that succession plans with Tim were discussed at one point in time, why leave if the Ottawa's situation is as rosy as management and ownership is painting? 

On having a small hockey operations management group relative to the rest of the NHL and whether there are any plans to add to this group…

EM: “Well I think that’s really Bryan’s decision at this point. I think that the current workload that has been assigned to both Pierre and Randy is manageable. But again, we’re focusing on… I think administratively, I think we’re fine. Could we always add more people? Possibly. The one place that I always focus on and ask a lot questions about is on the scouting and whether we’ve got everything covered. I think as far as player development is concerned, Randy’s got that well under control. So, if it’s required, it’s a very easy request to make sure that we are fully staffed to do whatever we need to do.”

BM: “Well, I think management-wise, we’re fine. Mr. Melnyk’s right though, that maybe we need an extra set of eyes at some point, in the near future, in the scouting department. But, we’ll evaluate that. The good thing that is happening here, is that we’re meeting all of our staff by the end of this week. And in discussion with them and coverage in all areas of this country, and the world really, I’ll have to find out how they feel. Do we have enough eyes now? We lost a pretty good evaluator in Tim, so do we have enough? I believe we do for now. If we have to do something in the future because of other coverage, then we’ll address it at that time.”

On what positions Bryan would like to add a piece to the team…

BM: “At the beginning, we were very concerned with the mobility of our defence and what was happening there. We were trying and I had talked to a lot of teams about a puck-moving (defenceman), but as Mr. Melnyk pointed out, the drafting has really produced a real quality defenceman in Cody Ceci. He’s young, but we can’t get him out of the lineup now that we’ve brought him up from Binghamton. He’s been real good for us. Real solid for us. Probably the one area that we’d still, like a lot of teams, still would need is probably one more forward that has some impact –either in the scoring part of it or the physical part. Either or, I think that would address a need on our hockey team.”

Sweet, so the one market that the Senators want to explore is the possibility of adding a top six forward who has size and skill in a seller's market. This should bode well. Unless of course, the organization is simply speaking out both sides of its mouth. It would hardly be surprising to hear that the team was unwilling to meet the price on deadline day because teams were asking for young players on the parent roster. 

On how much of a challenge he finds the balance of trying to win now with not mortgaging the future for the time when he leaves the organization…

“Well, we’re not going to give up a lot of young pieces. Again, it depends. Curtis Lazar was mentioned by Mr. Melnyk, well, we’re not moving Curtis Lazar, I can tell you at this point in time. But, we do have a number of players that probably are deserving of playing some games, or playing in the NHL that may not get a chance because of our numbers up here that we would talk to teams about for a more veteran-type player. But very definitely, one of the priorities here for us has been to draft, stock and develop our players to make sure that our organization is good for a lot of years. I think that’s the position that we’re getting ourselves into. We’ve got some good goaltenders coming. I think we’ve got a couple of young defencemen that look like real keepers and there’s a number of forwards in Binghamton right now, and as I say, Lazar in junior, so we would make the right common sense trade there without robbing what would be our future.”

Well, with the exception of Lazar, all of this team's best young prospects are on the parent roster, so guys like Andre Petersson, Mike Hoffman, Shane Prince, Matt Puempel probably aren't going to fetch that much in one-for-one deal. Granted, the 2014 draft class' depth and talent has been widely panned, so maybe the organization would be willing to throw away its second or third rounders to supplement a trade. Whatever the case, parlaying prospects, draft picks and future assets for a run at playoff spot and thinking that once you get in, anything can happen because the Eastern Conference is absolute dogshit at the moment, is kind of a crappy way to build a team with the long-term in mind.

Mind you, maybe part of me is skeptical because of Bryan Murray's half-hearted attempts to augment this club near the deadline in the past – moving high picks or futures for the likes of Chris Campoli, Mike Commodore, Cory Stillman, Andy Sutton and Matt Cullen.

The only real contributions these players made during the playoffs were Cullen's eight points in six games during Ottawa's Eastern Conference quarterfinals loss and Andy Sutton's 'Are you an expert?' comment. 

On the depreciation of the Canadian dollar and it’s thoughts of how the dollar will affect the franchise…

“Well, I think that our financial department is dealing with that and our information comes and has been very accurate, I think, over the past seven or eight years in hedging against the Canadian dollar/U.S. dollar to ensure that we don’t get caught in that trap. We currently do have hedging strategies in place for our debt and for, at least a year to two years, at least a year of salaries and we’ll continue monitoring that. We have very sophisticated people externally and internally that deal with those types of hedgings. I don’t think Rod (Bryden) did… I’m not sure what he did, but I don’t think the hedging at that point (of his ownership) against the U.S. dollar and Canadian dollar was in place as much as it could have been or should have been. But then again, these markets can move so quickly that you’ve got to be prepared, and it might cost you a little extra money to buy that insurance, and we’re certainly all over that. It is a definite risk in our market.”

Ugh.

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