Eugene Melnyk Speaks: Follows up Conference Call on TSN Radio

I am not sure whether Senators owner Eugene Melnyk wanted to go into damage control and put out some fires after making certain comments during his end of the season conference call with the media, but Melnyk did appear on TSN 1200’s ‘The Drive’ to do what Eugene Melnyk does – never stop talking.

To listen to his interview, you can stream it via the embedded audio at the bottom of this post, or you can read his transcribed comments below. As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On what went wrong this season…

“Well, you know that’s the $100 million question. I think that there’s a whole perfect storm that came together that caused us to end up where we ended up. It happens to other teams, but in this case, we were consistent and people have said it – reporters said and I think you even said it, we were consistently inconsistent. How do you… you can’t even explain how you go into some of these big markets and these big teams and then you beat on them and then you go into lesser teams and you get your butt kicked. It’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ If a couple of those games had gone our way, it would be a very, very different discussion we’d be having today, but we’re not and now we’re evaluating. And it’s not going to be easy because there’s a lot of moving parts. We need to just dissect it and dice it and figure out exactly how to do it. But, the big picture is that it’s too simplistic. There’s a lot of – there’s leadership, there’s skills, there’s just a lot stuff that went on that should never have happened in an organization as elite as we have. I don’t think it’s going to happen next year. I think a lot of people aren’t very, very happy today and not only as fans, but the players themselves and the coaching staff and management.”

Sadly by answering this question, Melnyk doesn’t get the $100 million. 

On whether he feels that he’s got some of the right answers…

“Absolutely, and thank god for that. What we have within our organization, which is absolutely great, is we don’t have the cover myself or be worried about covering myself. People don’t have a problem with taking the bullet if they’re wrong and be afraid to take that bullet. It’s the contrary. If I heard somebody trying to blame somebody else and say ‘Well, we tried. It wasn’t my fault. They didn’t play for us or this guy didn’t do this,’ that’s when you know you’ve got problems. In this case, everybody says, ‘I’m partly to blame. I’m part of this problem and I’m going to be better next year,’ and that includes players, coaches and everybody else.”

On whether he sat in on exit interviews with players…

“Yeah, okay, let’s call it an exit meeting or call it a… next time, why don’t we do this? Next time you see me having a beer with a player, is that going to be an interview? Come on. When I ran a billion dollar company, I would talk to the assistant to the sales coordinator up to the top scientist in the company. This is five, six guys that I bumped into on a day and I said, ‘Come on in and let’s just shoot the breeze and so what do you think happened?’ I didn’t actually sit in on the meetings, that’s a hockey ops thing. That’s what Bryan (Murray) does. That’s what Bryan does with the coaches. He does that with the players. That’s me walking around and bumping into players and I chat with these guys. I’ve had social events with them and I know many of their families and wives and it’s just sitting down and saying, ‘What do you think?’ And these are guys that I trust and have been around for a long, long time and it’s kind of blown out of proportion. But, let me just talk about that for one second cause I heard something about meddling and stuff like that. People, I think, they don’t… I’m not expecting everybody got an ‘A’ in English to understand what the word ‘meddle’ means versus ‘an interest in’. Meddling is, the definition is… I actually looked up the definition just for fun in the Webster’s Dictionary, and I said, ‘What is meddling?’ – to interest oneself in what is not one’s concern; to interfere without right or propriety – that’s in Webster’s. So A) it is my concern; and B) I do have an interest; and C) I have a right and proprietary to interfere if I want to. But at the end of the day, you just want to sit down with these guys and say, ‘Look, what happened? At the beginning of the year, we were golfing together and we talked and I asked you whether we could hit the Cup this year and now, look where we are.’ And they just gave me their honest opinions and nothing more than that. (Laughing)”

So after casually dropping a comment that he participated in “exit interviews” – which according to the Webster’s Dictionary involves “an interview held by a personnel officer with an employee who is leaving the company”, Melnyk backtracked by stating that he did participate with the hockey ops staff in their end of the year sit down interviews with players. He then proceeded to follow that up by admitting that under the literal definition, he “meddles” – that will calm everyone’s nerves. 

On the impact of Alfredsson…

“Well, the only reason I can’t make it a big deal it my mind because there’s nothing you can do about it. So yeah, you can sit around and mope around, and say, ‘Oh geez, I wish things were different.’ But if you can’t control it, what’s the point? But I think as far as the impact on the team itself, I think it did to a certain extent. But these are professional hockey players, get over it. They’re paid the big bucks. Get over it and that’s the key to any successful elite athlete. I think in our case, the fans didn’t run out the exits. Most, if not all of the players, got over it. Would he have been a helpful kind of anchor to our team? I think so. Would he have made the difference between making the playoffs or not? Well, you know what? We couldn’t have afforded Bobby Ryan for it. So, it’s a speculation that you don’t even want to go down that road because you’ll never know and you’ll never get the right answer.”

For someone who has repeatedly said that if the organization can add smartly, they will have money to spend, no one to this point has called the owner out on why the Senators then could not have acquired Bobby Ryan and retained Daniel Alfredsson. His GM has said on a few occasions that he could have creatively worked both players into the budget, but the obviously the only deterrent or reason not to have both in the fold is the increase in budget in the player payroll.

On the direct correlation between spending money and winning and whether he firmly believes that he can win a Stanley Cup with a payroll that lies in the bottom half…

“Well, look, we’re not averse to spending. What we want to do is make sure that this franchise, first of all, is around. First of all, survive, make sure that you’re around. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, at one point, somebody walks away and says, ‘You know what, I’ll buy 50 boxes and I’ll support the team that way.’ But, the bottom line is yes. I think you can and I think we would never not spend. We brought Hemsky in at the end of the season, but it’s just where you spend your money. For every example that you tell me about a team that doesn’t make it, I can give you five examples of teams that spent to the cap and we know who they are, that haven’t made the playoffs in nine out of ten years. (Are) you kidding me? Nine out of ten years and they don’t make the playoffs and they spend to the cap? And who’s off kilter here? We’ve made the playoffs under my ownership in eleven years, nine out of eleven. This was one year. This was a freak year as far as I’m concerned. It was just a fluke. We should have made the playoffs. We should have gone deep in the playoffs. Things just didn’t click the way that they should and again, I go back to two wins and a tie and we’re in. We had 14 overtime losses. Everybody that is in those playoffs had less than ten. So we don’t mind spending, it’s just spend wisely, that’s all.”

For an organization to repeatedly claim that it has money, having the owner throw say things like, “What we want to do is make sure that this franchise, first of all, is around. First of all, survive, make sure that you’re around,” isn’t going to reassure a fan base that has already lost trust in his ability to successfully own this team and lead it to a Stanley Cup. In fact, most have already resigned themselves to thinking that this team will never win so long as Eugene owns the team. 

Morover, under his watch and I mentioned this in the transcription of his conference call, from the moment that the Senators lost in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, the organization has been stuck in a rut – making reactive rather than proactive player personnel decisions in an attempt to keep this team as competitive as it possibly can. As a result, the Senators have perennially been a bubble team and despite the growth of its young players, the organization has failed to make an ascent up the standings because of this organization’s unwillingness to purge the roster or sell high on a number of veterans who came off career years or were redundant.

Part of the blame should probably be rest with this organization’s insecurity or belief that the city of Ottawa will not support a winner. 

The Senators brought Hemsky in at the deadline and through better future assets at the Edmonton Oilers so that they would remain on the hook for half of Hemsky’s salary. 

On whether he would look to add to his small hockey ops staff…

“They have…. You know what… they have, I don’t want to say unlimited because they’ll run with that, but they have a lot of access to capital to spend on the people… Our scouting is second to none… I really believe it’s second to none and just take a look at some of the people we’ve drafted. We added international scouts, NHL scouts, college scouts. We were one of the first ones that had college scouts. We scout other NHL teams for players that are coming up for unrestricted and restricted (free agency). We have everything pretty much we need to, but if they need more, those are tiny salaries compared to some of the players. You know, players $7 million… think of what a good scout costs. I’m not going to tell you because everybody else knows, but that’s not an area that we skimp on at all. It’s the opposite, whatever you need, we’ll give it to you.”

To Melnyk’s credit, the scouting department was overhauled when Bryan Murray left his coaching position to take over from John Muckler. But, I have to wonder whether this overhaul and expansion of the scouting department has created this false reality with Eugene Melnyk in which he believes he’s pumping way more money into that area, but relative to the rest of the NHL, he’s getting lapped by his peers. Of course, there’s no real way to know this because these budgets aren’t as transparent as what the organization allocates on players’ salaries. Nevertheless, what Melnyk’s asking fans is to simply take his word that the Senators are spending more. 

As an aside, if Melnyk’s attitude toward the hockey ops department is that he’d prefer to add to that staff because relative to spending and striking out on a million dollar player, a scout or analyst costs far less, you have to wonder why the organization that has demonstrated an unwillingness to spend, hasn’t gone out and developed its own analytics staff.

On elaborating on his viewpoint on Jason Spezza…

“You know, my viewpoint would be whatever Bryan (Murray)’s viewpoint is. I’m not going to step into his shoes or in his way, because then I’ve taken away his accountability. So, you’re not going to see me stepping in and ‘meddling’ at all. He comes to me, he says, ‘This is what I want to do.’ We think about it. We talk about it and it’s more of just an information download and he makes the decision. Let him do his job. He’s got 40 years of experience and who am I to sit there and question his 40 years of experience in doing his job? Don’t look into anything of what I said about Jason or about any player other than the positive comments I did make on the coach – that he is going to be our coach going into next year and I think you’re going to see a very different team and I really believe that. It’s only going to get better. I tell you, we’re going to be a much better team next year than we were this year.”

Considering how ownership quickly went to bat for Paul MacLean and removed any cloud of doubt that he will be back this season, the organization simply has not done the same for Jason. In my mind, he’s as good as gone.

On whether he has a book in the works…

“There is a book being written right now, yes.”

On the topic…

“It’s generally on my sports. I’ve generally resisted it because I said, ‘Talk to me when we get to the Stanley Cup or get a little bit more experience in the league.’ But, it’s not just that, it’s horse racing as well. It’s my experience in junior hockey and it’s yeah, I’m the one who’s delaying it. They’re probably halfway through it and they’re probably not to happy with me because I’m taking my time. But yeah there is.”

On a target date for release…

“Ah, I wish there was. It’s directly related to our success with the Senators – that’s my deadline.”

 In some fans’ minds, we could be waiting awhile.