Melnyk Speaks: Media Conference Call

One day after players cleared out their stalls in the Senators’ dressing room at the Canadian Tire Centre, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk addressed the media and fielded a number of questions from the  media on the season that was.

For a minute, it seemed like the public would have to rely on the media to relay Melnyk’s comments, but TSN 1200 came through in the clutch and carried the bulk of the call.

You can listen to the conference call by streaming the audio at the bottom of this post or you can read the transcribed portion below. As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On the coaching situation and Paul MacLean’s security…

“Well I think it’s pretty certain, as well I can assure you, Paul’s our coach and he’s going to be our coach going into next year. But, we’re evaluating everything within the hockey operations, but as far as the leadership is concerned, that is staying put.”

After speculation was running rampant about his future with the organization, Paul MacLean’s job security is now unclouded. Well, at least until the organization needs someone else to take the fall for its shortcomings.

On where the Senators are at with season ticket sales have gone and whether the Senators will be a tough sell next season…

“Well that’s a good question and the difference this year was that on a number of different levels we actually did better – simply because we’re not what they call ‘painting the place’ where you do all sorts of deals to put people in the seats and it’s actually an illusion because it looks like you’re full but you actually aren’t full from a revenue perspective. So this year we took another approach and said, ‘Look, this is where we are, this is what we have.’ As far as seats are concerned? Yes, we’re down a little bit as far as seat sales are concerned. The playoffs are very important to us because they not only do you sell tickets for this year as people jump onto the bandwagon as season ticket (holders) but also into the playoffs and into next year. Will it be a tough sell? I don’t know. Right now, things are looking fine. We’re on track and where we want to be. We could always do better, but right now, there is nothing that concerns me in the foreseeable future. We have a stable fan base. We have great fans who come out. This is only the second time in eleven years that I have owned the franchise that we haven’t made the playoffs and we’re oh so close. Being out only five games is a tough swallow but people understand that. It’s still a very young team. Other teams if you look at them, they’ve got much bigger problems than we do. I think as each one of our players grows and starts showing all of their stuff and gets more mature, I think you’re going to see a much more competitive team and that always helps ticket sales.”

Will it be a tough sell?

Has there been a franchise in hockey that has lost the kind of momentum that the Senators from the conclusion of their 2012/13 season to now?

It’s astounding how ownership has pissed away much of the goodwill and equity that he built up from rescuing this team from bankruptcy.

It’s all well and good that this organization has made the playoffs in nine of the 11 seasons that Eugene has been at the helm, but when he purchased the team in 2003, he inherited a team that was brimming with talent at every position. If he wants to brag and beat his chest about making the playoffs, surely he’ll take some ownership over the demise of those great Senators teams and the loss of future Hall of Famers like Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara. Or maybe he can take ownership of the fact that under his watch, the team’s goal of winning the Stanley Cup has been replaced by this perennial chase of a coveted playoff spot – in which if they get in, anything can happen, but playoff revenues are guaranteed.

At some point, Eugene has to take a hard look in the mirror. He has to see a man who speaks to the fan base and treats them like they’re children.

As an individual whose words and actions have helped create a toxic environment in which this fan base has lost confidence in his ability to lead this organization successfully and help it fulfill its dreams of winning a Stanley Cup.

On whether the increased revenues will translate into an increase in payroll…

“Well, you look at it and I keep repeating myself on this Ken and that is, it’s very, very easy to increase payroll. Any idiot can do it and a lot of idiots do and they just… they overspend and they go to the cap and I’ve done it twice and both times it didn’t make an impact. Where we want to spend our money and what you don’t see, forget about the for cap right now, what you don’t see is how much money we spend behind the scenes on the development of our players and what we do down in Binghamton, what we do with our player development internally and that’s where the money is. That’s the best bang for your buck. To overpay for a player, you know, just go through the graveyard of all these players who have been paid and got seven-year contracts at $7 million apiece and everybody thinks they’re geniuses and they turn out not to meet expectations. And then you come across somebody that’s a $2.5-3.5 million player and they play better than that $7 million player on another team, so it gives us more room to do what we need to do, but you don’t just spend the money just because you have it in our pocket. That’s nonsense and we’ll never do that. We’re just going to be very, very wise in where we spend our money because we’re also constantly investing in the future and we don’t want to be in a position where, once you get into three to four to five years of not hitting the playoffs… in some cases, it’s a lot more than that with some teams, but you want to continue… you have to continually invest into your junior programs, your scouting, your development – all of that. That’s where a lot of money is spent and that’s where it will continue to be spent.”

For whatever reason, Melnyk equates spending with spending frivolously for the sake of satiating the masses. It’s inane. No one should expect this team to simply flick a switch and throw ludicrous amounts of money at players for the sake of doing so (ie. how I fully expect the Florida Panthers to operate now that Dale Tallon has been given the green light to spend up to the cap ceiling).

For one instant, I’d love to hear Melnyk comment on the organization’s ability to add to the team’s payroll by adding smartly. If the team can make other shrewd Clarke MacArthur’esque signings, would this team invest more money in its payroll to make it more competitive?

It’d sure as fuck be more believable had Melnyk not appeared on TSN 1200’s ‘The Drive’ program later this afternoon and admitted that Daniel Alfredsson’s absence had some impact on the Senators but that re-signing him would have meant not being able to bring in Bobby Ryan.

Really?

If the money is there to spend, as we’re led to believe, how the hell couldn’t the organization believe that it wouldn’t feel the effect of Alfie’s loss in goodwill, bad PR, merchandising sales, and ticket sales?

Which leads into…

On you feel you’ve underestimated the impact of Daniel Alfredsson leaving…

“Anytime you have a change of that magnitude, it’s going to impact your team. Whether it would have made a difference this year or not, who knows? We’ll never know. The best answer would be completely speculation and you guys are better at that than I am.”

Zing.

On what the biggest disappointment is this year…

“(laughing) Not making the playoffs Bruce, what do you think?”

More like, “Not making playoff revenue Bruce, what do you think?”

On disappointments beyond that…

“Well, you could go through a whole list and that list is long and wide. There’s a few bright spots, but there’s a lot of dark spots as well. It’s just the overall performance was very frustrating throughout the year. You know, watching our team lose… I think the biggest… yeah, I think that would be it. The biggest (disappointment) was the fact that we would go in and beat up on the best elite teams in the league and then come back and miss, what I call, the ‘two foot putts’ – the Edmontons, the Calgarys, after that Vancouver game. You lose out there and that I think was a huge disappointment. Losing to the Islanders, what’s that all about? We couldn’t… I was scratching my head you know. And then on the other hand, you go into Boston and you beat them up and you go into Pittsburgh and you beat them up. You’re winning the big games and I tried to get an explanation from some of the players and some made sense. But that’s the biggest disappointment – how could we blow some of those games? And I think that’s exactly what it was – they were blown games and that’s the difference between making the playoffs and “not.

Pssssssst… don’t tell Eugene that the Senators stunk against the Western Conference (10-13-5).

On what sort of changes he thinks are necessary…

“I don’t think it’s not a wholesale change. We just need to show up more often. I think we need leadership. I think we need accountability from top to bottom and that’s more of a mindset and it could also reflect the maturity of the team. And as they mature, don’t kid yourself because I did some exit interviews, these are not some happy campers. They don’t like it any more than any of us do to be sitting on the sidelines and watching their friends and neighbours playing in the playoffs. That’s all being evaluated right as we speak, but there’s no question that there are going to be some changes, the question is where.”

Melnyk admitting to doing exit interviews is scary, even if he backtracked on those comments and did damage control by aggressively defending himself by saying that he stayed out of the hockey ops exit meetings because those were for the hockey ops staff and Bryan Murray. Instead he simply had business casual exit meetings that involved drinking beer. I’m sure that puts everyone’s mind at ease.

On assessing Paul MacLean’s season as a head coach…

“Well I think that he’ll readily admit that everybody… there’s a lot of blame to go around, but at the end of the day, he’s accountable, the GM’s accountable, the leadership on the team is accountable, everyone from top to bottom. So, it does start at the coaching level, but I just think that he had a bad year and he’ll readily admit that. I think we’ve all learned from what’s transpired this last year of how to get it right and I think you saw it right at the end unfortunately. I just wished it happened a little earlier against some of the weaker teams that we should have (beat). Whatever that’s attributable to is something between him and Bryan and they are going to move forward to resolve some of tweaking that needs to be done to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Downplaying the talent levels and execution of this team while openly complaining about how the season got away from it because they didn’t take advantage of the weaker teams is inane. Quit making excuses and own the poor season. Moreover, could you imagine the owners and GMs of the “elite” teams restlessly sitting at home and wondering why they couldn’t beat the Senators? Of course not.

On assessing Jason Spezza’s season and leadership whether he will stick around for the future…

“I think that Jason understands what his role was and is. He’s a professional. He understands that he could be here today, gone tomorrow and I think everybody in pro sports understands that. Or you could go long-term and stay with a team for many, many years. In fact, your whole career and we have a few of those players. So, it’s very dependent on what else or what other pieces we have to put together and I think that at the end of the day, he’s just one of 20-plus players that participated this year and we just didn’t get it done. You can’t put it all on his shoulders, but I think everybody does take some responsibility and that’s right across the board – whether they like it or not – it is, they have to be accountable. That’s the bottom line.”

That certainly didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for the captain who will be approaching unrestricted free agency. Considering how frequently Melnyk’s been hammering home the “We need more leadership and accountability” angle, I think we’ve found our scapegoat for the 2013/14 season.

On the importance of developing, how he lost Tim Murray and the fear of a brain drain or the size of his staff…

“Not at all and just to clarify the way these things operate, we don’t lose people. We allow them to speak to other teams. Those are our choices. They are under our contracts, so if there are any changes at those levels, those changes are made by us and not at the discretion of the individuals that under contract. So Tim had an opportunity. He was a very good contributor, but the people who replaced his role – (Pierre) Dorion and (Randy) Lee – they are, I think, great guys. That is one place where you won’t see changes. And I think that as far as succession planning is concerned, that’s underway because Bryan (Murray) will at one point, decide he’s done enough in hockey and he’s met his goals and there’s other things that he wants to do. But, I think we have a first class team and again, you don’t see a lot of these people and the number of scouts. And I can name you some teams, and we all know who they are, and they spend fortunes on layers and layers of management and my god, I don’t know how they even get things done. Well frankly, they don’t get things done. We are mean and lean and we can make decisions and you have to trust the people that you hire and if you don’t trust them, they’ve got to go. And right now, I think we’re in a great spot and if we do make changes at any type of level there, please keep in mind that that’s not anybody leaving, it’s us making the decision for them to leave.”

Wow, those comments don’t sound petty at all…

His words are spoken like an owner who’s ready to lose staff to another organization and rumours have surfaced that pro scout Rob Murphy will be leaving join Tim Murray and the Buffalo Sabres. 

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