It’s been a few weeks since Eugene Melnyk spoke to the media last, so it was only a matter of time before the Senators’ owner spoke out during this Olympic break.
In an exclusive one-on-one session with the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, Melnyk essentially rehashed many of the same points that he made in his two TSN radio spots that he did following the announcement of the Senators’ new regional broadcast agreement with Bell Media – Olympic participation, Ottawa’s playoff chances, the possibility of adding a player for the stretch run and the team’s financial situation are all discussed, but it’s the latter point that has really become routine for Melnyk.
As an owner who’s actively lobbying for any additional revenue streams to prop up his or the team’s bottom line, there’s certainly this concerted effort to make sure the financial uncertainty surrounding this franchise is engrained in the minds of the fans.
"This is not a money machine for me. It's quite the contrary," said Melnyk. "At the end of the day, at one point, you sit back and you say, 'Any guy would have packed it in a long time ago and said get me out of here I'm not going to keep feeding this thing.'
"People like me love the game and want to stay in the game. To stay in the game you need to have some kind of budget. This is what I don't get: Everybody else on the planet, everybody knows what they make and everybody knows what they spend. It's called a budget. It's a very simple word and concept. You can't just go in and spend to the max."
Yes, I’m sure Melnyk sits down every day and reflects on why he has not cashed out. But then he remembers the favorable arena deal that secured with the purchase of the Senators from bankruptcy and then he also recalls the Forbes third party valuation of the franchise that estimates that the Senators’ franchise value has quadrupled since Melnyk bought the team and then he decides ‘Hey, maybe it might be better to hold onto this team a little bit longer.’
In an excellent piece that Jonathan Willis crafted for the Cult of Hockey back in 2012, he touches upon how hockey-related revenue is defined in such a way as to maximize the appearance of losses on the hockey side. Without seeing their books, it’s difficult to know how troubled Ottawa’s situation is. However, for many, it’s difficult to believe an owner who as recently as 2011 said that the Senators no longer had “to make the playoffs anymore to make money” no longer runs a healthy business; especially when others have indicated that the Senators are making more money off of ticket sales this season because they have stopped giving away or comping tickets.
So when you hear Melnyk downplay the significance and the impact of the respective new television deals that will add some significant cash to Ottawa’s bottom line, admittedly, it’s difficult not be skeptical. I mean, there has been so much doublespeak and so many over the top comments that at times, it’s really difficult to take what he says seriously without having to raise an eyebrow.
Case in point, Melnyk defends the Senators’ position as a mid-cap team by reiterating his belief that the Senators need to be guarded against the possibility that the NHL’s cap could come down.
"At some point you could be stuck because the cap has come down. Then, you go, 'Wait a minute, it's come down and I've got to unload $5 or $10 million worth of salary.' That day will come," said Melnyk. "It's like the stock market. You can't go straight up all the time. Eventually there's correction and it rebuilds. You've got to leave yourself with some room.”
Earlier I referenced the two TSN radio interviews that he did and in his interview on TSN 1050 in Toronto, he attributed the possibility of the cap decreasing to the strength of the Canadian dollar.
“But the thing about the Canadian dollar is, there’s a natural hedge because if our revenues are coming down in Canadian dollars, and Canada, it means a lot to the (NHL’s) revenue side of things, the whole cap system, the dollars come down on that as well because the cap system is what it is. People get paid in U.S. dollars. The players get paid in U.S. dollars. And if the Canadian dollar goes down, that cap goes down right with it. So it would be concerning if it did go through 80 cents. I don’t see that happening. None of my experts have even said… they’d be shocked at anything under 85 (cents). But these are very cyclical and you could easily see within the next 24 months things change economically and the exchange comes right back. It doesn’t concern me yet, but it would concern me if there’s a radical drop very quickly on the dollar.”
So it’s been two weeks since this TSN interview and we’ve gone from ‘I don’t see (the cap coming down because the dollar decreases below 80 cents) happening’ to ‘That day will come (when the salary cap comes down)’.
It’s this inconsistency in the message that is maddening for fans.
Senators Looking to Acquire a Power Forward?
Remember when the Senators ignored Colin Greening’s advanced age (relative to the limited years he had played in the NHL) and locked him up because they believed he was burgeoning power forward in the league?
I don’t know whether it is Greening’s physical tools, his performance against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season that created this perception that he was a playoff performer or his impending UFA status that compelled Bryan Murray to sign him long-term. Or hell, maybe it was the fact that he had some history of success playing with Jason Spezza and as such, he could potentially be viewed as an in-house solution when Milan Michalek’s contract expires with the Senators?
Whatever the case, the decision flew in the face of readily available numbers that suggested that Greening was simply a third or fourth liner who reaped the benefits of piggybacking a healthy Spezza and a Norris Trophy winning Erik Karlsson.
Interestingly, maybe the Senators are no longer holding out hope that Greening will develop into that player. According to Melnyk, a power forward is the only type of player that the Senators are looking to fill.
"(Murray's) looking. If we can get a power forward in there that's the only piece we need subject to any injuries. Knock on wood with that one because we've had a very good year with injuries compared to some other ones."
It’s a reflection of the kind season Greening has had. The emergence of the MacArthur-Turris-Ryan line and the inconsistent linemates for Jason Spezza has essentially forced Greening into a reduced role amongst the team’s bottom six forwards. Greening has often found himself on a dump and chase line with Zack Smith and Chris Neil.
This style and his ineffectiveness have certainly hindered his metrics. His goals per game (0.08), points per game (0.22) and shots per game rates (1.44) are all career lows. Looking at his fancy stats, they paint a similar picture. His five-on-five close CF% (48.7%), his five-on-five close GF% (39.4%), his five on five close SF% (46.4) are also all career lows.
It sucks that Greening strikes me as a hardworking, articulate, thoughtful and really likeable guy, but his continued struggles were predictable. And as an organization that continues to espouse their belief that they can be successful without having to lavishly spend on player payroll, it’s disappointing to see the Senators overspend to retain a bottom six talent when his contributions could easily be replaced by one of the team’s players in Binghamton at a lower cost.