In the past week, following Karlsson’s terrible injury and our official entry into wacky, SBP-is-haunted territory, Melnyk has shown up again and again in the media to voice is discontent. Discontent itself isn’t unusual; it’s a devastating injury, happening to pretty much the last player you’d want to see go down, and inflicted with whatever degree of intention by someone with a rotten reputation.
But at what point does someone–for the love of god, anyone–have a conversation with Melnyk about what the ideal role of a pro sports franchise owner can be? Owners can absolutely help their team win, and it’s not just by signing the cheques. They can also be the responsible voice of a classy, distinguished brand.
Look at Jeff Vinik in Tampa Bay. Other than showing his face at charitable events, maybe at the draft, he’s largely invisible. He’ll send out a press release congratulating his team on a good season, keep in communication with his General Manager, and other than that he pretty much leaves the hockey to the hockey people. And, most importantly, he stays the hell out of the media.
Melnyk, on the other hand, is much closer to the Terry Pegula school of rich-boy-with-a-team ownership. Forgetting the rumours that Melnyk is the one that influenced the signing of Alex Kovalev (for which there is less than substantial evidence), his presence on radio stations and in the print media is unmistakable and embarrassing. Some of this is definitely tied to sales–I’ve become accustomed to him putting out some scare-mongering quotes about small market teams and moving the franchise suspiciously close to season tickets going on sale. But some of it seems like it’s just because he wants to.
In the last few months we’ve heard Melnyk reveal that players in the Ottawa dressing room felt they were better than eventual Stanley Cup winners Los Angeles, and if they’d been able to finish off New York in the first round they could have gone all the way. True or not, that’s the kind of leave-it-in-the-dressing-room banter that reflects poorly on the team, and on the market. It’s almost compromised trust to reveal that.
Then Melnyk starts talking about Toronto fans being drunken buffoons and how we need to actively keep them out of home games, which makes the franchise seem petulant and hypocritical. (Last time I checked alcohol was available at SBP.) It also makes Ottawa seem like it still has an anti-Leafs complex, even though the rivalry has been pretty dormant for years now.
Then Melnyk starts in on Cooke, though Ottawa has or does employ pests and thugs like Chris Neil, Jarkko Ruutu, Matt Carkner, Zenon Konoptka, Francis Lessard, and Brian McGrattan. It’s not that they shouldn’t; it’s just that that’s a hockey decision, and what does Melnyk know about it?
Of course it’s his right to be a fan, and I guess it’s his right to be a fan who is audible in the media. Privileged people get access to those kinds of things, and he’s certainly paid for that right. But at some point you have to think about how this behaviour reflects on the franchise itself, and how players–whether unrestricted free agents, or players deciding whether or not to re-sign, and for how long–think about the prestige of that logo on the front of their chest. Does Buffalo look any more prestigious because Pegula occasionally say some overblown thing about winning the Cup, or do they look like more of a basket case than ever?
Ottawa has veterans who have been with the franchise for their entire careers, and respected hockey people at every position from scouting on up through the executive. And then, right there at the top of the chain, and on the radio, is Eugene Melnyk making inarticulate (borderline incoherent, really) comments about whatever comes into his brain.
At some point somebody needs to tell him that he is as much a representative of the Ottawa Senators as the players and the management. And just as you wouldn’t expect, say, Kyle Turris to get away with hopping on every other radio show to spout off about whatever, the franchise’s media rules should apply to the honcho at the top.