“You can’t have it both ways and say, ‘Well I want this for me, but I want you to do this with me and the team.’ It’s ‘which one do you want?’”
And with that statement in his latest Citizen interview, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk broadcasts to every player in the league that Ottawa is never going to be the kind of place where you’ll be paid market value while, at the same time, it aggressively improves. He may as well have said “Actually, you can have it both ways. You just have to play somewhere else.”
It’s debatable whether Detroit is better than Ottawa. On paper they look pretty close. But in Detroit, they signed all of their premier players for fair market value, and were still able to make additions this off season. They added Stephen Weiss and Alfredsson while already having locked up their core–Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Kronwall, Howard, and Franzen.
Now, you could argue that these decisions will be Detroit’s undoing. They gave Weiss an annual cap hit of $4.9 million for five years, which is a big commitment to someone who could end up being their third line center. They’ve locked up older players on long terms, and barely made the playoffs last year even before these players started to hit their declines. Detroit may have really painted themselves into a corner here.
But that’s not the argument that Melnyk is making–in the dead of August, when everyone will hang on his every word, he’s not saying “It’s just not smart hockey to do what Detroit is doing.” The argument he’s making is that Ottawa is a poor team, and will never be able to spend the way a team like Detroit can. And the numbers bear that out–Detroit is spending about $13 million more on salary than Ottawa.
All of which is fine–this is what the game is like in a smaller market. But my point is that Melnyk has literally nothing to gain, from a hockey perspective, by going to the papers to talk about how poor he is. He’s branding the team an also-ran: the last place you should think of signing if you’re a free agent who wants to play for a contender.
(Of course he does have non-hockey related goals, which the Citizen story mentions: “[Melnyk] has been aggressively lobbying Ottawa city council to back his bid to bring a new casino to land around the newly named Canadian Tire Centre, which would add another revenue stream to the hockey and concert dollars that flow in.”)
Optics are important, and it doesn’t matter that Detroit finished in the same position as Ottawa last year, and it doesn’t matter that, on paper, Detroit is about even with Ottawa in terms of talent for the coming season. Just look at Alfie’s comments:
“I didn’t really see myself making a change, if you had asked me a week ago [...] But then thoughts started creeping in. Everybody knows Detroit’s goals are always to be at the top of the game and to win championships and they’ve done that in the past.“
Ottawa is clearly getting value from their players at the moment, fielding a competitive team with the third lowest payroll in the league. But this doesn’t bode well for the future; Michalek goes UFA next year, and Spezza and Ryan the year after that. The team’s entire top line could be gone, not because we can’t afford to pay one or two of them, but because those players know that if they receive market value they’ll also have to be content to play on their own. There won’t be any reinforcements coming. The owner just said so, effectively tying one of his GM’s hands behind his back for the coming negotiations.
Melnyk never seems to learn. He has nothing to gain when he goes on the radio or in the papers and spouts off about forensic studies and Leafs fans, except, I suppose, that it’s gratifying to be invited on the radio simply because of who you are. But it’s not just a rich guy surrounded by yes men occasionally making an ass of himself; he actually hurts the team with his unchecked comments. You send a message to your players when you’re prepared to spend, and if you’re not, then the least you can do is stay the hell out of the damn papers.
[Update: the stories about this are everywhere this morning. Travis Yost summarizes particularly well:
"...in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Eugene Melnyk more or less contradicted everything said by both the general manager and departed captain, and Melnyk's story seems to jive pretty well with what's believed to have really happened behind closed doors.
So, did Bryan Murray lie to the player when he represented that the team could sign Daniel Alfredsson and bring in additional talent, or did Bryan Murray lie to the media when he represented that the team had suggested as much to Daniel Alfredsson? One of those is a certainty. We just don’t know which one. Yet. “
Over on The Score, they’re asking if Ottawa is “Nashville or Phoenix North.” One stupid interview by the blabbermouth owner and he makes his own GM look like a liar and the team look like an unstable commodity when this should be one of the more exciting seasons in years.
And just like that, because it’s August and Melnyk apparently doesn’t have a press secretary, the team has yet another distraction. It’s only a matter of time before the players start getting dragged into it.]