Keeping Melnyk out of the papers…

New-York-Islanders-The-Team-Wallpaper-

“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.]

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9 thoughts on “Keeping Melnyk out of the papers…

  1. 100% Agree!
    PLEASE stop whining and being a downer on my fandom Eugene. You know how you said you had an “internal cap”? Well here’s ours. I get $43,000 after taxes. My spouse gets $39,000. So $80,000 should do great right? Well…two cars to insure and service. Home payments, taxes, school taxes, food and clothing, his and her vacation, put some aside into an RRSP, unexpected expenses (Yeah, we had to re-do the deck and needed to re-paint the house and insulate and…) so we have some money to spend. And we DO spend it on the Senators, we try and get good seats to 3-5 games a year. That’s $500 for 5 games + a few extra hundred for parking, food, blah blah.

    Whatever.

    All I’m saying is that if a DINK couple (Double Income No Kids) can manage…how can YOU not manage? You’re the billionaire right? You have your hands in Trimel, PURGenesis and other holdings. You said a few years ago you didn’t even NEED to make the second round to make money.

    IF YOU CAN”T AFFORD IT GET A LIMITED PARTNER ALREADY. Or sell the damned team.
    This money sideshow is getting REALLY FUCKING OLD. In two weeks we find out if he can get his casino, all good.

    One last thing Eugene:
    IF you get your casino I NEVER want to hear a PEEP about not being to afford players or whatever, because there will be MILLIONS going into Senators Sports and Entertainment pockets each year. So cry me a river Eugene because either you can carry the freight or you need to get help.

    Either way, the constant woe-is-me act is getting really, really, really old.

  2. There are some things to gain by it: Some fans take what he says at face value and think, “Geez, I should buy tickets more often if I want this team to stick around,” or “Ottawa fans have to be willing to pay more for tickets if they want big-league entertainment.” It’s like the Senators are some sort of charitable organization that brings in over a hundred million dollars in revenue and makes athletes millionaires while taking in an estimated $14.5M in profit (for 2012, according to Forbes).

    Look, for instance, at Winnipeg. That team is terrible, and they’ve recently locked up their fairly terrible team core to ensure continued terribleness. But that market has lost its team before, and the new ownership group is seizing on the opportunity that vulnerability presents: Hugely expensive tickets with massive contractual obligations and a waiting list a mile long. I don’t think Ottawa has the same complex that Winnipeg does, but we’re not far off–and there is no shortage of gullible people in this city ready to “donate” what they can to the Senators.

    • I don’t disagree, except Ottawa’s games are already pretty well attended. I think they were 6th highest in attendance last year or something? To get the team from 6th to, say, 4th, wouldn’t make that much of a dent in revenue. However, if Eugene were to say “We’re going to raise ticket prices by $10, which I will put directly into the product on the ice,” I think you might see a willingness to contribute. Right now it’s all just so nebulous. The team is always poor. It doesn’t matter how they do in the season, how low their payroll, or what have you, they’re just poor. I know there are legitimate reasons (apparently he’s refinanced the club a few times, so his costs in interest are probably massive), but he’s never up front about them.

      • ““We’re going to raise ticket prices by $10, which I will put directly into the product on the ice,” I think you might see a willingness to contribute. ”

        Maybe. I wouldn’t pay an extra $10 to see an 8th place or 7th place team. If the team is tops in the league I will. If the team is out of the playoffs then hell no, and I’m looking for free tickets instead of paying for them.

  3. By all accounts the team is profitable. Melnyk owns them and has the right to spend Senators profits covering less stellar ventures: it’s his prerogative. If in squeezing the hockey team he overprices, waters down quality, or strikes a negative chord with fans, to some extent that’s temporary. To some other extent, it permanently turns off the team’s fan base and shrinks the investment potential in the long run. Maximize profit, weighting the time value of money in one’s circumstances; it’s a business decision.

    That being said I am emotionally invested in the Senators and not at all in the travails of some rich billionaire. I wish we had Winnipeg’s ownership group instead of ours (emotional heartstring tugging and all). I want to blame the ass for everything whenever he pulls out his sad little violin… And it bugs me that if I spend money on a blindingly overpriced jersey it’s going to his under water horse breeding program and not to resign the guy whose name is on the back.

    But what can one do? Buy the jersey if you’ll enjoy it enough to justify the paycheque. If you have to, time-weight the amount you like the player by the amount of time left until he’s a UFA again, when you decide who to put on the back of it. Why make it into some kind of internal 10$ deal for yourself? Let the front office make its business decisions and make your own, in a vacuum. That way when next year rolls around and the face of the franchise leaves, you can’t be personally betrayed.

    Daniel Alfredsson taught me that.

  4. I don’t know enough about money matters to offer an opinion on how Melnyk’s words will affect our team, but if you’re right, Varada, then I am definitely concerned. On the other hand, I have no clue how we, as fans, can influence Melnyk’s behaviour or anything else beyond jumping ship. So I guess it’s important to be aware and be concerned, but what can we do? :(

    • I do think that there are people, either on the team or in mainstream media or both, who monitor what is said on Senators blogs. I mean, it’s free market research; I don’t know why they would ignore it. We’ve seen that when enough people get on a certain train (i.e. Melnyk’s finances) that the theme creeps into the mainstream reporters’ questions during press conferences, and then that the team starts thinking about how to respond. Maybe I’m being naive, but I’ve got to think that if enough people keep pointing out all of the ways that Melnyk’s media appearances are damaging that maybe, somewhere in the organization, they’ll consider hiring a press secretary or PR person to triage out these radio appearances.

      …or maybe he’s just the guy with the money and he gets to do whatever the hell he wants. I guess that’s just the price we pay for having a hobby that requires the involvement of multibillionaire oil men and pharmaceutical magnates.

  5. Pingback: On 10 years of Eugene Melnyk |

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