What the Fuck is Going On

There’s a level on which the bizarre 10:05 PM tweet from the Ottawa Senators’ official account undoubtedly represents an unprecedented low point in the modern history of the team or, at the very least, of the Eugene Melnyk era.

There’s another level, however, on which what happened last night was depressingly predictable given the continued underinvestment in what most large businesses take for granted: public relations and media strategy departments, professional writing and rigorous field testing of a message, good old-fashioned managing up and an actual, clear vision of progress. No healthy organization would have allowed this quality of a product in this kind of a toxic environment to see the light of day. This video – this utterly if unintentionally hilarious monstrosity of an attempt to control the damage – is the inevitable outcome of a franchise gone to seed.

Here are a few of the things I was thinking as I watched the ratio under that tweet surpass a thousand replies:

  • There’s a world in which I can understand what Melnyk was trying to do here. It’s the same world in which the New York Ranger’s February 2018 letter to season ticket holders exists. In less than 350 words, the Rangers’ owner and GM stood together as the voice of ownership and management and reminded their fans of their success to date; told them they were going younger and that it might mean saying goodbye to some familiar faces; reassured them that ownership remains committed to success. And finally – and perhaps most importantly – they said, “thank you.” Simple. Honest. Effective. The Rangers’ letter was everything this video is not. This video:
    • Doesn’t involve the GM or even the coach, further muddying the waters about who’s in charge and what the priorities are, let alone a journalist like Ian Mendes who might have lent the whole exercise some credibility.
    • Doesn’t clarify the team’s next steps while simultaneously committing the team to icing 10 young players out of 22 then 16 the year after for no discernable reason.
    • Doesn’t reassure fans that the management team “knows what it’s doing,” if only because NHL teams have 23-man rosters, not 22.
    • Mindbendingly includes something about the Senators having a lot of draft picks, despite not having their 1st – a principal source of anxiety for fans. The only extra picks the Sens have are two 7ths this season and two 3rds and two 6ths next season (they don’t have a 5th), which is basically nothing.
    • Is timed terribly, simultaneously deflating the rare excitement of the recent rookie tournament and depressing interest in the impending season.
    • Dismisses concerns about relocation as “noise” despite the topic having been introduced by Melnyk himself in another disastrously-timed media debacle.
  • Say what you will about Mark Borowiecki and the type of hockey he represents, but here he’s forced into a ridiculous situation that no employee should have to navigate. As a player known for his leadership and character, he’ll be game for whatever wacky thing the owner has in mind. He’s a good company man. But he’s also a professional athlete who makes $1.2 million a year to play hockey and shouldn’t have been put in a position to interview probably the least popular person in the city. I feel bad for him.
  • It’s hard not to read Melnyk’s “it’s not one or two or three players” comments as an indication that the team may lose some or all of their best three players, all of whom are impending unrestricted free agents, and thus this video as an attempt to get out ahead of an upcoming series of trades. The involvement of a player implies that the dressing room is on board with whatever changes are to come, again roping the team into management’s designs and using the players as a human shield against fan angst.

Perhaps weirdest is the owner taking the opportunity to tell the fans that he’s not going anywhere for a long, long time. This, after a summer in which #MelnykOut became the organic, unifying meme this team has never been able to create itself. Maybe Melnyk is out of touch with how his customers feel, or billionaires just have brain worms from years of people sucking up to them, but if he has even the slightest sense of what’s going on then the inclusion of this little tidbit can’t help but feel like a big “fuck you” to those of us who can’t bring ourselves to buy a ticket if it means giving Eugene Melnyk a dollar. He’s saying he’ll outlast us.

And finally, I feel for the veterans in that dressing room on unmoveable contracts: Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson, Marian Gaborik, Mikkel Boedker, and Zack Smith. When they signed those contracts, the team seemed to be trending up. Now they’re trapped between an owner nobody can control, an irate fanbase, their own declining abilities and the complete lack of a future. Craig Anderson, in particular, who’s been a warrior for the team for the better part of eight years and probably the best goalie the Sens have ever had, is about to be on the receiving end of a really bad team’s really bad season. I hope they find a home for him elsewhere and a real chance to end his career competing for a Cup.

In the end, what we’re left with is our own work. Last night’s spontaneous combustion of our favorite team was at least a moment to appreciate the creativity and passion of the fans on twitter. We deserve better than this. At least we’ve got each other.

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