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.

Which NHL Owners Are the Least Evil?

EvilBatman

Ottawa Senators fans are in the market for a new team. Over the past year, Eugene Melnyk has seemingly gone out of his way to make it impossible to want to attend a Senators game if it means contributing in any way to his financial well-being. He’s certainly gassed any goodwill remaining in the tank after rescuing the team from bankruptcy over a decade ago.

But how evil is Eugene Melnyk, really, when compared to his fellow billionaires? So long as the NHL’s business model requires some wacky rich guy or gal to want to add a hockey franchise to their Batcave, we’ll be dealing with a veritable rogues gallery of arch-conservatives and moldy white dudes who made their fortunes in less than inspiring ways. The odd consortium of local business interests, like those in Nashville and Winnipeg, are in the minority. So, if you’re going to pick another team to root for, you may as well make the relative level of each majority owner’s evilness a starting point.

How does a guy working off the side of his desk assess the evilness of a billionaire owner of a hockey franchise? In three airtight ways:

  1. Using almost exclusively what is available on Wikipedia.
  2. Assessing, unbelievably roughly, the proportion of the owner’s personal fortune and time dedicated to philanthropy.
  3. My stereotypical understanding of the evilness of their primary industry, be it different from owning a hockey team.

There are a few safe assumptions you can make about anybody whose personal fortune is in the billions of dollars. First, they probably sit on the board of a foundation or fundraising entity, usually associated with their business or hockey club. This doesn’t mean that they donate significant proportions of their personal wealth to that organization, though you can assume that they give something to their foundations, including money and time. They also probably donate some small, undisclosed amounts to various causes and campaigns. For this article, I was looking for philanthropic involvement above and beyond the occasional conference call to hear about foundation financials.

This article is meant to be a jumping off point for your own irresponsible Googling. I didn’t do a deep dive to find out if the St. Louis Blues’ owner once punched a goat at the petting zoo. Obviously, this is not a comprehensive or scientific assessment of evilness, both because I don’t have the time and because notions of morality are socially constructed and ratified via discourse and as such are easily subjected to a posteriori deconstruction whether or not you believe in essentialist beliefs. This is evidenced, first and foremost, by the following usage of Dennis Hopper’s portrayal of Bowser from the 1993 movie Super Mario Bros:

EVILNESS RATING SCALE

Only a little bit evil Capture

Pretty damned evil Capture Capture

Mostly evil Capture Capture Capture

Almost exclusively evil Capture Capture Capture Capture

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

 

Anaheim Ducks Henry Samueli Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club LLC 2005

Evilness of primary industry

“Broadcom Inc. is a designer, developer and global supplier of products based on analog and digital semiconductor technologies within four primary markets: wired infrastructure, wireless communications, enterprise storage, and industrial & others.”

Okee doke.

Philanthropic activities

To date the Samueli’s have committed over $500 million to philanthropic causes, many of them involving STEM research and education. They’ve been involved in integrative and alternative medicine, which can be contentious. They’re worth $3.8 billion.

Only a little bit evil Capture

Arizona Coyotes Andrew Barroway IceArizona Acquisition Co., LLC 2014

Evilness of primary industry

He’s a hedge fund manager.

Philanthropic activities

None reported. Apparently he’s only worth about $50 million. I have no idea how Arizona is still a hockey team.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

Boston Bruins Jeremy Jacobs Boston Professional Hockey Association, Inc 1975

Evilness of primary industry

Delaware North is a global food service and hospitality company. The company also operates in the lodging, sporting, airport, gaming and entertainment industries.

Philanthropic activities

A bit over $50 million, most of which went to the University of Buffalo. Some medical research and funding the Bruins Foundation to improve the lives of children. Keep in mind, he’s the 481st richest person in the world, worth about $4.7 billion. For what’s it’s worth, Jacobs is apparently a bit of a hardliner when negotiating the CBA with his players.

Pretty damned evil Capture Capture

Buffalo Sabres Terrence Pegula Pegula Sports and Entertainment; Hockey Western New York, LLC 2011

Evilness of primary industry

Holds business interests in natural gas development, real estate, entertainment and professional sports

Philanthropic activities

$100 million to Penn State’s hockey program and $12 million to Houghton College. He’s worth $4.3 billion. I dock him a bit here for his philanthropy mostly being support for sports programs.

Pretty damned evil Capture Capture

Calgary Flames N. Murray Edwards Calgary Sports and Entertainment 1980

Evilness of primary industry

Canadian oil sands.

Philanthropic activities

None reported. He’s worth $2.2 billion.

Almost exclusively evil Capture Capture Capture Capture

Carolina Hurricanes Tom Dundon Gale Force Sports And Entertainment, LLC; Carolina Hurricanes Hockey Club 2018

Evilness of primary industry

Financial services and entertainment.

NOTE: After publishing, a reader sent me this article about how Dundon profited off of sub-prime loans. I think you could be justified in adding another evil to the pile.

Philanthropic activities

None reported. Net worth unknown, but it’s at least $1 billion. If his charitable work was significant, you’d think some info would be out there. He’s new to the scene, so maybe more will emerge with time.

Pretty damned evil Capture Capture

Chicago Blackhawks Rocky Wirtz Chicago Blackhawk Hockey Team, Inc. 1954

Evilness of primary industry

Real estate, wine and insurance.

Philanthropic activities

None reported. He’s worth $4.2 billion. Is docked points for being hockey’s equivalent of Gilded Age money.

Mostly evil Capture Capture Capture

Colorado Avalanche Ann Walton Kroenke Kroenke Sports & Entertainment; Colorado Avalanche, LLC 2000

Evilness of primary industry

Heiress to the Walmart fortune

Philanthropic activities

Vice President of the Audrey J. Walton and Ann Walton Kroenke Charitable Foundation. In 2014, the foundation had assets exceeding $3 million. Her worth is $6 billion. That’s pathetic. Also Walmart busts unions and keeps pay low.

Almost exclusively evil Capture Capture Capture Capture 

Columbus Blue Jackets John P. McConnell Colhoc Limited Partnership; The Columbus Blue Jackets Hockey Club 2000

Evilness of primary industry

Worthington Industries is a global diversified metals manufacturing company

Philanthropic activities

Unknown. Wealth unknown.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

Dallas Stars Tom Gaglardi Dallas Stars LP 2011

Evilness of primary industry

Owns a company that operates hotels and restaurants.

Philanthropic activities

Unknown. Wealth unknown.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

Detroit Red Wings Estate of Mike Ilitch Ilitch Holdings Inc.; Olympia Entertainment; Detroit Red Wings, Inc. 1982

Evilness of primary industry

Owns Little Ceasars pizza chain.

Philanthropic activities

These are pretty extensive, so I’m just going to quote from the Wikipedia page:

“The Ilitchs established a travelling kitchen to feed the needy, which has served over 2 million so far. In 2006, inspired by a veteran returning to civilian life after losing both of his legs in war, Ilitch founded the Little Caesars Veterans Program to provide honorably discharged veterans with a business opportunity when they transition from service or seek a career change. Ilitch received the Secretary’s Award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for this program in 2007; it is the highest honor given to a civilian by the department. The Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program, established by Ilitch in 1968, helped thousands of children.Additionally, Ilitch Charities for Children was founded in 2000 as a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving the lives of children in the areas of health, education and recreation. In 2008, the charity was renamed Ilitch Charities and its focus was broadened. The new charity invests in the community’s future by supporting innovative, collaborative and measurable programs that promote economic development and spur job growth, as a means to address social issues such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and hunger. As a result of his philanthropy, the School of Business for Wayne State University in Detroit is named the “Mike Ilitch School of Business”

From 1994 until her death in 2005, Ilitch paid Rosa Parks’s rent to enable her to live in a safer part of Detroit. (!)

Worth $6 billion.

Only a little bit evil Capture

Edmonton Oilers Daryl Katz Rexall Sports Corporation; Oilers Entertainment Group 2008

Evilness of primary industry

Pharmacy, real estate and entertainment.

Philanthropic activities

Katz has donated “over $50 million” to organizations and institutions, such as pharmacy schools and hospitals. He’s worth $2.9 billion. Is docked points for duping Edmonton City Council into paying for his hockey arena.

Mostly evil Capture Capture Capture

Florida Panthers Vincent Viola Sunrise Sports and Entertainment; Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd. 2013

Evilness of primary industry

Trading and marketing. For what it’s worth, Trump nominated him for Secretary of the Army.

Philanthropic activities

Various donations to military organizations and a Catholic Theology university department. He’s worth about $1.8 billion.

Almost exclusively evil Capture Capture Capture Capture

Los Angeles Kings Philip Anschutz and Edward P. Roski Anschutz Entertainment Group, The Los Angeles Kings Hockey Club LP 1995

Evilness of primary industry

Anshutz controls everything from “energy, railroads, real estate, sports, newspapers, movies, theaters, arenas and music.” He is described as a Christian conservative. Rosky is in real estate.

Philanthropic activities

Anschutz donated over $100 million to educational institutions, and has won awards for his philanthropy. Anshutz is worth a stunning $12 billion. Rosky has donated $23 million to arts education and $25 million to health research. His foundation awards $2 million annually. Rosky is worth another $5.8 billion.

Only a little bit evil Capture

Minnesota Wild Craig Leipold Minnesota Sports and Entertainment; Minnesota Wild Hockey Club, LP 2008

Evilness of primary industry

Telemarketing.

Philanthropic activities

None reported. Wealth unknown. “Leipold is a prominent Republican and supporter of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. The Xcel Energy Center hosted the 2008 Republican National Convention.”

Almost exclusively evil Capture Capture Capture Capture

Montreal Canadiens Molson family Club de hockey Canadien, Inc. 2009

Evilness of primary industry

Depends on where you stand on the sale of massive amounts of watery beer.

Philanthropic activities

The Molson Family Foundation has awarded grants to artists for a half-century. “The Molson Family Foundation, together with several members of the family, contributed the major part of the funds required for the construction of the Molson Fine Arts Building at Bishop’s University.”

Only a little bit evil Capture

Nashville Predators Thomas Cigarran Predators Holdings LLC 2007

Dude doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (seriously), but I think he owns long-term care homes in Tennessee under the name American Health Corporation.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

New Jersey Devils Joshua Harris New Jersey Devils LLC 2013

Evilness of primary industry

Co-founded Apollo Global Management, which, uh, “specializes in leveraged buyout transactions and purchases of distressed securities involving corporate restructuring, special situations, and industry consolidations.” He’s a prominent Trump supporter, advising on Trump’s extremely successful infrastructure investment plan. He was almost offered a job in the administration despite (or because of) lending $184 million to Jared Kushner.

Philanthropic activities

None reported. Worth  $3.5 billion.

Almost exclusively evil Capture Capture Capture Capture

New York Islanders Jon Ledecky and Scott D. Malkin New York Islanders Hockey Club, LP 2014

Evilness of primary industry

Not a lot of info on either of them. Malkin owns some retail.

Philanthropic activities

None reported. Wealth unknown.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

New York Rangers James L. Dolan The Madison Square Garden Company, New York Rangers Hockey Club 1997

Evilness of primary industry

From what I can tell, he mostly runs the Madison Square Garden Company and I think works or has worked for Cablevision, which I think does something related to cable and vision.

Philanthropic activities

Dolan has mostly collaborated with Cablevision’s philanthropic efforts to fight cancer and support first responders. I don’t know if he’s got any personal skin in the game or what his overall wealth is.

Pretty damned evil Capture Capture

Ottawa Senators Eugene Melnyk Capital Sports Properties; Ottawa Senators Hockey Club Limited Partnership 2003

Evilness of primary industry

Drugs. Horses. Horses on drugs.

Philanthropic activities

You know what? Melnyk doesn’t fare badly by my airtight Evil Meter. His wealth is reported at $1.21 billion, though we know he has significant debt. Even if he didn’t, that’s paltry compared to the size of the fortunes on this list. And his philanthropic activities are pretty diverse, if not comprising a massive proportion of his fortune. He’s donated at least $8.8 million of his personal wealth to various health care and elderly care initiatives, but he seems to be very involved in a number of philanthropic organizations, including, of course, the Sens Foundation. Check out the philanthropy section on his Wikipedia. It’s longer than most. Is docked points for being an absolute prick.

Pretty damned evil Capture Capture

Philadelphia Flyers Brian L. Roberts Comcast Spectacor; Philadelphia Flyers, LP 1996

Evilness of primary industry

CEO of Comcast

Philanthropic activities

From what I can tell, Roberts has won a bunch of awards for being a decent guy and progressive CEO but I don’t see any information about donations of personal wealth. He’s donated more money to Democrats than Republicans, for whatever that’s worth.

Pretty damned evil Capture Capture

Pittsburgh Penguins Ronald Burkle and Mario Lemieux Lemieux Group LP 1999

Evilness of primary industry

Burkle is “co-founder and managing partner of The Yucaipa Companies, LLC, a private equity and venture capital firm that specializes in underperforming U.S. companies in the distribution, logistics, food, retail, consumer and light industrial sector.”

Mario Lemieux is Mario Lemieux.

Philanthropic activities

Burkle’s philanthropic activities are extensive. His Ronald W. Burkle Foundation’s mission is to “positively influence people around the world and their communities” by supporting programs that “strengthen international understanding, foster worker’s rights, empower underserved communities, nurture the arts and architecture, engage children in learning and advance scientific research.” No idea what its endowment is. He’s worth about $2 billion. Lemieux works with various charitable causes related to cancer research.

Only a little bit evil Capture

San Jose Sharks Hasso Plattner Sharks Sports and Entertainment; San Jose Sports & Entertainment Enterprises; San Jose Sharks, LLC 2002

Evilness of primary industry

Co-founder of SAP SE software.

Philanthropic activities

Plattner has donated tens of millions to AIDS research and also “contributed more than €20 million which enabled reconstruction of the historic exterior of the Stadtschloss (in Potsdam), which had damaged during World War II and demolished in 1959. At the time, it the largest donation ever gifted in Germany by a single individual.” Plattner is worth $13.1 billion.

Only a little bit evil Capture

St. Louis Blues Tom Stillman SLB Acquisition Holdings LLC; St. Louis Blues Hockey Club, L.P. 2012

Tim Stillman doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. I think he runs a beer distributor.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

Tampa Bay Lightning Jeffrey Vinik Lightning Hockey LP 2010

Evilness of primary industry

He ran a hedge fund.

Philanthropic activities

Vinik has given at least $13 million. I don’t know what he’s worth, but in 2017 he didn’t even make a list of the top 35 billionaires in Florida, although, granted, Florida is where shitty billionaires tend to congregate.

Only a little bit evil Capture

Toronto Maple Leafs Larry Tanenbaum Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Ltd.; Kilmer Sports, Inc. 1996

Evilness of primary industry

Like Dolan in New York, Tanenbaum basically runs the media empire that is his sports holdings.

Philanthropic activities

He received the Order of Canada for his philanthropic work, but I don’t have personal amounts. He’s said to be worth about $1 billion.

Only a little bit evil Capture

Vancouver Canucks Francesco Aquilini Canucks Sports & Entertainment 2004

Evilness of primary industry

Owns an investment firm and real estate.

Philanthropic activities

He’s apparently worth about $2 billion, and has given extensively to hospitals and wildlife preservation charities and efforts, but I don’t see amounts.

Only a little bit evil Capture

Vegas Golden Knights Bill Foley Black Knight Sports & Entertainment, Hockey Vision Las Vegas 2016

Evilness of primary industry

Financial services lawyer.

Philanthropic activities

Worth and contributions unknown.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness Capture

Washington Capitals Ted Leonsis Mounumental Sports and Entertainment 1999

Evilness of primary industry

Financial services lawyer.

Philanthropic activities

He’s worth about $1 billion and runs the Leonsis Foundation, the endowment of which I don’t know, but it’s given to more than 400 charities.

Only a little bit evil Capture

Winnipeg Jets Mark Chipman True North Sports & Entertainment, Ltd. 2011

Evilness of primary industry

He was a lawyer and now seems dedicated to running the Jets.

Philanthropic activities

He’s apparently worth about $500 million and there’s no reported philanthropy.

Insufficient information on Wikipedia to assess evilness

WHAT ABOUT GUY LALIBERTE?

The potential new owner of the Ottawa Senators is worth about $1.4 billion, which isn’t really that much more wiggle room than Melnyk, but that’s for a future article. He apparently doesn’t have much of a philanthropic interest and, worst, he’s one of those “space tourists” – a guy who spent a fortune so he can have a fleeting experience travelling to the International Space Station rather than change people’s lives through modest contributions to health and education. Not very promising. I actually rate him worse than Eugene Melnyk. Laliberte seems like a much wackier billionaire without much more money than peak Melnyk. Be careful what you wish for.

Mostly evil Capture Capture Capture

Conclusions:

Across the board, philanthropic activities pale in comparison to overall wealth. You have to be a multi-billionaire to play in this club, but philanthropic activities are usually in the tens of millions at best. That’s not nothing, and I understand personal wealth doesn’t necessarily mean liquid cash. But we do see, in some cases, people worth multiple billions of dollars only finding time to gift a percentage point of a percentage point of their wealth to worthy causes.

The California-based teams feature the most philanthropically-minded owners. Los Angeles’ ownership group has given hundreds of millions of dollars. Anaheim and San Jose’s owners have both given tens of millions. Also, none of them seem to be involved in something overly evil as a side hustle. California is a decent place to start.

Pittsburgh’s Burkle and Lemieux might also be a serviceable choice, though I know it’s hard for Sens fans to imagine themselves rooting for the Pens. Vinik in Tampa also seems like he wouldn’t preclude fandom. I’d also give Philly an honorable mention because of all of those Good Guy CEO Awards. If you require a Canadian team, Montreal and Vancouver seem like safe bets. And, as much as it hurts to say it, Toronto would be a perfectly reasonable team to root for.

For my money though, I’m thinking Detroit. I mean, the Rosa Parks thing alone, on a list of prominent Republicans, is probably enough to seal it for me. But not only does the Ilitch Family have an extensive philanthropic history, they also sell pizza. Pizza! Most of the other owners here you have to squint and look at sideways to think of as harmless. Pizza is about as harmless as it gets, at least on this list. Pizza might be the only thing on which we can all agree in these polarized and polarizing times. Also, Sens fans don’t have much of a rivalry with Detroit, Alfie played there, and they selected Zadina (which Ottawa should have). They’re like an alternate universe Sens who did the things we wanted them to. They also suck and have some Bobby Ryan contracts of their own. Detroit seems like a natural fit.

For that reason, I’m making my 1B team the Detroit Red Wings. Let’s go, you stupid Wings!

NOTE: I received the following very interesting information from a Detroit-based writer for the Detroit Metro Times that I encourage you to consider:

I respectfully disagree with your assessment of Mike Ilitch. Over the course of a decade or so, he quietly bought up large pieces Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood, forced out any tenants, and left the buildings to rot so he could get hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to “redevelop” it with a new “arena district.” (Some of that money should have gone to Detroit’s super poor school district). Some called it “dereliction by design.” But even worse is that he didn’t follow through on most of what he promised, and the neighborhood is a bunch of boarded up buildings that he owns surrounding Little Caesars Arena. There’s no “district.” That was a scam to get more taxpayer money. He also destroyed a bunch of historic buildings and built parking lots in their place. So we gave this guy hundreds of millions of dollars and we got parking lots that he profits off of and vacant buildings. The Ilitch parking lot desert is a thing we have here, and there’s a lot more I don’t have the time to detail. The guy is a villain, and public opinion is turning against him. I wrote a story on the topic here: https://www.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2017/09/12/how-the-ilitches-used-dereliction-by-design-to-get-their-new-detroit-arena You can also check out a FB page that popped up this year called “Terrible Ilitches” that tracks their misdeeds. https://www.facebook.com/TERRIBLEILITCHES/

You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

30-hell-fra-angelico-last-judgment.w710.h473

I have no interest in listing here the most recent iterations of our daily hell, the various, sordid events and utterances of the Ottawa Senators brain trust that comprise what we can now confidently call the most disastrous year in the history of the Ottawa Senators. It’s been bad, but this isn’t some run-of-the-mill bad experience like your best player getting hurt for a season, or missing the playoffs by a point after losing the last game of the season in a shootout. No, we’re not so lucky as to be a Florida Panthers or Carolina Hurricanes, perpetual also-rans who aspire to scary goodness. The 2017-2018 Ottawa Senators were the kind of bad that should have any sane person questioning if they can go on being a fan of this team at all.

Suffice it to say that there are tiers of awfulness, each with corresponding degrees of despair that impact one’s enthusiasm and ability to interact with a team. They are, as far as I can tell, roughly as follows:

  • Code Yellow: Your team has a bad year: This definitely sucks, when it happens – a whole year, down the tubes! – but it happens to all of us sooner or later, and it’s not so bad in the long run. Most leagues are built on some kind of progressive redistribution apparatus that eventually gives a leg-up to poorly performing teams in small markets. In fact, being occasionally bad is thought to be strategically indispensable in the long-run. You have cash-cow, large market teams going out of their way to be bad for a year or two because they know they’ll be better off for it. If your team is bad for a bit, you might not watch quite as many games, but you’ll still read about their better prospects, watch the World Juniors and think they mean something, dream about the future and occasionally buy an overpriced beer at a game. Circle of life.
  • Code Orange: Your team’s identity is that of a Bad Team: This one is harder, but still not impossible for one’s fandom to survive. It can be difficult to weather, say, more than a decade without playoffs. But fans are resourceful, and some fans will even assume the identity of the losing team for themselves: The Damned, whose experience is at least unique to them, to be shared in small circles, like a warped, inverse exclusivity. Cubs fans wallowed in their mediocrity for so long they made it a point of pride. They appropriated the badness and embraced their fully ironic, post-modern existence by acknowledging that the real destination is the friends we made along the way and the non-friends we imagined fucking up in the parking lot. And as an added bonus: So much the suffering, so too the sweetness. Cold plums. Ice box.
  • Code Red: The team’s behavior reveals the ugly underside of all things commercial in our nihilistic system of perpetual exploitation: Show me a team whose owner’s primary source of income is running an altruistic non-profit and I’ll root for it until the day I die. Absent that impossible calculus, a Code Red is one of the only ways a sports team can truly fuck up with its fan base. By reminding us that we’re in bed with some of the worst people on earth and that we’re essentially bankrolling some asshole’s second private plane, we’re forced, in a horrible moment of clarity, to confront our essential position in this soulless machine. It’s why every once in a while somebody will run a Worst Owners Ever listicle that will do some numbers – this shit resonates. Monday through Saturday, we can pretend that our little ol’ team distills the ephemeral yet unique pluckiness of what it means to live in the City X of Year Y, that aw shucks isn’t it true that sports bring us together and inspire, yadda, yadda, yadda. But every once in a while the owner comes along and accidentally reminds us that our Favorite Thing is just one of many Faberge Eggs subsidized by his workday routine of selling often terrible things to people who don’t deserve to suffer. Sometimes he’ll even go so far as to remind you that he only bought the team because he wants the real estate attached to the arena. Sometimes he’ll threaten to relocate during your team’s motherfucking outdoor heritage game celebrating its 25th anniversary. A Code Red is hard to come back from but, like most tragedies, fans dig deep and find a way to keep giving these blacksmiths of utter shit their money. If anything, hating the owner is as time-honored a tradition as booing the Commissioner. A Code Red might lose a fan or two for a few years, but it’s possible to come back.
  • Code Whuh Oh: The team has some genuinely, morally bad people running it: Something racist, something sexually exploitative, something involving children. A Code Whuh Oh occurs when there are no more illusions we can effectively drape over the fact that there are some odious people at the core of what we love and they do awful things to people. This isn’t a game anymore. It’s time to move on, as a matter of obligation, because we want to be able to look in the mirror again someday.

At one point or another this year, the Senators have existed in one or more of these tiers. Pending the outcome of the Randy Lee trial, the Senators are even getting into solid No Fucking Around, We All Need to Move On territory. It begs the question: what are the limits of loyalty in a universe of entertainments offered by questionable people? How could a person possibly justify continued allegiance to something as ultimately arbitrary as a good game of puck-n’-stick amid all of this ugliness? At this point, it’s not only a matter of frustration or of not wanting to be accused of being a fair-weather fan. We are faced with a situation where if somebody accuses you of not being a real fan you might be able to credibly say, “The Assistant GM tried to coerce a 19-year-old into fucking him.” We’re a few short months away from being asked by various hockey writers to carefully consider the Senators development camp and pre-game schedule, as if we don’t live exclusively inside the sucking sound of an airplane toilet. What are we possibly expected to do when confronted with that absurdity, that clarion-clear declaration of moral stupidity as the waves of content wash over our borders? Oh, no! Is Patrick Sieloff getting too much ice time? The Assistant GM tried to coerce a 19-year-old into fucking him. Is the coach playing a talented forward with Tom Pyatt? The Assistant GM tried to coerce a 19-year-old into fucking him. Should we have taken Zadina over Tkachuk? THE ASSISTANT GM TRIED TO COERCE A 19-YEAR-OLD INTO FUCKING HIM. How can we possibly get up for reading a team-by-team Off Season Winners and Losers post that is destined to replace Ottawa’s letter grade with an ancient incantation that you die when you read?

Here are four strategies that I have, at various times over the past few months, contemplated employing in some desperate attempt to stay a fan of this thing I used to love.

  • Strategy One: Let Your Eyes Go Lazy and Enjoy the Abstract Notion of Athletic Achievement

This is the equivalent of Chief Bromden smothering Randle McMurphy with a pillow, except in this scenario the Senators fan is both the euthanizer and euthanized. It involves the willful negation of one’s critical faculty, which shouldn’t be too hard because we decided to be sports fans in the first place (hey-oh!). To employ this strategy is to  remove even that basest of discerning qualities: the ostensible selection of a favorite team based on its questionable affiliation with the city one lives in or used to live in. This strategy is tantamount to attending a conference about dairy farming and hearing a former Olympian give a speech about the nature of excellence: it means anything to anyone which means it means nothing to anybody.

This is the way my dad enjoys sports. He stands up and cheers when either team scores. He seems pretty happy. You could take him to a 6-2 game between the last place and second-last place teams and he’d exclaim as he left, “that was close one!” He’s not stupid. He built an electric scooter out of spare parts and designs telecom networks for a living. He just has his priorities straight.

  • Strategy Two: Double Down on the Team and Insist that There’s Plenty of Positives Among All the Negativity

I’ve seen a few people here and there declare (mostly on Twitter, which seems designed to facilitate doubling-down on the morally dubious) that they will remain Ottawa Senators fans no matter what. Obviously, it’s possible to admire this, but I’m not sure what they mean, really, when they say they’ll stay a fan. Is it possible to be a fan of a team that is equal parts bad, not entertaining, and evil all at the same time? What does being a fan look like? Is it attending games and having fun despite all of these things, or refusing to emphasize these things at all? Would the feelings of joy or pain at wins and losses be genuine feelings with some semblance of your brain containing information about what’s happened this year? Can people turn it off and on like that? One could, I suppose, find some meaning in the stubbornness of the act, the resolute, unapologetic, politically incorrect loyalty to a compromised thing because it’s Our Thing. One might wear a SNES jersey, insisting it an underappreciated design, down Bank Street and past the Redblacks game, with all of its happy fans, and hold up that “number one” finger and say, full of sincerity, “we’re the best!” and it would elicit at least sympathy from others.

  • Strategy Three: Spend Time With Your Family, You Lout, then Go Back to Ignoring Them

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is something that you might be tempted to say about this situation but it wouldn’t be appropriate because we’re talking about a fucking hockey team and not civil rights. Put another way: people’s memories are short and you should know that this suckiness, too, shall pass in time. The intervening year(s) tuning out from this team and tuning into something else will reveal themselves to be all of the time you’re always talking about not having enough of. You don’t have to snuff out your fandom like a puppy you drown in the basement sink. Just freeze that puppy in the basement freezer to be taken out some years later when the team has been sold and Chabot is being traded for futures and it looks like we’re about to embark on a fool-proof rebuild where every second-round pick hatches like a Yoshi egg to reveal a perfectly serviceable third-line winger. Someday this team will be owned by somebody just evil enough to ignore, and it will be okay to be a fan again.

  • Strategy Four: Acknowledge That It Is Not Possible to Be an Ottawa Senators Fan After What’s Happened

This is a tough one. Even after everything I’ve written above, this feels sort of drastic and I don’t know if I’m there yet. I can’t help but feel, however, like to do anything less than swear off the Senators for good is a little bit like justifying enjoying Woody Allen movies because we’re just sooooo good at keeping the art separate from the artist. Is that what we’re good at or are we actually good at keeping our humanity separate from our nostalgia for long playoff runs, 11:11 “Alfie” chants, and Zdeno Chara rag-dolling McCabe? Why hold on in the face of utter futility and Melnyk’s omnipresent dourness? Those memories will still be there. Alfie is still out there, playing ping-pong, getting happily fatter. There are 30 other teams in the league vying for our attention, to say nothing of the other hockey leagues, other sports, and entirely different interests. I found out the other day that Ottawa 67s season’s tickets are $400. $400!!! That’s the price of a game-worn David Legwand jersey, who was a player Ottawa voluntarily signed during free agency after which he scored 27 points in 80 games in one season with the team. The 67s have the added advantage of playing in a newly-renovated arena located downtown, which is something we’re still a public feud about financing away from achieving with the Senators. And, in years to come, if asked why you don’t follow the Senators anymore, you can say, “I stopped following the team after the 2016-2017 season,” and people will absolutely know what you’re talking about without further detail. Because, odds are, you won’t be the only one they’ve encountered.

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So: what are you supposed to do? Yes, you, reading this blog, risking discovery by your boss, ready to flush it all away for some clarity in these trying times. Well, I’ve designed the following handy decision-tree to help you decide which strategy will guide you back to happiness and health.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE KIND OF SENATOR?

  • An ironic choice, like Dean McAmmond or *ahem* Vaclav Varada: go with Scenario One. Hockey is already not that meaningful to you. You’re clearly interacting with it because friends are into it and you like the community or it can be kind of fun and occasionally funny to be into something so silly and, yes, athletic achievement can sometimes make you sit up and say “cool!” out loud to the dog. So, you can probably coast, a little, on your emotional detachment from life. Watch a game with the sound off. Contemplate the water dripping from the kitchen sink because you left the faucet running. Is that a butterfly? Don’t harsh the mellow that is your day-to-day life. Check for gas leaks.
  • A 1000-gamer who sort of sucks, like Chris Neil and Chris Phillips: Scenario Two. You’ve clearly been through too much shit to quit now. You’re the living embodiment of sunk cost fallacy, and you’re probably fretting over the return Dorion got for Mike Hoffman even though the building is on fire. I’m not judging you, man. I accept that I’m not gonna change you. Godspeed to you and the team on your quest to grit your teeth through it all.
  • A skilled but non-core player, like Martin Havlat or Mike Hoffman: Scenario Three. You live in the world of rules. Your love of the game and of this team in particular will survive this. Just take some time for you. Swim in the healing waters of Lake Minnetonka. Visit your grandma. Watch the Tour de France, where like 75 percent of the experience is looking at the rolling hills of the French countryside. It’ll make you wonder why you spent three hours reading about Jacob Trouba’s upcoming contract negotiations with Winnipeg while wondering if Ottawa might pry him away if it had money, or its first-round pick, or respect. The team will still be here in a year or two when you awake from your cocoon, covered in weird cocoon juice.
  • Erik Karlsson or Daniel Alfredsson: Scenario Four. You are too good for this fallen world, and the team does not deserve you. In the future, there may be another player as meaningful to the team as these two but your mother and I just don’t want  to see you get hurt. Let the truth set you free: it’s not possible to be an Ottawa Senators fan anymore. The bridges have been burned. Your money is gone. Let their failure be your refund.

The League Owns the Melnyk Mess

What an embarrassment.

An entire fanbase, sitting on the edge of their seats, refreshing Twitter, waiting to see if the owner of their favorite team will destroy it. An entire trade deadline day, covered to the hilt by every network and dominated by speculation about when – not if – Ottawa will self-immolate.

Obviously, there’s a lot of blame to go around, and a huge share of that blame is Eugene Melnyk’s. He’s been so ham-fisted in the way he’s handled the past, well, several years, that they should use him as a case-study in crisis-management courses. But even if he’d revealed himself to be an insightful hockey thinker during one of his many interviews on Toronto sports radio, it should have signaled to the league that he was a meddlesome owner.

The owner is supposed to be invisible and sign the checks. When cornered at charity events, he should recite the line: “I let my hockey people make the hockey decisions.” Behind closed doors, sure, he’s the owner and if he wants to call the GM from Barbados and offer his thoughts on goaltending, that’s his right. But airing dirty laundry on sports radio should have been a red flag to the league.

The reason it hasn’t been over the years is that Melnyk used to be rich. Now he’s not, so now it’s a problem, but that wasn’t exactly out of the realm of the imagination. In Melnyk, we find proof positive that the NHL has been and perhaps continues to be far too comfortable with the risks associated with sole proprietorship of one of its franchises.

Melnyk bailed out this franchise over a decade ago and was welcomed as a conquering hero. Little did we know then that the pharmaceutical industry was about to experience a decade of contraction and that Melnyk’s personal fortune would shrink considerably. Hindsight is 20/20. But what can the league learn from this, only the latest in a long history of embarrassing owners? If tomorrow a different, whacky billionaire showed up whose fortune had been earned in, say, telecommunications or real estate, will the league make the same mistake in rubber-stamping the transfer of ownership just so long as he or she shows a bank statement with a lot of zeros?

Throughout the league, we see fanbases handcuffed to the investment portfolios of billionaire personalities: Jeff Vinik, Jeremy Jacobs, Ted Leonsis. The going is good in many of those markets, and not all billionaires are made equal. (Melnyk looks like a tin-pot dictator next to Vinik.) But we’re one worldwide liquidity crisis away from the league selling one of its franchises to the two guys who made Saw.

What’s the alternative? I couldn’t help but alight upon this Tweet yesterday:

What Winnipeg and Nashville have in common is not only patience – not that either franchise has had the funds to be especially hurried – nor is “good ownership” defined. What they also have in common is a diverse ownership group. It’s true that someone chairs that group and there’s usually a majority owner, but when a significant proportion of the funds for a franchise are put up by others, there tend to be mitigating governance structures that prevent a whacky billionaire returning from a rough weekend in Atlantic City from cutting payroll.

The league can and should be doing much more to build ties between potential owners at the local level. It can start by establishing principles for NHL owners that include public relations. What kind of sanction has Melnyk faced for threatening relocation during the league’s 100th-anniversary celebration? A stern phone-call from Gary Bettman? Having to film a canned statement on the league’s dime? To what can the Board of Governors refer when considering that one among them is comparing their product to fast food and what kind of sanctions are available to them? What diversity of investments should a group of investors create before they can realistically bid on a team?

Yes, Melnyk is the most stereotypical, embarrassing kind of clueless tyrant imaginable. Everyone in the league – not just in Ottawa – should be concerned when an owner takes over as President and fans are kicked out of games for holding up signs that criticize him. But we shouldn’t entirely villanize him without asking what sort of conditions led to him having such power over a franchise. The Ottawa Senators will be sold at some point; I can only hope that the league is changing the way they do business so that they don’t simply hand the keys over to some other, budding Melnyk.