Ottawa Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk gave an ad hoc state-of-the-franchise address Wednesday. And he did so in customary fashion, appearing on the Toronto-based Bob McCown Podcast. In the interview, Melnyk discussed the progress of the Sens’ rebuild, contract talks with Brady Tkachuk, the captaincy, coaching, goaltending, team needs, and even the #MelnykOut campaign.
Probably the biggest thing on Ottawa’s to-do list this summer is signing Brady Tkachuk and Melnyk feels confident it’ll get done.
“We’re on the same planet with Brady’s agents and him,’ said Melnyk. “We really believe that he is a leader of the team and a pivotal part for us. But these things sometimes come down to things that even we can’t understand. And it’s not money. It’s something in their heads that somehow, they want do something else or…But it’s not the case with Brady. All it is with us is that the season’s now over. Everybody’s going away to think about it. We’ll come back. I don’t foresee a problem with signing Brady. I don’t.”
Melnyk caught himself before going too deep on the subject of future compensation for all this top young talent.
“Five years from now we’re going to be running into some serious..um, they’re not going to be cap issues,” said Melnyk. “We’re going to try and avoid cap issues. And financial issues will not be a problem either. But, you know, you can have five guys like Brady that you’ve got to sign. It’s no different than ‘Leaf Land’ right now. You’ve got some real big money in the top four or five guys. And when you’ve got four or five superstars, that’s what you run into.”
As for the captaincy — the Sens have gone 3 seasons now without one — it appears that Tkachuk will need to sign a long-term contract to be considered. Players on bridge deals need not apply.
“That’s going to be what we’re all thinking about over the summer and whether (Tkachuk) is the person for that (job). Whoever it is, they’ve got to be around long term. That’s the key for us. You can’t have a captain there on a bridge contract. It’s not gonna happen. But he, along with Thomas Chabot, they’re both leaders. They’re both leaders in the dressing room, which is what you’re looking for.”
Melnyk and his group feel like the rebuild is right on track with two exceptions: They need what Melnyk calls a top, almost veteran centre and a good defensive defenseman.
“Those are obviously not easy to come by,” said Melnyk. “The defenseman, we have one coming, called (Jake) Sanderson. And he’s gonna be an absolute rock star back there. But he’s 18. He’s too young. He should play some games next year with us in the big league. He’s still staying in college but then he’ll get into Belleville very quickly, as soon as we can, and just give him a taste.”
Melnyk got a good sense of the team’s strengths and weaknesses after a long post-season conversation with D.J. Smith and it’s fairly clear the owner is thrilled with his young head coach.
“Smith gave me one of the best assessments I’ve ever heard from any coach at any time since I’ve owned a hockey team,” Melnyk gushed. “That includes junior. I’ve been at this almost 23 years and we went through it, player by player. What do we need to get there? He basically said, ‘Look, we are set for the next ten years with the team we have except there’s a couple of young (players) that need to grow up fairly quickly. We’ve got some gaps.’
“I’ve seen bad dressing rooms. Everyone has. This is a group that’s a coach’s dream in that they push each other. They’re young, they all have the same dream and they’re all pulling for each other…there’s none of this prima donna stuff. D.J. will get rid of these (prima donna types) so fast it’ll make your head spin. He sees one guy showing up in a fedora or some kind of hat coming into the dressing room, he is curtains. He won’t even get to the dressing room. We don’t put up with that crap anymore. We just lay down the law.”
The only serious on-ice concern Melnyk had this year was goaltending and he obviously wasn’t pleased about making a major commitment to two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray, only to see him struggle so badly in the early going.
“We got killed in goal. You bring in a top, top guy…he’s now improved himself a lot and we’re hoping Murray steps up next year. We need him to. But then you’ve got five little guys, like young kids. If Murray can step up and one of the young ones steps up as a good number two, then we’ve got the makings a true contender. I really believe that.”
Melnyk was asked about the tough times during the rebuild where a good portion of the club’s fan base wasn’t angry with him. He brought up the #Melynk Out campaign where fans crowdfunded the rental of Ottawa billboards that screamed, ‘Melnyk Out.’
“It was not easy,” admitted Melnyk. “When you drive into town and there’s a billboard telling you to get lost…I mean, it’s tough. Melnyk out! There’s no other way to say it! Melnyk out! Get out! The press wasn’t happy. They had a free for all on slamming me and I couldn’t even imagine doing this (rebuilding) in Toronto with the press there. Things got a little out of hand at one point, but (the recent on-ice success) is nice to see.
“I’m not an ‘I told you so’ person, but I told you so. Just give it time. We’ll rebuild.”
By Steve Warne