After losing 12 games in 13 tries, fans of the Ottawa Senators were looking forward to anything to take their minds off the team. The NHL 100 Classic at TD Place seemed to be just the ticket.
The overall festivities were great. It opened with the alumni game at Parliament Hill, which saw Alexandre Daigle finally live up to his first-overall billing with a four-goal game, leading Team Alfie to a 12-3 shellacking of Team Phillips. The outdoor game itself was even better. A packed house watched the Sens heavily outplay the Canadiens in a 3-0 win. Craig Anderson was solid when necessary, and Erik Karlsson was the story, playing 32:55, putting up an assist, and overall having the time of his life:
Sadly, the hockey wasn’t the biggest story of the weekend. Not at all. Just before the alumni game, Eugene Melnyk decided to use his national platform to make himself the story. Here’s the video:
After blaming a number of his staff members for low attendance numbers, and even firing Cyril Leeder, he decided this time to open on his fans. Asked if there was any truth to the rumours of him looking to sell the team, he decided to go off script, saying the team didn’t have to move to LeBreton, but that he would have to move the team if fans didn’t start coming to games. He decided to hold his fans hostage, rather than celebrating what should’ve been a fun game after a miserable month. Instead of giving fans something to celebrate, he decided it was time to throw his tantrum.
In the immediate aftermath, Abdi Omer got #MelnykOut trending on Twitter. As time went on, some fans became more and more adamant in the belief that Melnyk was the real issue with this team. Without that December interview, I don’t know if you would’ve had any kind of #MelnykOut billboards in the spring. You definitely wouldn’t have had the NHL forcing Melnyk to work with a PR firm.
I think more than anything this set the tone for the rest of the season. It set off ugly standoffs between fans and Melnyk. It made the previously-unthinkable idea of trading Erik Karlsson a definite possibility. It led to the lowest renewal level in season tickets in a long time. It’s genuinely sad now to think back on how good everything hockey-related about the outdoor game was, and yet how little I remember of that.
At the recent town halls, Melnyk angrily said the media mis-portrayed what he said. Vowed he’d put the real video on the website. There’s no video on the website yet, and guess what, I think the video above speaks for itself. And that’s really the takeaway from this — the Sens have an owner who says whatever he wants impulsively whenever he wants, and then denies the evidence of it later when it’s inconvenient. He tried to hold fans hostage, when it backfired, he pretended it never happened. More than this team unravelling, this season was represented by things getting ugly between fans and owner, and by extension, between fans and fans. Nothing did that quite as much as that fateful night before the NHL 100 Classic.