It says a lot about the kind of season the Ottawa Senators had in 2017-18 that one of the most memorable moments was not something that happened on the ice, but rather a very public campaign to get the owner to sell the team.
It was a rough year.
It is quite possible that in the years to come, when we look back on this season, this campaign will be the thing that sticks out the most in our collective memory. Perhaps that’s because almost every other memorable moment had some relation to our discontent with Eugene Melnyk. The Duchene trade also involved fan favourite Kyle Turris’s split from the organization, which we have good reason to believe might have been motivated by a dispute with ownership (as Julie Turris basically confirmed on Twitter). The losing streak fed into our discontent. The NHL 100 Classic was somewhat overshadowed by Melynk’s comments the day before. And of course, it was at the trade deadline that the movement really took off.
Unfortunately, Eugene Melnyk was everywhere this season.
While fans have been unhappy with Melnyk for a very long time now (mostly since Daniel Alfredsson’s departure in 2013), the popular hashtag #MelnykOut, which has become a rallying cry of sorts for Sens fans who are unhappy with the owner, originated on the night before the NHL 100 Classic.
On a weekend that was supposed to be about celebrating the NHL, the Senators, and the city of Ottawa, Melnyk got in front of cameras to blame Sens fans for low attendance, threaten relocation, and brag about having cut the front office to the bone in an attempt to save money.
Fans were fed up.
And so this happened:
The hashtag quickly took off, and was soon trending in Ottawa. And the anger didn’t really die out after that.
In February, Melnyk sparked even more outrage when he appointed himself CEO. Rumours started flying about numerous off-ice issues within the organization. The team was already well out of the playoff race only a few months after coming within one goal of the Stanley Cup Final. Fans were not just mad about the losing: we felt like there was no hope of this team ever improving as long as it had an owner who refused to spend, either on the ice or in the front office (meaning that the Sens couldn’t afford to overpay good players but also didn’t have the resources necessary to make smart decisions on a budget).
Of course, things really took off at the trade deadline, when the Sens apparently decided that it was time for a full-on firesale. The only major player they ended up sending away was Derick Brassard, but almost everyone was rumoured to be on the trading block, including team captain Erik Karlsson.
To make matters even worse, it sounded like Ottawa wanted to include Bobby Ryan (or more accurately, his contract) in a potential Karlsson deal, thereby proving that the organization’s biggest reason for considering this trade was not securing the best possible return for Karlsson, but rather unloading as much money as possible. We might have been able to stomach a rebuild, but not under these circumstances. This plan simply did not make any sense, and it wasn’t hard to see that the primary motivation behind it was money.
As a fanbase, it’s pretty hard to hear that the only real superstar your team has ever had will probably be traded either because the owner you don’t like doesn’t want to pay him, or because he doesn’t get along well with said owner.
And so, the fans responded with even more energy than before. Spencer Callaghan raised over $10,000 toward four billboards that went up around Ottawa with the hashtag #MelnykOut.
The campaign also included printable signs that Sens fans brought to games around the league.
The billboards were incredibly divisive, with many fans believing them to be pointless and still more seeing them as mean-spirited, or the work of people who were not real fans of the Sens. Still, it cannot be denied that they started a conversation about Melnyk’s role within the organization, and his relationship with the fanbase. He blamed us for not showing up to games, and so we told him exactly why we don’t want to spend money on this team.
In an attempt to communicate a bit better with the fanbase, Melnyk held three town halls with season ticket holders at the end of the season. While it was a nice gesture in theory, the real meeting did nothing to quell the dissent. Melnyk spent a good portion of each town hall defending himself and deflecting blame onto other people, even going so far as to accuse the media of misrepresenting him. I wrote a full recap of all three town halls if you would like to get a better idea of what was discussed, but the short of it is, it certainly did not make Sens fans hate him any less.
This story dominated the discussion around the Sens in 2017-18, and it is far from over. Eugene Melnyk crossed several lines this season, and it looks like at this point, the only thing he can do to appease his fans is give up and sell the team.
Let’s just hope, for our own sake, that he doesn’t make things any worse next season.