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Five Thoughts for Friday: Nobody wants to work for Melnyk

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The front office turnover is still worrying

Minnesota Wild v Ottawa Senators Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

The regular season may have ended more than a month ago, but that hardly means things were quiet in Senators-land. Here are five thoughts, mostly about the Sens.

1. Nicolas Ruszkowski resigning

Yes, the strangest part of the week was definitely the news that the COO of the Sens was stepping down. Ruszkowski was announced on May 31, 2018, and started on June 14, 2018. That’s less than a full year as the second-in-command behind owner Eugene Melnyk. This follows Tom Anselmi, who was hired as President and CEO on January 27, 2017, and whose departure was revealed just over one year later on February 9, 2018. They may have held different titles, but both were in position as Melnyk’s top executive, and both couldn’t handle more than a year on the job.

It’s hard to know how to respond to this, and I don’t have a lot to add more than the comment section and the analyses on The Athletic. On the one hand, Ruszkowski was bad at his job. He often sounded like a Melnyk-lite, quoting the company line about people criticizing the team as a “vocal minority” and not being the “real fans” the team cared about. He made up statistics, such as stating that “83,000 new casual fans” came to Sens games this year, representing 6% of the Ottawa region and almost 20% of total attendance. He started his tenure by saying the Sens needed to do a much better job if engaging with the community, and in the same late-February interview said that the Sens had repeatedly proven themselves with their community engagement. He tended to get flustered when doing live interviews, something both Melnyk and GM Pierre Dorion are famous for.

On the other hand, not being able to keep a key executive, and especially one who’d already worked for Melnyk at Biovail, isn’t a good look. It just further cements the idea that nobody wants to work for him. $1.55M lawsuits over abusive workplace environments never look positive, and the continued carousel of a bare-bones staff further reinforces this idea.

2. The other staff shuffling

Ruszkowski was the big name, but other staff changed as well, and are possibly of more interest to us. Geoff Publow, the VP of Strategic Development, also left, likely because he was heading up the LeBreton Flats bid, and we all know what happened there. After acting as CFO for two years, Brad Crombie was made full-time CFO. That’s not exactly the best news:

Mark Bonneau was promoted from Senior VP of Corporate Partnerships to CRO. He’s a rare one in that he’s part of the team’s management since 1992. In a much weirder change, Rob Mullowney was COO of the Belleville Sens, and he’s keeping that title, but is also now the big club’s senior director of corporate sales. That’s.... odd.

I agree with Pan. These two positions require him to spend the majority of his time in two different cities. This will be a busy year for Mullowney in which he gets to know the Ottawa-Belleville drive extremely well.

Possibly the best news of the re-shuffle was the hiring of Carrie Croft as Director of Communications. As we’ve discussed all year, the Sens’ PR has been awful. Hopefully hiring someone to head up the communications team will help with that.

3. The President of Hockey Operations search

If we needed further proof that Melnyk has created an undesirable work atmosphere, the PoHO search kind of solidifies it. Let’s do a quick timeline here:

  • March 24: Revealed the Sens are looking for a Senior Advisor, later clarified to be PoHO.
  • April 3: We learn Ron Francis, Trevor Linden, Joe Nieuwendyk, Dean Lombardi, and Steve Yzerman have all been approached for the position and say no. We also learn that an assistant to a senior exec of a different NHL team is part of the process, because the NHL wants this to get done but the Sens don’t have enough personnel to assign someone to this task.
  • Radio silence.
  • May 8: Sens say they weren’t planning to hire someone until the offseason anyway

So here’s the thing: we know that someone will take this job. There are only 31 (or 32?) of these positions in the NHL, and people will want them. The thing is, it’s never good when all of your top choices say no. Some, like Yzerman, said no because they had something better coming. But others just didn’t want to join the Sens right now, and the Sens are playing it like a rejected 14-year-old saying, “Well I didn’t even want to date anybody right now.”

At least Brad Shaw has said he’d be interested in coaching the Sens.

4. The Playoffs

Ah, yes. Those NHL playoffs, still marching along. I’ve actually been royally entertained by this year’s edition. Lots of close games, lots of overtime, teams seemingly going for it rather than just playing high-defence, trapping styles. I was on the edge of the couch watching both of the Game 7s this round, and I think I’m excited for next round.

My initial pick for the Stanley Cup was the Lightning, but after they got swept, I looked at the Golden Knights/Sharks series and decided whoever won that series would win the Cup. I stand by that belief now, which means I’m thinking we’ll get to see our former captain hoist Lord Stanley’s trophy. I’m also pegging the Hurricanes to win in the east, because they’ve been a possession beast for a couple years, and once they got their goaltending sorted out halfway through this season, they’ve looked great. But I mean, I went 2/8 in the first round, so why would I think I have any idea what I’m talking about?

5. Veteran players

Time for a lighter note about the Sens. Right now, the Sens have about $46M committed for next season. With projections of the salary floor around $65M, that could be a lot of space to fill. It’s hard to imagine Colin White, Anthony Duclair, Christian Wolanin, and Marcus Hogberg eating up more than, say, $6M of that. If (when?) the Sens re-sign Cody Ceci, that’ll be another good chunk, but the Sens will still have $6-7M or so to play with. One suggestion people have had is the Sens acquiring a deadweight contract, like Milan Lucic. But another fun suggestion is the idea of the Sens signing a veteran player to a one-year, big-money contract to meet the salary floor for a year, and then leave the Sens with lots of room to spare for future years when they need to re-sign more young players. It’s money the Sens have to spend, so why not spend it in a way that won’t hurt you down the road? Obviously, it would have to be a UFA who wouldn’t be commanding offers from lots of teams, like Artemi Panarin or Matt Duchene. It would have to be somebody washed up, who would join the Sens specifically because the offer was so high, but for basically no other reason.

The funnest suggestion I can think of here is Jason Spezza. Imagine bringing him back to Ottawa on a one-year deal, maybe even making him captain? He’s not gonna get a lot of offers on July 1st, and I think it’d be a nice reunion. Former Senator Marc Methot will also be a UFA, and is from Ottawa, so could fit this void too, though the Sens won’t have a lot of openings for left-handed defencemen. Someone like Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Dan Girardi, Ron Hainsey, or Valtteri Filppula could also fit this category. (And yes, I deliberately left off Chris Kunitz. Can’t imagine he’d be a popular player in this city.)

So what say you? Should the Sens do this? And who would be your choice of washed-up UFA to bring in just to meet the floor? Let us know in the comments!