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Jim Little’s Firing Reflects Poorly on the Senators

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The question is not if the team’s leadership is responsible for the latest executive hiring being short-lived, the question is how much

Emerging Visions 2011 Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Film Society of Lincoln Center

54 days. That’s how long Jim Little lasted as the CEO of the Ottawa Senators.

54 days of what seemed like slowly crawling in the right direction with Eugene Melnyk finally stepping back out of the CEO role that he probably shouldn’t have occupied in the first place, replaced by someone with a strong reputation. Little did the media rounds, and largely said the right things with none of the feel of Anselmi’s attempts (hot dogs!) to pull attention (the hot dogs are better!) from the negatives (we’ve got the best hot dogs!) or Ruszkowski’s outright spin. He almost, dare I say, had a bit of the same feel that Cyril Leeder did.

54 days of progress, and more, wiped out with a press release.

We still don’t really know what exactly led to his firing, and we may never know. We have some clues, mostly vague and sometimes contradictory, but no solid answers. The press release points to a behavioural issue - “as a result of conduct inconsistent with the core values of the Ottawa Senators and the National Hockey League”. Gary Bettman has ruled out abusive behaviour, clearly stating it wasn’t something to do with what was discussed at the Board of Governors meetings in December in the wake of the abuse allegations against Bill Peters. Bettman also said this decision had more to do with “internal operations”, and to ask the Senators for more details.

The National Post has two sources that contradict each other - one close to Little saying there was a heated discussion between Little and Melnyk and suggesting that led to the dismissal, which was supported by Jim Little’s own statement on the matter. Their source close to the team admits the incident occured but is denying that the firing was related to it, instead emphasizing that there was a pattern of behaviour that led to this decision.

We’re still very much getting conflicting information, and I can’t tell you if Jim Little did or did not deserve to be fired by the Ottawa Senators. Even if all parties were giving the same story, I’m not sure there’s a clear-cut answer to that. I can tell you that either way though, it reflects poorly on how this franchise is being run.

The worst look for the team, and the assumption that many fans may have jumped to when the announcement landed, would be that this simply another in a growing list of what are thought to be Melnyk-related executive departures. It reinforces the belief that even when the manage to find a qualified individual to take one of those C-Suite positions, they’re not going to last very long before being driven out by having to deal with the Euge.

At the opposite end of the scale, it is possible that Little’s version of events is significantly downplaying what happened, and he actually did do something that we could all look at and go “Yeah, that should get you fired”. In terms of optics, this would be the best case scenario for the team and it would look much (muuuuuuch) better than the worst case scenario does — but it still reflects poorly on their hiring practices. In Melnyk’s own words from the press release announcing Little’s hiring, “an extensive search was conducted to find the right leader to guide the organization into the next decade”. If this firing was genuinely and solely about Little’s conduct, what did such an extensive search, and one conducted when the league was laying down the law about teams doing their due diligence on hiring, miss? It’s unlikely that the type of behaviour from Jim Little developed solely within the past 54 days.

The truth almost surely lies somewhere between these extremes, and we’ll very likely never know just where it falls between the two. We do know the team made a leadership misstep, again, it’s now just a question of how and how big.