Melnyk, Leeder, and Murray reflect on the Ottawa Senators 2013-14 Season

Well, that was certainly an interesting (is that the right word?) day. One of the more tumultuous days since I've been a fan of the Ottawa Senators. Owner Eugene Melnyk had FOUR different speaking appearances. Senators President Cyril Leeder talked about the business-side of the team, and Bryan Murray had an extremely candid press conference to top it all off. Here's a rundown on what happened.

Eugene Melnyk

Mr. Melnyk's conference call with the media at 11 am kicked off our day, and the fantastic @chrisjlund transcribed it all for us here. I'll highlight some important points below.

I can assure you Paul is our coach and he's going to be our coach going into next year. We're evaluating everything within hockey operations but as far as the leadership is concerned, that is staying put.

It was very nice to hear the speculation cleared up from the get-go. I was firmly on the side of giving Paul MacLean some more time to work with. With all the off-ice speculation surrounding the team, many (including myself) have found it hard to evaluate the coaching staff, but we can all agree that there is work to be done in terms of defensive zone coverage, breakouts, and player usage - all of which the coaching staff has control over. More on this later.

On ticket sales:

That's where you do all sorts of deals to put people in the seats and it's actually an illusion because it looks like you're full but you aren't actually full from a revenue perspective.

The early Western gauntlet and the bushel of afternoon games early in the year didn't help the Senators attendance at all, but I found that as December rolled around, Canadian Tire Centre was pretty full. The Senators finished 14th in the league in terms of attendance: 18,109/game with a 94.5% capacity. Comparatively, this is a drop from the shortened 2013 season of 19,408 (101.3% capacity), and 2011-12 of 19,356 - both of which slotted the Senators as 6th in the league. A losing season will do that to you though..

On increased revenue affecting payroll:

It's very, very easy to increase payroll. Any idiot can do it and a lot of idiots do and they overspend. They go to the cap, I've done it twice and both times it didn't make an impact. Where we want to spend our money and what you don't see is how much money we spend behind the scenes on the development of our players, what we do down in Binghamton, what we do with our player development internally. That's where the money is and that's the best bang for your buck. To overpay for a player, just go through the graveyard of all these players who have been paid and have gotten seven year contracts at $7 million apiece and everyone thinks they're geniuses and they turn out to not meet expectations. Then you come across someone who's a $2 million or $3 million player and they're a better player than that $7 million player on another team. It gives us more room to do what we need to do but you don't just spend money because you have money in your pocket, that's nonsense. We're going to be very wise with where we spend our money because we're constantly investing in the future and we don't want to be in a position where once you get into three, four or five years of not hitting the playoffs, in some cases it's a lot more than that with other teams, but you have to continually invest in your junior programs, your scouting, your development, all of that. That's where a lot of money is spent and that's where it'll continue to be spent.

NKB will have some more thoughts on this later, but from listening to this interview, I don't see why Melnyk can't spend wisely AND spend more. If you look at the Boston Bruins, the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks - all of these cup contenders are spending to the cap and aren't overpaying for a David Clarkson or "going through the graveyard" as Melnyk says. I am just at the point where I see a financial difference between the Ottawa Senators and other Stanley Cup contenders, which only serves to handicap our chances.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Reminder: 14 of top 20 spenders are in the playoffs. 2 of bottom 10 spenders aren&#39;t. <a href=";src=hash">#idiots</a></p>&mdash; Bonk&#39;s Mullet (@BonksMullet) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>If Melnyk just said “We’ll spend as much as we can, but today the reality is we can’t be a cap team,” would anyone have a problem with that?</p>&mdash; Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Instead, he acts like it&#39;s a strategic decision. Bizarre. I know a ton of Ottawa fans and they&#39;re a lot of things, but they aren&#39;t dumb.</p>&mdash; Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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With respect to spending on Binghamton, I am extremely glad that this organization is focused on player development and a couple of young home-grown players made their presence known this year. However, when Amelia looked at our scouting staff relative to the rest of the league a couple years ago, she found that we have one of the smaller hockey operations departments in the league. Now, I understand that quality is better than quantity, but information is power and again, we have a situation where fans cannot tangibly see how much money is spent internally on player development.

On Paul MacLean:

I think that he'll readily admit there's a lot of blame to go around but at the end of the day he's accountable, the GM's accountable, the leadership on the team's accountable, everyone from top to bottom. It does start at the coaching level but I think he just had a bad year and he'll readily admit that. We've all learned from what has transpired this past year of how to get it right. I think you saw it right at the end unfortunately. I wish it had only happened earlier against some of the weaker teams we should have won. Whatever that's attributable to is something between him and Bryan and they're going to move forward to resolve some of the tweaking that needs to be done to ensure this doesn't happen again.

These comments, as well as others alluded to by Bryan Murray later on, lead me to speculate that the late-run the team went on, including the five-game winning streak, possibly saved MacLean's job. Having the players go to bat for him in the exit interviews yesterday helped as well, as cases around the league have shown that having the "room" is very important (*cough Tortorella in New York*).

On Jason Spezza:

I think Jason understands what his role was and is. He's a professional, he understands that you're here today and could be gone tomorrow. I think everyone in pro sports understands that or you could go long term and stay with a team for many, many years, in fact, your whole career. We have a few of those players. It's very dependent on what other pieces we have to put together. At the end of the day he's one of 20-plus players that participated this year and just didn't get it done. You can't put it all on his shoulders. I think everyone takes some responsibility across the board whether they like it or not, they have to be accountable. That's the bottom line.

Where there's smoke... - a pretty persistent theme of the past two days were that many individuals around the team have thought that if MacLean stays, Spezza goes (or vice-versa). Now that we have the Coach's decision, it sure looks like Spezza may be on the block. From Bruce Garrioch a couple days ago, the asking price for Spezza is pretty similar to the Bobby Ryan deal: a first-round pick, a young roster player, and a top prospect.

From our beloved Bobby Kelly:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Spezza committed to stay with a team he knew was rebuilding and could be shit for a while. So, p cool he&#39;s thrown under the bus here.</p>&mdash; Bobby Kelly (@BobbyBKelly) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Mr. Melnyk also answered fans questions on Twitter from 3 - 4pm (EST), which was pretty cool. I guess I shouldn't have expected him to answer hard-hitting questions from people on the internet, but a couple of interesting points were made.

Regarding the amount of afternoon games this year:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@heikz</a> .<a href="">@nhl</a> determines schedule with input from teams. We would like more Saturday night home games <a href=";src=hash">#SatEveningSens</a>.</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@Andersenator</a> 1230 reg. season NHL games so <a href="">@NHL</a> &amp; broadcasters have a lot to juggle to determine time slots. We do want more evening games!</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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With respect to parking at CTC and arena-related concerns:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@BulbrookScott</a> Thanks! Ring road is a long term solution &amp; is being planned. Soon Queensway work will be completed &amp; new bus ramp opened.</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@hugegolfhacker</a> My short term hopes for <a href=";src=hash">#CdnTireCtr</a> are known. We are developing a long-term strategy to ensure <a href=";src=hash">#Sens</a> are ALWAYS in Ottawa!</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@dju089</a> We are always planning for the future. We are currently studying short term and long term solutions to our arena situation.</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Regarding the possibility of using the heritage jerseys next year:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@NevillCarney</a> Thanks Neville! I love our Heritage jerseys. We will certainly explore the possibility of using them next season <a href=";src=hash">#SensHeritage</a></p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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With respect to hockey-related decisions:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@spalisek</a> I give my opinion but Bryan is our <a href=";src=hash">#Sens</a> GM so he has FINAL say on all hockey matters.</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@jamvan55</a> I am committed to ensuring <a href=";src=hash">#Sens</a> are consistently competitive every year. Never doubt that! Goal remains to bring Stanley home.</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@frankie5s</a> Game plan is to spend wisely, draft well every year, and commit to developing our prospects.</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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(oh yay, the prospect thing again - SPEND WISELY - even though I don't think anyone has asked for stupid spending, just more, smart spending.)

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@TCordina41</a> It&#39;s not how much you spend it&#39;s how you spend it. Have been one of top spenders &amp; didn’t win, need to spend wisely!</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Regarding Marketing:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@CSKI3</a> We are always looking at being more interactive with fans and have made some changes to our marketing. Stay tuned! <a href=";src=hash">#UnitedInRed</a></p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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It appears that the Senators VP of Marketing Jeff Kyle was let go, so we'll see what changes are made next year. BringBackLee had a good post on what the current season ticket holder landscape looks like in an excellent post here

And finally, with regards to Daniel Alfredsson:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="">@TCordina41</a> At the right time we will do something special for Alfie. He’s still playing and not yet retired.</p>&mdash; Eugene Melnyk (@MelnykEugene) <a href="">April 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Mr. Melnyk also appeared on Toronto's Prime Time Sports - start at 35:21, and Ottawa's TSN 1200. There were a lot of similar comments in both, so I'll just do a quick recap below.

  • Melnyk - everyone in this organization takes responsibility for what happened. Players will come in with a sour taste in their mouth next season and will "not" let this happen again. Melnyk said that he can't comment on hockey-related problems and player selection, and defers it to Bryan + coaching staff as "it's their neck - they're the ones accountable".
  • Melnyk was asked how he felt about Bobby Ryan: "Bobby was great. He's an exciting player and we hope that he's with us for a long time. We gave up a lot (first round pick, prospect, player) but he brings a lot and has a great work-ethic and is a solid individual + human being who comes to work every day and shows a lot of leadership. The guy is very, very skilled"
  • "This lineup will not be overhauled. People wish they'd have our team. I think we need to tinker and that we need experience. We have a very, very young team that will only get better and grow"
  • On TSN1200, Melnyk mentioned how he looked up the definition of "meddling" and said that it isn't what he does - he just has an interest in the performance of the hockey club. He also mentioned how he's willing to spend and brought up Ales Hemsky as an example. However, keep in mind that the Senators could have probably used Hemsky earlier, and that deal was made on trade deadline day with Edmonton retaining HALF of Hemsky's salary. In addition, Joe Corvo was also loaned to the Chicago Wolves, and Cory Conacher was placed on waivers. That doesn't look like "spending" to me, but rather, "rerouting of money". /

Cyril Leeder

Cyril Leeder was up next - and again, thanks again to @chrisjlund, we have a transcript for you to read

On the team's finances:

As I said, we're in a better position now than we were a year ago. We really strengthened the organization through a number of agreements we talked about. Whether the media deals or the naming rights or new corporate sponsors we've added over the course of the year, the season ticket base increase. We've moved ourselves forward and, I think, significantly strengthened the franchise for the years ahead... We don't really get into the specific financial details there but it's always easier when you're in the playoffs, it's additional revenue and additional games. We're in a better spot than we were a year ago even being in the playoffs so I feel pretty good about that.

I'll be happy if we see this talk invested in payroll next year, as we've heard tons about the massive local broadcast deal with Bell Media that was completed this year.

On an outdoor game:

We haven't made any progress on that yet. I know there's folks in the community who keep talking about us hostinga game in 2017 and we would like to but we have to work something out with the league. We haven't made a formal application yet, though we hope to do so in the near future.

On ticket sales:

We're feeling pretty good about the renewals, they are where we expected them to be and we've had a a good renewal period so far.

Bryan Murray

Finally, here's Bryan Murray to wrap up our recap.

On Jason Spezza:

I'm not sure why Jason is the single guy that is being evaluated, number one. I guess maybe he wore the 'C' and that's part of it. I believe we have five guys that are going to be going into their last year and decisions have to be made and will be made at the right time. We've spent two days now in great conversation, I think, with number one, our players, and number two, our coaching staff. We will make that determination. As I said there are four other guys that are going into their last year and a couple of guys that are unrestricted right now and every one of them will be evaluated. Do we want the budget to sign them all or will we make a decision to move some of them. Jason will be one of them, we'll talk, he's our captain at this point, he has a year left in his contract. We'll see where we go with him.

I personally think Murray did a great job at handling this comment, and protecting his captain a bit. There are actually six UFAs going into next year: Jason Spezza, Bobby Ryan, Marc Methot, Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson, and Erik Condra. We already know that they're trying to lock up Bobby Ryan, and I'm sure if Spezza is indeed moved, a lot of what happens to the rest of the guys depends on the return.

On the coaching staff:

I maintain that leadership comes more from the off-ice people than the on-ice people, I think coaches and management take responsibility in giving proper direction and a proper plan and they're as accountable as anybody and it has to be that way.

When you don't make the playoffs, they have to be better next year, we have to be better next year, the players have to be better. Paul MacLean's the coach and the staff, there may be some adjustments within the staff as far as responsibility now, but we're very happy we have a group that has experience, that the players — to a man — believe in. I think that was the biggest thing I heard yesterday.

You have to look at the overall body and where the players were left wanting and where they feel we can go with it. I think you learn by losing sometimes. It's a pretty easy year and nice summer when you get yourself into the playoffs and win a round or two and get some awards but when you don't do that and you get questioned, I think you learn a great deal about what you have to do to get better

My note to him today was the players liked the old Paul. They liked the guy that sat and talked to them, that treated them in a more easygoing fashion, that taught and not confronted. There were some mistakes made obviously, you don't go to some of your better players and confront them early in the year and expect change. The change is usually in the negative form. I think what Paul did in the two years leading up to this was a real strong indication of the type of coach he is. I think as you go through your career you learn lots of things and, again, I think it's a stage where he'll be much better because of it.

You win a round and you think you're on the edge of making a huge step and you probably feel that if I push them a little harder here, that'll move it up. Depending on the individual you deal with, some guys you can yell at and push and they'll respond. If you push another guy he'll say "Sorry sir, I can't do that." He received that fairly loud and clear from a couple of players.

Again - I highly recommend you read the entire transcript; I've selected the quotes that I think warrants the most discussion. This really confirms my speculation earlier that two things went in favour of Paul MacLean keeping his job for next year: 1) winning at the end of the season, and 2) information from the player's exit-interviews. MrsOSens will have a post on this later this week that delves into these comments further, but I really like how Murray emphasized adversity as a teaching tool. It was a candid moment coming from being in similar situations as a coach before, I'd imagine. My personal theory regarding MacLean "changing up" his coaching style was that he may have thought that he needed to be harder on certain players in order to take the next step, but that it wasn't received well, especially from the veteran players. Perhaps this helps explain some of the bizarre player usage decisions, as some players may respond well to confrontation, did what the coach wanted, and got more TOI for it, whereas others just weren't capable.

On the Bobby Ryan and Ben Bishop trades (paraphrased):

Murray would do the Ryan trade again, despite giving up the 10th overall pick. He also said that he's already started talking about extending him, but "official" talks can't begin until July 1st under the new CBA.

Murray also alluded to the fact that he needed to trade Bishop or risk losing him on waivers, as presumably him and his staff decided that a duo of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner was better, and thus pulled the trigger with Tampa Bay. He also mentioned that although Conacher was lost on waivers, they had Mike Hoffman come up who's "a little bigger and a little quicker".

On Daniel Alfredsson:

Just to follow up on Daniel Alfredsson, of course, and I said that at the time. I've had three times in my career that this type of incident has happened to me. Stu Barnes in Florida, lost him after we went to the Stanley Cup final, it was all about a contract at that time, we lost him and we didn't have a very good next year. Paul Kariya in Anaheim, had a deal done and he ended up going on the last day to Colorado for $1.2 million. I lost Daniel Alfredsson. The end result following each year was the same as it is today. We know these people have influence in the room and on the ice and I would be wrong if I said he didn't have an impact on what happened here.

This was a pretty emotional moment for Murray as well. The video is linked in the transcript above.

On the Binghamton players (paraphrased):

Murray believes that Mark Stone is an NHLer, and that Jean-Gabriel Pageau fared well late in the season. Also has high hopes for Matt Puempel (second in rookie goals in the AHL) and Curtis Lazar, who he believes will be an NHLer sooner rather than later.

We do have to address some other issues. Do we flip a player or two to get a different type of veteran guy around here?

Regarding that last bit, Tim Murray was on Toronto radio this afternoon, and @Hope_Smoke transcribed some of what he said:

I would love to make a trade with Bryan Murray. I don't know who would win that trade. At the trade deadline, I did suggest a deal with Bryan and it just didn't work out. I think we both have the ability to make a deal. We may still end up making that same trade down the line. Bryan may have won that trade off the bat because he was getting a guy who could make an impact right away, whereas down the road when he's drinking a beer 3-4 years later, these couple players would be good for me. I think Ottawa is a young team with young talent and high expectations this year. Sometimes, expectations aren't met. When you're a team with Zibanejad and Karlsson and all these guys, they're going to be a team that does some damage. I don't know what kind of damage, but they're going to be a good team that is a playoff hockey team.

Miss you too, Tim. I strongly believe that the trade Tim's alluding to is for Chris Stewart, who was linked to Ottawa all year, and who Buffalo acquired in the Ryan Miller deal for the apparent purpose to flip him for something else. Around the same time, Rochester native Shane Prince was disgruntled and was rumoured to want to go to Buffalo. We'll see what happens down the line.

Does Spezza want to remain a Senator?

You would have to ask him that. My indication from him in conversation with him is he's got a year left, he's the captain of our team. We'll have to make a decision on him contract-wise going forward. I haven't offered him a contract and I'm not prepared to do that at the moment.

Somewhat linked to this is Ales Hemsky's desire to play with a top centre, which he believes Jason Spezza is, calling him "the best centre he's ever played with". Murray mentioned in the interview how he's had a brief discussion with Ales, but nothing more as of yet. Murray also mentioned how Milan Michalek loves Ottawa, but that keeping him is a decision that has to be made as he wants to make room for some young people.

On Robin Lehner:

I still think to be a good team in the league you need two goaltenders. You need both that can win games for you. The way the game is played now, as we see again, there are a lot of injuries in that area and having that second guy that can play. I think Robin is very close. If we gave him the stick and said go in the net and play every night, I think he could win a lot of hockey games for us.

On Matt Kassian:

Matt Kassian's not in our plans and I don't think we're in his plans. I think he indicated to me yesterday that he wants to have a chance to go somewhere he might get a chance to play more often. He didn't feel he played a lot here, I'll have further conversation with him, but we need, as I said earlier, a harder forward that can play the game hard and stick up for teammates if necessary.

Hey, at least we learned something conclusive today!

What We Learned

Obviously, this is a lot of information to digest and could probably have been made into separate posts (with Melnyk and Murray getting a couple each), but alas, here we are. We learned that Paul MacLean is the coach for next year. Although the coaching staff struggled, with MacLean trying to change his coaching style, the players vouched for him and it certainly appears he has a bit more time to work with. Taken together with Melnyk's accountability comments, it doesn't look like he'll have much time to work with next year. We also learned that Jason Spezza seems to be on rocky ground with the team, with several indications that a trade will be seriously explored this summer. Bobby Ryan on the other hand appears on his way to an extension. Lastly, we learned that Matt Kassian will not be returning, with Czech's Hemsky and Michalek appearing doubtful. On the defense that has been consistently in the bottom-10 in shots against since 2011-12? Nothing. Here's hoping that the Senators commit to MacLean's system from Day 1 of training camp because who knows what changes would be made (if it counts as smart spending, of course). I personally would be reluctant to bet on improvement in the young defense when it failed just this past year, but hey, what do I know?

Thanks for reading.

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