The Toxic Culture of the Ottawa Senators

This team needed a rebuild, but not one on the ice.

There’s a certain perception of hockey bloggers on the internet. We get dismissed because we’re not on TV, wearing suits tailored by Coppley. We’re (usually) not outrageous personalities, or people with any real experience when it comes to NHL life. I think people often see that as a reason to discount us.

To me, there’s something far more honest about the people behind hockey blogs. The opinions you tend to see are mostly unfiltered, and unobstructed by corporate obligations and the fear of not getting more work. We’re not paid massive salaries, we do it because we love the game, and the teams we cover.

For the purposes of this piece, I implore you not to look at me as a hockey blogger. Instead, try to see me as the eight year-old kid who wouldn’t shut up about the Senators long enough to be sad that they had just lost the Stanley Cup.

I was a fan before I ever started writing about hockey, and I’ll be a fan long after Silver Seven has the good sense to get rid of me.

I’m a fan of the Ottawa Senators, and I’m pissed off.

Since 2011, I’ve seen every single one of my favourite players leave under ambiguous terms. Mike Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson (twice), Jason Spezza, Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, Marc Methot, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman, Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and now finally Mark Stone.

To any person with a basic understanding of normal human relationships, this might raise a few red flags. These aren’t just any old replaceable players we’re talking about here. These players were high-end talent, locker room leaders, and in a lot of cases, both.

So why? Why are these star players not wanting to, or not allowed to spend their careers in Ottawa? In most cases, these are homegrown talents, and core pieces to any team with a hope of contending.

The general perception has been the owner. It’s no secret that Eugene Melnyk has never been eager to shell out money to players, especially signing bonuses, and he himself declared last year that payroll cuts were in the team’s future.

There’s merit to this, but the issues in the Ottawa Senators organization are far more than financial. If you weren’t already aware of what they are, you only had to listen to General Manager Pierre Dorion’s post-Mark Stone trade presser.

Here it is if you care to watch, but I’ll give you a brief run-through below.

If you weren’t able to sit through 20 minutes of non-answers and word salad, while Ottawa’s noble leader grinned like the Cheshire Cat, I’ll give you the Cliffsnotes version.

Pierre Dorion said the Senators plan to lean on their “veteran core” of Ceci, Borowiecki, Smith, Pageau, and Ryan. He said “they tried” to sign all three of Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel. Above all, that the Senators knew Friday that they would be trading Mark Stone.

He also said on TSN1200 that today was his “proudest day as a GM”.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started.

If your proudest day is after you’ve traded Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Mark Stone, then I shudder to think of what your worst day might be. I don’t care how many (SIX) assets you get in return, it is certifiably insane to take pride in running every single one of your star players out of town.

The “veteran core” to build around, would have been the exact guys you traded. Elite players, and locker room leaders. Not bottom-six forwards and fifth and six defencemen that struggle to make breakout passes. If the plan is to have guys that, on any other team, play under 10 minutes a night “mentor” raw talent like Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, etc., then I’m not sure what kind of results you’re expecting.

The narrative of “we tried” when it comes to signing star players is not good enough. Not anymore. This fan base is not stupid, so to repeatedly state that “homegrown, young stars don’t want to stay because rebuild” is damned insulting to people that have supported this team for up to 27 years. This whole spin is completely unbelievable when you take into consideration guys like Shane Doan stayed in Phoenix, expletive Arizona their entire careers.

Finally, Dorion said they knew Friday that Mark Stone was done in Ottawa, and that they “went through a wall” to re-sign him.

Then, the guy signing the checks says this:

Word to the wise, gentlemen. If you’re going to lie to the fan base, you should probably get your stories straight.

I could go on and on about how Dorion heaped praise on Boro and Ceci “despite what the analytics” say, and every other absurd fallacy that came out of his mouth, but the simple fact of the matter is this.

There is no organizational standard here.

Even if the Ottawa Senators threw all the money in the world at their Big 3, and they turned it down, the responsibility is still the organization’s. This is a group from ownership on down that has created a toxic culture, where players know they’ll be sold out on a whim, no matter what they’ve contributed to the team and community.

Daniel Alfredsson is a god in Ottawa, and in return for 17 years of leadership and playing through injury, he got low-balled come contract time. Then left again after a short stint as an executive, and was later quoted saying “We’re hoping to get a new owner”.

When the man who built your house doesn’t want to live in it, you have some problems.

I’m a fan, just like you, and I’m pissed off.

I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m frustrated, but most of all, I’m just tired.

I’m tired of being told to “be patient” by an organization that hasn’t given me any reason to believe my patience will be rewarded.

We trusted Erik Karlsson. We trusted Mark Stone. You traded them.

I’m tired of hearing the word “rebuild” without the team’s first-round pick, and any elite players that so desperately wanted to stay.

Mark Stone is 26 years-old. Ryan Dzingel is 26. Matt Duchene is 28. Erik Karlsson is 28. Those are the guys you build around, not Zack Smith, J.G. Pageau, and Mark Borowiecki. It’s an absolutely absurd notion that the Senators are better off now.

I’m tired of sheepishly, shamefully telling people that I’m a fan, instead of belting it with pride like I once did.

But mainly, I’m tired of the toxicity. Eugene Melnyk is a bad owner, Pierre Dorion is a bad GM, Guy Boucher is a bad head coach.

They say “cream rises to the top”, but so do dead fish.

They’re in charge, they’re the ones that set the standard. The blame lays at their feet. They have acted in tandem to enable each other into destroying a once-proud organization, all the while patting themselves on the back and criticizing the fans for not “believing”.

The only rebuild that can get the Ottawa Senators out of purgatory is one from the owner on down.

I guess we just have to be patient.

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