Kukla's Korner

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Gambling the Franchise?

I'd like to introduce you to a new KK blogger, Da lil Guy.

I am sure the name sounds familar to some of you, he is active in the comment sections throughout the KK blogs and has been a member for over 3 years.

His team is the Ottawa Senators but will be blogging on different NHL topics too. -Paul

Eugene Melnyk wasn’t prepared to meet Daniel Alfredsson’s contract demands early this summer, and he has a lot of Sens fan’s grumbling about his unwillingness (or inability) to spend to the NHL’s lowered salary cap.  Where he does appear to be going ‘all in’, though, is in a growing fight with the City of Ottawa over the location of a proposed casino.

I won’t bore you with a civics lesson, but in a nutshell Melnyk thinks Ottawa’s casino should be located at the Canadian Tire Centre (home of your Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk owner and proprietor). However, a strong lobbying effort convinced City Council to limit the proposed casino to only one site – the Rideau Carleton Raceway. The local horse-track currently relies on slot machines to keep its doors open and employ a large number of rural Ottawans; and says it will be forced to close if the slots move to a new casino located somewhere else in the city.  The long term lobbying of the raceway prevailed over Melnyk’s 11th hour push to Council, which included a sudden burst of claims that the Senators were losing scads of money, and that the casino had always been part of a long term plan to keep the team afloat.

Now, Eugene Melnyk has been very successful in his life and business, and was credited with saving the Senators from the brink of disaster and even potential relocation when he purchased the team in the summer of ’03. He’s also a well known for his philanthropic work, which has included visiting Canadian and U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan to drop off some hockey equipment so that they could play hockey while they were stationed in the desert (I’m told attendance is already better than Glendale). 

However, that good will has been tested several times over the years as the Sens’ owner and self proclaimed most passionate fan has had some questionable decisions linked to him. For-instance, he’s widely rumoured to have pushed for the team to bring in an aging Alex Kovalev on a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. He’s also generally believed to have been the creative force behind this [embarrassing debacle...

 

 

 His reputation in non-hockey business has also suffered a few black marks, most notably the charges that he lied to the shareholders of his Biovail pharmaceutical empire, levelled by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which resulted in his agreeing to pay a some fines. Ultimately, Melnyk also left his position as chairman and CEO of Biovail. 

Melnyk is also pretty well known as someone who reacts strongly when he does not get his way, or feels he’s been personally wronged. Melnyk’s dogged refusal to give up on principle in recovering the $4 million bonus he paid to Dany Heatley after the player demanded a trade and subsequently refused to accept a deal with Edmonton is probably a good example. Where it becomes a problem when it starts to fly in the face of good sense or verge on the comical – as with Melnyk’s commissioning of a CSI style forensic investigation into Matt Cooke after his skate blade partially severed Erik Karlsson’s Achilles tendon last season. 

Back to his dispute with the City of Ottawa. Melnyk’s position is actually very reasonable – he’d like a more open process and more debate about where Ottawa’s casino is going to be. The chance to make his business pitch. He even expressed this position very reasonably in a statement issued shortly after it became apparent that City Council might be looking to limit the casino to the raceway location.

Unfortunately, since the decision went against him, Melnyk has been all elbows - and seems to be expressing his very reasonable position in the most unreasonable, petty and ham-fisted ways he possibly can.

First, there was Club President (Melnyk’s employee) Cyril Leeder, withdrawing from the many important positions he occupies on local boards and committees.

. Leeder claimed he just needed to focus more on his hockey responsibilities, but Melnyk’s poker face isn’t nearly as good. The owner immediately took to his personal twitter account and re-tweeted a story in the Ottawa Sun that suggested the move was Melnyk’s attempt to make good on earlier threats that he would scale back his investment in the community if he didn’t get his way. Just in case that was too subtle, Melnyk then went on Toronto’s Fan 590 radio to hurl insults at the Mayor and Council, and liken the Rideau Carleton Raceway to “a tiny little ‘C’ track that wouldn’t make it at the Idaho State Fair.”  

 

It’s these kinds of blustery and combative actions that lend a measure of credibility to more bizarre stories – like the one that suggests Melnyk is somehow personally responsible for international hackers attacking a critical blogger - and generally turn off fans that might otherwise be inclined to support him. In the wake of the Alfredsson debacle, it even has some fans wishing Melnyk would just go away.

 

Of course, this assumes he would just sell the team to someone else. Presumably this unnamed person or group would not only keep the Senators in Ottawa, but also spend to the cap and build the team into the next Stanley Cup dynasty. The alternate scenario, already being broached by some, is that Melnyk will remain true to the form he’s already shown, and play out his hand when a reasonable person would fold. His biggest chip, of course, is the Ottawa Senators franchise.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: da+lil+guy

Comments

SnLO's avatar

That is a funny video. But, of course, you know, you can no longer have a pro sports team with out a cheesy gimmick mascot and all the side-show that comes with it.

Posted by SnLO from beyond the M-1 on 09/13/13 at 11:47 AM ET

Primis's avatar

Melnyk had stated to numerous media types that he would never in a million years sell his junior team and get out of junior hockey, such was his passion for it.

He sold his junior team.

That’s all you need to know about him and his finances, and where the Sens are headed under his ownership.

Posted by Primis on 09/13/13 at 12:26 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com