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"This isn't philantrophy"

08/12/2013 at 11:32am EDT

By now, most with any interest in the drama surrounding Daniel Alfredsson's departure from Ottawa will be aware of most of the story. Paul has linked to James Gordon's great piece in Senators Extra where he interviewed Sens owner Eugene Melnyk (insert CSI joke here...and now that that's out of the way). Gordon attempted to get some answers, and ended up with a story that was a bit different from the one that the team put out in the immediate aftermath. It was also chronicled in a fullsome and thoughtful way in the pages of the Malik Report, from the perspective of one Wings fan who happens to have a Senators' jersey with Alfredsson's name on it hanging in his closet. I thought I'd offer one Senator's fan's perspective on the evolving drama, and the evolving explainations that have come from the Sens management and ownership.

First I'll get this out of the way: Melnyk's implication that Sens fans just don't understand the business of hockey and subsequent attempt to explain that business are more than a little patronizing. There has been a lot of very thoughtful writing in the mainstream media, Blogs, and even fan forums that demonstrates the opposite - many Sens fans do understand the business of Hockey, and are in fact acutely aware of not only the hockey business, but also the many business and personal interests that contribute to Mr. Melnyk's financial picture. But at a basic level, Melnyk is really just saying that as a businessman he wants to see black ink in the ledger of all of his businesses, and the Senators are one of those businesses. Fair enough.

Melnyk understandably doesn't want to take 'a few extra million dollars' right out of his pocket to make the team a contender. That's fine, and I don't think Senators fans have any particular right to ask that of him (whatever we may think of him personally).

The thing that makes some upset is that Melnyk effectively asked Daniel Alfredsson to take money out of his pocket to make the team a contender. That's not a business reality, that's a piece of potentially costly gamesmanship which didn't work precisely because the other side understood the underlying business reality. The fact that he effectively went to the beloved captain of the team and said 'I can make this team a contender, but the money has to come out of <i>your</i> end' is difficult to swallow. To paraphrase Mr. Melnyk himself, you have to understand that this isn't philantrophy.

Of course we all know how the story ended. Alfie's camp didn't just insist he be paid what they thought he was worth. They broke off talks and Alfie left town.

Melnyk has to consider the corollary of his own arguement. Yes, if the team spends more on player salaries he's the only one who loses money. However, if the better the team is the more revenue it stands to generate (and the more valuable it becomes). Melnyk alone reaps this benefit. He's effectively saying he asked Alfie to take the loss so that he could make the gain. Taken at its worst, it could even be like saying 'I could afford to make this team better, if only I didn't have to pay you.' If that's how Alfie's camp chose to take it, small wonder they walked away and relieved him of the burden.

Maybe Alfie's side over-reacted. Maybe they should have understood that this is what goes on in a negotiation. Maybe they arrogantly thought there shouldn't be a negotiation at all, and that they just be able to dictate demands to the team - but even if that's true 'people have to understand this is a business' isn't enough to explain what happened or absolve Mr. Melnyk of his responsibility for what, in fans eyes, may be the biggest debacle in the history of the young franchise.

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