Sunday, February 15, 2015

Careful With That Axe, Eugene

        No, this is not a blog entry featuring a Roger Waters (Pink Floyd ) nostalgia but a digest (sort of) of recent round tables on the future of Ottawa hockey at one of the local Tim Horton's by the city's greatest hockey experts.  Yeah, the consensus is : future is bleak for Ottawa NHL franchise.  Not only the Sens do not have a lot of talent on the team right now and nothing much at its farm club in Binghampton, but the club's marketing insists the team is a playoff contender which it clearly is not, and was not past the first dozen or so games in the season where it looked like maybe a contender for another early playoff knockout.  And we have a consensus around the table also on the nature of the problem : it is the success of the club's owner Eugene Melnyk of making more money of a below-average hockey team in the city than off a real contender.  Sad but true, this is the reality of the Ottawa hockey franchise to many frustrated fans of the club, some of whom "returned" their earlier loyalties to the Habs (and until recently the Leafs), and prefer a handful of trips out of town to get the kick out of watching a team competing with a passion for the hockey's greatest trophy. It's not as much the hockey that stinks, but the way the Sens owner uses the holy Canadian national obsession for making more money that he should off a team no-one with a brain in their head believes is as good as it could be.  On this we are agreed.

        It seems clear as day to all Ottawans, not feeding off  the tripes of the Sun columnists Bruce Garrioch and Don Brennan, that the club has dug itself a deep hole and that there is no easy way out. Not as long as the club's owner believes what he does is not just smart business but smart hockey business.  Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a sports writer in the city right now ready to take on the Sens owner to task. Last time I remember reading something vaguely critical of Melnyk was Wayne Scanlan's (Ottawa Citizen) jeering in 2010 accusing the managagement of trying to sell Ottawa fans the 2007 edition of the team - then long gone. And of course, it has been all downhill from the club's only appearance in the Stanley Cup final. The bright spots are few, in fact only one marquee player , Eric Karlsson, appeared in the last half a dozen year but even he has never quite regained the shine after his 2012 injury.  Only two exceptional coaches, Cory Clouston (2009-2011) and Paul MacLean (2012-2014) made the club perform well, certainly well over its talent content.  Clouston, of whom it was said, that he was the only guy in the organization who truly hated losing , got the team into playoffs through dogged determination.  Bryan Murray, the Sens GM, made another great catch in luring Maclean, an assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit. The man with the walrus moustache made an instant impression in taking the team to the second round of the Cup in 2013 and winning the NHL coach of the year award.  But after the club's loss of its two star forwards, one of them a shameful cold shoulder to the soul of the franchise, the beloved 'Alfie', he seems to have caught onto Eugene's way with the axe (neither Alfie nor Spezza were in any way replaced - Ryan certainly has not replaced the former captain as a leader) and the widening gulf  between the Sens marketing propaganda and reality, saying he was going into games 'scared' in turn of the other teams' talent and the lack thereof on the team he coached. He was promptly axed.  Like in the Spezza exchange, the replacement is without distinction. The club is predicatbly going nowhere, even though Bruce Garrioch will be quick to cheer you up by telling that Karlsson plus/minus has much improved under the new coach (who has no prior NHL experience).  

       So, we are a couple of weeks from a trade deadline and the word on the NHL street is that Ottawa Senators are "sellers". Again, not a word of protest against Melnyk hacking away this year.  Only a year ago, when the Sens owner landed a lucrative deal with Rogers, hopes were kindled that this will lead to the replenishment of the thinning ranks of impact players. No way, Jose ! The owner is not going to raise quality of his hockey product, until (he says) the team proves it can compete (with a bunch of young guys, journeymen and minor leaguers). Hmmm.....Instead, the money would be used for a more urgent purpose: the relocation of the club closer to downtown in a grand scheme to get it closer to a casino a project which preoccupies him.  It is unclear how Melnyk imagines this will enhance the revenues to offset the capital outlays, or if he is back in the fantasy land where he chases Matt Cooke through courts for hison-ice injury to Eric Karlsson.  In reality terms, it only makes a good bet that the Ottawa team would get lousier and move closer in ranking to the league's payroll where Ottawa Senators already sit dead last. So obviously it is not love of hockey as a competitive game that is attracting Eugene Melnyk to his business schemes around the Canadian winter rapture. So the way it is going Eugene may well get his wish of a second NHL hockey arena in the city, but it may come with either a pathetic excuse for an NHL team or no NHL team at all.  So, careful with that axe, Eugene !  Remember the Yogi Berra's great teaching (in paraphrase) :  "If people want to stay away from a lousy hockey club, who can stop them ?"

No comments: