The precipitous plunge by the Senators from the brink of the Stanley Cup Final to the sinking depths of their current, troubling organizational state happened over the course of a calendar year. It’s hard to fathom how so much has gone wrong for one franchise in such a short amount of time, but Ottawa’s Murphy’s Law season wasn’t just a coincidental stroke of bad luck. There’s plenty of institutional blame to go around.
Start with Eugene Melnyk, their mercurial owner and Ottawa’s Public Enemy No. 1 at the moment.
A fish rots from the head down and Melnyk, through relocation threats, rankling franchise icons and generally poor management, is most responsible for creating this culture of dysfunction, maybe the worst in all professional sports. Complaints against the regime run the gamut, manifesting in their own communal movement complete with hashtags and billboards. And the latest legal messes expose a dangerous level of toxicity from within, setting an ominous tone for the offseason and the franchise’s future.
How does it recover under current ownership? Will the NHL finally say enough is enough?
Melnyk has owned the team since 2003, so the history of ineptitude extends well beyond 2017. But to try and understand how the Senators reached this new low point, below is a timeline review of the last 12 awful months in Ottawa.
July 1, 2017
Daniel Alfredsson, the preeminent figure in Senators history, was two years into his second stint as a senior advisor of hockey operations when he abruptly quit amid the bustle of one of the busiest days on the NHL calendar. The circumstances around his departure were, at the time, a bit mysterious, but rumors of a rift with Melnyk became the city’s worst-kept secret. This May, amid the ongoing arena struggles between Melnyk and Ottawa lawmakers, Alfredsson confirmed as much, declaring: “We hope we get a new owner.”
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Sept. 7, 2017
A month before the regular-season opener, the Senators announced a 1,500-seat reduction inside Canadian Tire Centre, a passive-aggressive attempt to compensate for poor attendance during the 2016-17 season. You’ll recall Melnyk’s criticism of Senators fans on the run to the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. Tarps covered the upper sections at both ends of the arena all year long, capping capacity around 17,000.
The Sens have eliminated about 1500 seats for the upcoming season. The top of both ends pic.twitter.com/nmIGgNrsHG
— Brent Wallace (@tsn_wally) September 7, 2017
Nov. 5, 2017
Even in the greatest moment of optimism for Senators fans over the last year, joy was fleeting. Ottawa pulled off the biggest blockbuster of the season, acquiring coveted center Matt Duchene from the Avalanche in the buildup to the teams’ highly publicized series in Sweden. Little did they know, the Senators were about to head into a downward tailspin from which they would not recover. Duchene was slow to acclimate with just six points in his first 24 games in a Sens sweater.
Among other assets, the swap cost them Kyle Turris, who played at a point-per-game pace across his first month in Nashville, adding insult to injury.
Nov. 16-Dec. 22, 2017
After back-to-back wins over Colorado in games played in Sweden, the Senators took off on a road trip from Hell. They lost 12 of their next 13 games, spending 27 of the next 36 days away from home. The pal of despair actually hung over the team throughout the entire month of December, when Ottawa went 4-8-2 and management thought it a good idea to engage in a public tug-of-war with the face of the franchise.
Nov. 30, 2017
Amid the losing streak, superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson was asked about considering a hometown discount to remain with the Senators beyond 2019, when he’s scheduled to become a free agent. “When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” he responded, inciting a flood of think pieces about players maximizing their value. Management, privately, was irked, and it wouldn’t be long before those feelings seeped into a public forum.
Dec. 12, 2017
Karlsson eventually walked back his comments in an attempt to pour water over the unintended controversy. With the Senators’ season already approaching a point of no return, it was the first time he confirmed the submission of a 10-team no-trade list, calling it “just a formality and it’s business.” Nonetheless, trade rumor flood gates opened.
Dec. 13, 2017
A day later, Senators GM Pierre Dorion fanned the flames. “If Wayne Gretzky got traded, I think any player in the NHL can be traded,” he said, asked about Karlsson’s comments. Dorion insisted he had full autonomy in hockey decisions, not the budget-conscious Melnyk. Hours before, Turris, who had been seeking a new contract, blasted the embattled owner’s frugality and blamed it for the reason he was traded out of Ottawa.
— Julie (@julieturris) December 14, 2017
Karlsson trade chatter proved true and hit a fever pitch two months later prior to the deadline, but the Sens ultimately stood pat.
Dec. 15, 2017
Less than 24 hours before hosting the Canadiens outdoors in the Scotiabank NHL 100 Classic, Melnyk used the NHL’s centennial celebration as an amplifier to air his grievances against the city and its fans in the tireless spat over a new arena. With Ottawa’s Parliament Hill as his backdrop, Melnyk complained about “fighting every day to sell a ticket” and threatened to relocate the franchise if the situation didn’t improve. He attempted damage control in the months that followed, but this was the moment that fully mobilized the #MelnykOut campaign.
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Feb. 9, 2018
Tucked into the bottom of a news release announcing a three-year contract extension for Pierre Dorion, the Senators revealed Tom Anselmi was “vacating his position” as team president and CEO. Anselmi, hired a little more than a year earlier (Jan. 27, 2017), was a central figure negotiating the franchise’s LeBreton Flats project, their solution to building a new arena in downtown Ottawa.
March 22, 2018
A 6-2 loss to the Oilers officially eliminated the Senators from playoff contention with two weeks remaining (nine games) in the regular season. It was but a formality, of course, and mercy to a defeated fanbase which had mostly tuned out by this point.
April 10-11, 2018
Hoping to soothe public outrage over the 30th-place finish and unrelenting drama, Melnyk arranged a pair of town hall events with Senators season-ticket holders. On back-to-back nights, a couple hundred fans grilled the owner and Dorion about offseason plans, relocation, and their controversial statements earlier in the year. Did it make a difference? Probably not.
May 30, 2018
Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee was arrested in Buffalo, N.Y., while attending the NHL’s scouting combine and is facing a charge of second-degree harassment. He’s accused of making lewd comments and unwanted advances toward a 19-year-old male hotel shuttle driver. The driver has since been granted an order of protection. Lee, who pleaded not guilty, is expected to participate in the Senators’ draft June 22-23. He’s due in court July 6.
June 4, 2018
Health Canada issued a recall on a series of onesie babywear bearing the Senators’ logo, deeming them a choking hazard to infants (no injuries have been reported). The jokes on social media wrote themselves, because how fitting?
June 12, 2018
The Ottawa Citizen uncovered legal documents alleging Monika Caryk, the fiancee of Senators forward Mike Hoffman, has been behind a campaign of harassment and cyber bullying targeting Melinda Karlsson, wife of team captain Erik Karlsson. The Karlssons requested a protective order against Caryk, the May 4 filings revealed, citing “over 1,000 negative and derogatory statements” made via pseudonym social media accounts, including posts about the death of the Karlssons’ stillborn son March 19. Ottawa police have opened an investigation into the criminal harassment allegations.