Eugene Melnyk (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Eugene Melnyk is the man who signs the checks with the Ottawa Senators and he has a right to run his team the way he sees fit, but it would probably help everyone involved if he'd just zip it once in a while.
Before the Boston Bruins announced Thursday that Claude Julien will be coming back next season – he might want to freshen up that resume though, you know, just in case – it was assumed that it were let go that he’d instantly head to the top of the list of candidates to coach the Ottawa Senators.
Julien is one of the best, if not the best, coach in hockey today. What’s to say that a bench boss of that ilk would even want to coach the Senators? First, you’re working for a loose cannon. Second, you’re working for a loose cannon that owns a budget team. It’s one thing to be wildly eccentric and rich, a la George Steinbrenner or Jerry Jones. It’s quite another to work for a guy who writes checks with his mouth that his team’s bank account can’t cash.
And until the man in question, Eugene Melnyk, learns to bite his tongue once in a while, the coaching carousel in Ottawa will continue to spin at dizzying speeds and the quality of individual it attracts will be diminished. Yes, there are only 30 coaching jobs in the NHL and there’s no doubt the Senators will have no trouble finding someone qualified who wants to get back in the game. But what elite coach in his right mind would work for an owner who publicly humiliated his coach the way Melnyk did to Dave Cameron.
Just in case you missed it, Melnyk had the following to say late in the season about Cameron’s performance. He took particular issue with starting rookie Matt O’Connor in the home opener: “It was inconsistency and some stupidity. I go back to the very first game. You put in the second goalie. What was that about? On opening night and the guy gets clobbered. It’s not fair to him, not fair to the fans. Just a lot of little tiny mistakes that all of a sudden escalate and get serious and get in people’s heads.”
Stupidity? Seriously? No wonder Cameron said he felt as though he had been fired for three weeks. And for the record, Melnyk is applying a bit of revisionist history here. O'Connor did not get clobbered. He gave up three goals on 34 shots, was part of the reason why the Canadiens went 0-for-7 on the power play. He gave up a really weak goal to Tomas Plekanec in the first, then was beaten on a partial breakaway and a tip-in. Was O'Connor great? No, but he didn't get clobbered, either.
As Cameron pointed out, Melnyk is the boss. He’s the person who signs the paychecks and he has the right to run his organization the way he sees fit. If he wants to be heavily involved in personnel decisions, that’s his prerogative. And if he wants to publicly embarrass the people who work for him, well, he’s free to do that, too. Just don’t expect quality people to come and work for you. And while we’re on the subject, why would any free agent, either one playing in the league or coming out of college hockey, want to go there?
Being impetuous and impatient and demanding results is a big part of an owner’s DNA. He often holds the people who work for him to the same standards to which he holds himself. Most of these guys got rich enough to own these teams because they were daring, innovative, courageous and unwilling to settle for anything but the best from themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. But most of these guys also know how to toe the line between being demanding and bombastic. It was 12 years ago that Melnyk, one the eve of a Game 7 in a playoff series between the Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, said, “We’re going to kill them.” The Senators lost and most owners might learn their lesson. Melnyk didn’t and hasn’t stopped talking since.
Look at Terry Pegula in Buffalo. Here’s a guy who bought the Sabres and essentially saved the franchise, building up an enormous bank of freewill. He came in talking big about winning Stanley Cups and making the Sabres the class of the league, then watched as his team crashed and burned and had to start all over again. It’s not a coincidence that you don’t seem to hear too much from Terry Pegula these days.
If Melnyk wants to be intimately involved in his team and so it the right way, he might want to emulate the departed Ed Snider. When Snider died recently, former Philadelphia Flyers players took to Twitter to hail him as the greatest owner for whom they ever played. Like other billionaires, Snider had a bullying side to him and was so involved in personnel decisions that at times he fell into a spiral of making move after move to blight out the previous blunders. But could you imagine Snider publicly going after a coach or GM the way Melnyk did?
New GM Pierre Dorion and whomever the Senators hire for their next coach will come into an organization that needs some work. But what they need most is an owner who they know has their backs. What they don’t need is a guy who watches on from Barbados, comes in guns blazing with criticism, then leaves a mess for others to clean up.