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Eugene Melnyk on the 2013-14 season

by Chris Lund / Ottawa Senators

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk took part in a conference call with media today as part of the team's conclusion to the 2013-14 season.

Here's what he had to say...

Opening Statement:

Good morning, everyone. I will begin by being blunt and truthful. It's tough to wake up in the mornings and not have Senators games to look forward to. Watching the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs from the sidelines is not where we planned to be. Making the playoffs every year is what I expect, it is what everyone in our organization expects. I push everyone hard to deliver on that for our fans. Bryan and I have already had numerous discussions on how we will move forward. There's no magic bullet but changes will need to happen. I will not speak to what those changes will be because, quite frankly, we're still in the process of evaluating everything. Our players, our prospects and our coaching staff. I promise our fans we will make the best decisions we can to be better next year. On the business side, the past 12 months have allowed Senators Sports and Entertainment to take a huge leap forward. We now have two significant long term broadcast agreements that will bring certainty and stability to one of our most important revenue streams. We were able to proudly introduce Canadian Tire as a key partner and initiated many new, exciting sponsorship opportunities with Ottawa's growing and supportive business community. We have made major technological upgrades to Canadian Tire Centre. Throughout the course of this hockey season we have installed 600 digital screens and TVs and we will have over 125 more to install to complete one of the largest digital systems in the National Hockey League. Just a few months ago, the University of Ottawa released a full independent study confirming that Senators Sports and Entertainment is a major economic driver within the National Capital Region, annually generating over $200 million in annual economic activity. So far our economic impact has been estimated at $3 billion since the team's rebirth in 1992. Despite the disappointing season we cannot overlook the bigger picture and how much we have evolved and established ourselves within the National Hockey League. ESPN recently ranked us as the number one professional sports franchise in Canada and third overall in the NHL. ESPN even ranked us as the best value in the NHL. I want our fans to know our future remains bright and we have plenty to look forward to as we plan for next year.

On the coaching staff:

I can assure you Paul is our coach and he's going to be our coach going into next year. We're evaluating everything within hockey operations but as far as the leadership is concerned, that is staying put.

On ticket sales:

The difference this year was on a number of different levels we actually did better, simply because we stopped doing what they call "painting the place." That's where you do all sorts of deals to put people in the seats and it's actually an illusion because it looks like you're full but you aren't actually full from a revenue perspective. This year we took a different approach and said, "this is where we are, this is what we have." As far as seats are concerned, yes, we're down a little bit as far as seat sales are concerned. The playoffs are very important to us because not only do you sell tickets this year and people jump onto the bandwagon for season tickets, but also into playoffs and into next year. Will it be a tough sell? I don't know. Right now things are looking fine, we're on track at where we want to be. We can always do better but right now there is nothing that concerns me in the foreseeable future. We have a stable fan base, we have great fans that will come out. This is only the third time in the 11 years I've owned the franchise that we haven't made the playoffs and we're also close. Being out only five games is a tough swallow but people understand, it's still a very young team. Other teams if you look at them, they've got much bigger problems than we do and I think as each one of our players grows and start showing all of their stuff and get more mature, I think you're going to see a much more competitive team and that always helps ticket sales.

On increased revenue affecting payroll:

It's very, very easy to increase payroll. Any idiot can do it and a lot of idiots do and they overspend. They go to the cap, I've done it twice and both times it didn't make an impact. Where we want to spend our money and what you don't see is how much money we spend behind the scenes on the development of our players, what we do down in Binghamton, what we do with our player development internally. That's where the money is and that's the best bang for your buck. To overpay for a player, just go through the graveyard of all these players who have been paid and have gotten seven year contracts at $7 million apiece and everyone thinks they're geniuses and they turn out to not meet expectations. Then you come across someone who's a $2 million or $3 million player and they're a better player than that $7 million player on another team. It gives us more room to do what we need to do but you don't just spend money because you have money in your pocket, that's nonsense. We're going to be very wise with where we spend our money because we're constantly investing in the future and we don't want to be in a position where once you get into three, four or five years of not hitting the playoffs, in some cases it's a lot more than that with other teams, but you have to continually invest in your junior programs, your scouting, your development, all of that. That's where a lot of money is spent and that's where it'll continue to be spent.

On the impact of Alfredsson's departure:

Any time you have a change of that magnitude it's going to impact your team. Whether or not it would have made a difference this year or not, who knows? We'll never know. The best answer would be complete speculation.

On the most disappointing portion of the season:

Not making the playoffs... You could go through a whole list and that list is long and wide. There's a few bright spots but there's a lot of dark spots as well. The overall performance was very frustrating throughout the year. The biggest one was we'd go in and beat up on the best teams in the league and then come back and miss what I call the two foot putts. The Edmontons, the Calgarys after that Vancouver game, you lose out there. That I think was a huge disappointment. Losing to the Islanders. What's that all about? I was scratching my head and on the other hand you go into Boston and beat them up, you go into Pittsburgh and you beat them up. You win the big games. I tried to get an explanation from some of the players and some of them made sense but that's, I'd say, the biggest disappointment. How could we blow some of those games? That's what I think it was, they were blown games and that's the difference between making the playoffs and not.

On what changes are necessary:

It's definitely not a wholesale change, we just need to show up more often. I think we need leadership, I think we need accountability from top to bottom. That's more of a mindset. It could also reflect the maturity of the team. Don't kid yourself, I did some exit interviews, these are not happy campers, they don't like it any more than any of us do to be sitting on the sidelines and watching their friends and neighbours playing in the playoffs. I think that's all being evaluated right as we speak but there's no question there's going to be some changes, it's just a question of where.

On Paul MacLean's performance:

I think that he'll readily admit there's a lot of blame to go around but at the end of the day he's accountable, the GM's accountable, the leadership on the team's accountable, everyone from top to bottom. It does start at the coaching level but I think he just had a bad year and he'll readily admit that. We've all learned from what has transpired this past year of how to get it right. I think you saw it right at the end unfortunately. I wish it had only happened earlier against some of the weaker teams we should have won. Whatever that's attributable to is something between him and Bryan and they're going to move forward to resolve some of the tweaking that needs to be done to ensure this doesn't happen again.

On Spezza:

I think Jason understands what his role was and is. He's a professional, he understands that you're here today and could be gone tomorrow. I think everyone in pro sports understands that or you could go long term and stay with a team for many, many years, in fact, your whole career. We have a few of those players. It's very dependent on what other pieces we have to put together. At the end of the day he's one of 20-plus players that participated this year and just didn't get it done. You can't put it all on his shoulders. I think everyone takes some responsibility across the board whether they like it or not, they have to be accountable. That's the bottom line.

On if he's concerned about losing hockey staff to Buffalo or other teams:

Not at all and just to clarify how things operate, we don't lose people, we allow them to speak to other teams. Those are our choices, they're under our contracts. If there are any changes at those levels those changes are made by us and not at the discretion of the individual if they're under contract. Tim (Murray) had an opportunity, he was a very good contributor but the people who replaced his role, Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee, they are, I think, great guys. That's one place you won't see changes. As far as succession planning is concerned, that's well under way. Bryan will at one point decide that he's done enough for hockey and he has met his goals and there's other things he wants to do. I think we have a first class team. Again, you don't see a lot of these people, the number of scouts. I could name you some teams and we all know who they are that spend fortunes on layers and layers of management. They, frankly, don't get things done. We are mean and lean and make decisions. You have to trust the people you hire. If you don't trust them, they've got to go. Right now I think we're in a great spot and, if we do make changes at any type of level there, please keep in mind that's not anybody leaving, that's us making the decision for them to leave.

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