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Melnyk: 'The best of times are yet to come'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, pictured with captain Daniel Alfredsson, is confident a bright future is ahead for the team. He is enthused about the young prospects that are making their way up through the Senators' organization (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Eugene Melnyk is the eternal optimist.

And even as his team struggles near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the Ottawa Senators' No. 1 fan remains confident better days are around the corner. He is enthused about the young prospects in the organization's system, some of whom will soon be performing at Scotiabank Place.

As always, Melnyk's ultimate goal remains the same — to deliver a Stanley Cup to the fans of Hockey Country. He is convinced the retooling process the team is about to undertake will eventually bring hockey's holy grail home to where it belongs.

The Senators owner took time out today to share his thoughts about the team's present and future with

Q: What has it been like as a fan to sit back and watch how this season has transpired?
A: Speaking as both a fan and an owner, obviously I am disappointed but eternally optimistic. You have to look at the performance of the team to date and it's not what everybody expected at the beginning of the season. But the upside is that we've drafted well, we have some tremendous prospects in the pipeline and what you really hope for is that ultimately, you've put together a long-term plan with a pipeline of players that includes core veterans we have in place now to bring a Stanley Cup home to Ottawa.

Q: Your general manager, Bryan Murray, suggested today he believes the organization has nine prospects that are very close to being "NHL ready." Is that something that excites you, to know that kind of talent is on its way?
A: Absolutely. And that's eight or nine players right now. That does not include what we might be able to acquire between now and the start of next season either through trades, at the draft or through new signings. You could see a dozen fresh faces on this team very, very easily next year and that pretty much represents half the team. That's exciting both as an owner and a fan.

Q: Are you getting positive response from fans about the process that is about to begin?
A: First of all, the answer is yes. I think Ottawa fans are extremely knowledgeable, they've very tuned into what you're doing and what they see is what they want to see. That you're ultimately bringing back all of the excitement we had in 2007 leading into the Stanley Cup final. That's what you really want. As long as you give them (more than) just hope — and actions speak much, much louder in this case than words — then you do have the support of the fans. And you will get them out to games to see the future of the franchise ... What you want to be is a solid contender every year and to be able to deliver great entertainment and great hockey. That's our focus and what our job is.

Q: Bryan indicated today that within a year, this team could be back where everyone wants it to be. Are you of the same belief that it's not going to take a long time for it to happen?
A: I think a year is a little aggressive. I know we all want to be miracle workers and we all believe we can be.To me, ultimately, we want to succeed. If you're going to get there and people see you're getting there, that's more important than trying to put a deadline on it. We know what the ultimate objective is and that's all I want to commit to. And that's a big commitment. We are going to create something we know we can sustain for years. Then it will really be up to the players to determine how fast we can get back to being an elite team.

Q: What do you ultimately hope to achieve when this process is complete?
A: We are not like some teams that had to start over completely. We already have some great players: stalwart veterans like Daniel Alfredsson and young, exciting players like Erik Karlsson. But what I hope to see, and what our fans deserve, is a team that is younger, hungrier and faster. That's going to take time and whatever time that takes, I'm happy with. What I'm not going to do is put up a deadline to try to accelerate things that just can't happen. No, we want a long-term great team and whatever it takes, we're going to get there.

Q: What is the important thing for your fans and sponsors to understand about all of this?
A: The main thing is that we're going to get there. It's not an 'if' type of situation, it's a question of when. If you do it right and you do it properly and you give the latitude to the general manager to build around a core group of veterans who can bring along the youth and be able to compete on a consistent basis. But ultimately, you want not to be an average team that's always kind of there. You want a winner. That's the main message to the sponsors and the fans. We want a winner. Period, full stop.

Q: How grateful are you that the fans are sticking behind the team, despite the fact this season hasn't gone the way everyone wanted?
A: You know what, this is a great fan base. I couldn't be prouder of the fans for sticking by us and I know they're going to stick by us during this process. The difference is going to be that when a kid comes out there who's 20 years old and scores a hat trick, that's going to be front-page news. Today, if a veteran does it, it's somewhere buried in the paper. That's the excitement, to be able to say this is what's coming. To me, you can't get more excited than knowing that the best of times are yet to come.

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