As a snapshot, it’s the kind of season finish that pleases Eugene Melnyk and buoys his hopes for a brighter future.
But the Ottawa Senators owner sees a bigger picture, too. That’s why he remains somewhat guarded about the vastly improved play his team has shown in the final two months of an otherwise disappointing season that will see the Senators miss the playoffs for the second time in three years.
“There’s no question about that,” Melnyk said earlier today when asked if he has a more positive outlook about the team than he did before the National Hockey League trade deadline, when the floundering team dealt away six veterans and committed itself to a more youthful future. “But it’s a snapshot of what could happen. It’s a question (now) of whether you could continue that play going through a whole season next year and into the following year and into the following year.
“I hate to think that this was purely a 60-day wonder, but that this is something we can build upon, a foundation that is going to continue bringing (us) a competitive hockey team. If it does turn out that way, then of course it’s going to be a positive outlook.”
But when Melnyk does look at that bigger picture, he sees a franchise that has missed the playoffs twice and suffered a pair of first-round eliminations since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2006-07.
“That part is not satisfactory,” said Melnyk, adding he had much higher expectations at this season’s outset. “I thought we really had, on paper, an elite team. Things just didn’t turn out that way. We had underperformance, we had injuries ... everything you could imagine happened to the team that caused us to not perform up to expectations.
“We only wish that what we’ve seen in the last month and a half was ongoing throughout the year. But it’s a different team now. We have the young players fighting, fighting and fighting to get that shot at being in the NHL. It makes a difference. You saw that last night (in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens in the home finale at Scotiabank Place).”
Now the Senators look toward the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in June in St. Paul, Minn. They’ll arrive armed with a dozen picks, including a pair of first-rounders and three in the second round. With a wealth of salary cap space now also available, Melnyk believes the table is set to build a consistent contender year for the long haul. What isn’t likely is a major spending spree when the free-agency period opens July 1.
“We’re going to be in a very, very good position,” he said. “We’ve got draft picks — we’ve got five in the first two rounds — and if we do very, very well, we may need that (cap) space. So we’ve got to be nimble. But that’s to create opportunities to build for the long term. That’s what is critical.
“There is no point winning one year, then being in the basement the next three or four. You want to be there (consistently). There are certain model franchises that have done that and we want to emulate them. So that’s where we’re going to go.”