I HAVE to admit that a lot of my thinking has changed in the last week. In business, I take a very clinical approach to decisions. But this last week has been clouded with raw emotion over our devastating early loss in the playoffs.
My first draft of this column was started two hours after losing last Saturday night around midnight. By 2 a.m., I realized that this was not the time to write a letter to our fans and supporters. It was titled "Crushed" and I was writing it only from the perspective of a passionate fan and not as a fan AND an owner.
I set aside the column and came back to it mid-week to review it again. The pain and disappointment of getting knocked out so early -- let alone not winning the Cup -- was evident in that first draft. And I think it reflected what most fans were thinking last weekend.
A friend sent me the five stages of grief this week, and -- while clearly a little dramatic -- it effectively summarized my thinking over the last seven days:
- Denial -- This did not just happen to us. Not again. Not after waiting for the lockout, the trades, a great regular season -- and then this.
- Anger -- Somebody has to pay for this. Someone must be blamed. Vengeance should be swift and immediate.
- Bargaining -- I'll do anything to win the Cup. Change the players, change the coach, change the management ... change anything if it will just bring the Cup to Ottawa.
- Depression -- We'll never win. We always seem to choke. Why did I ever start loving a game that can be so painful?
- Acceptance -- Okay, we're done for the year. Time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves (including me). We have to focus on what needs to be done. Let's get on with it and do it.
It's very possible that I've advanced through this process quicker than many of you who are reading this, but the only way this is going to work next year is to pull ourselves up right now and start thinking and acting in ways that will affect what we see on the ice this fall.
We need to stop fearing the playoffs. We need to stop thinking that history is against us. We need to re-energize this team and ignite the spark that's going to keep our edge in close third periods and win those overtime games. We need to make some changes, but remind ourselves that at one point, we were THE elite team this season. We need to think how we are going to win and win right through to the end.
First and foremost, Roy Mlakar, Bryan Murray and John Muckler have my complete confidence and support. I am going to be working with them over the coming weeks and determine what needs to be done. No anger, no denial, no bargaining, no depression. Just focusing on what needs to be done and doing it. We start Monday.
There are a lot of books on management that you can buy that deal with change in organizations. My suggestion is to save your money and take my advice. The only corporate culture that matters in an organization is one that demands flawless execution and success. The only people that deserve accolades are those who deliver.
But the other secret of good management is recognizing your strengths -- especially when you're still coming through the fog after a tough battle. And we have incredible strength in this franchise.
We (and please, anyone outside of Hockey Country, don't argue with me) have the greatest fans that an owner can ask for. Community support for the team has never been higher. As a fan attending games, I have felt your passion and enthusiasm for our great team. As an owner looking at the attendance stats, I wouldn't want to own any other team in the league.
Our coaching staff is excellent and their leadership will be a cornerstone for this team when we hit the ice again in the fall. Our management is excellent and there is nobody in the league I would rather have managing this team.
We clearly have incredible talent on the ice -- and we need to figure out what needs changing and how to do it. Above all else, we're going to preserve and invest in the on-ice talent that will be essential to winning the Stanley Cup.
In writing this column, I went back and re-read my comments in this newspaper from 2003 when I bought the team and encouraged fans to keep the faith. I read my comments after the 2004 loss where I guaranteed fans that we will do whatever it takes to win.
To a fan, hockey is a great but sometimes brutal game -- and only one of 30 cities is going to be feeling great by this time next month. But while you're barbecuing this summer and speculating on next season, I want you to think about this:
I firmly believe the Ottawa Senators will not only win the Stanley Cup, but we will build a team with the talent and drive to hoard that Cup year after year in the playoffs. I guarantee that you have never seen the level of determination that is about to go into putting together our 2006-2007 season. And I guarantee that I will not rest until Ottawa becomes the hockey Mecca of the NHL.
I've been accused in the past of harbouring unbridled optimism, but I'll tell you this -- I always deliver.