Ottawa Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk was at the Corel Centre Saturday morning with his wife and two children.
In between lacing up skates for children taking part in the second annual ‘Melnyk Family Skate for Kids', Melnyk took some time to speak with Ottawa media on a variety of topics.
Melnyk on the ‘Melnyk Family Skate for Kids event'
"Take a look at what we're doing," said Melnyk, pointing to the 100 kids on the Corel Centre ice skating with new skates, helmets and Senators' jerseys. "These children are probably coming from the poorest neighbourhoods, poorest homes in all of Ottawa.
"I've heard some of the stories of where they live, the poverty level they're at. For them to come here for a day and have pizza, and skate, get skates, be at the Corel Centre -- it's gotta be one of the most memorable things they'll ever do in their youth."
Mr. Melnyk and his family have been at the forefront of the club's youth-focused initiatives. "I've always have supported children's causes, and you tie that into hockey and you have the perfect recipe."
Melnyk praised the work of Children and Youth Friendly Ottawa CAYFO), and the Senators volunteers who helped with the event. "The people that have helped us organize this and all the volunteers have done a great job. To see the smiling faces on them (kids). What we've done is 100 kids have skates, and can go skating when they want. You never know where that can go."
Melnyk on attendance at Senators' games
The Senators have seen more than 270,000 fans come to the team's first 15 games of the season for an average of 19,349 per game and 11 sell-outs.
The Senators' owner praised Hockey Country fans.
"Tonight's crowd (against Toronto) is going to end up being the largest in the history of the Ottawa Senators (19,858 against the Montreal Canadiens, Tuesday, Nov. 29). The last I heard, we (attendance) could be approaching 19,900 tonight.
"It's just beyond our greatest dreams to be back after a year without hockey and see the fans respond the way they have. For us to have that kind of sell-out is just phenomenal."
Melnyk also noted the team's objective in keeping the Corel Centre at capacity. "You want to be able to keep tickets prices down as much you can. You want to attract everyone and have a ticket for anybody that wants to come to a hockey game. We're going to continue trying to do that."
Melnyk on the NHL's salary cap
With the NHL's board of governors recent meeting in Phoenix this past week, there was focus on the NHL's salary cap.
"It's (cap) well above where everybody thought," said Mr. Melnyk on where the NHL's salary cap could increase to next season.
Melnyk acknowledged that hockey fans have played a big part in the projected increase in league revenues. "We could have more sell-outs here at the Corel Centre by the end of the (calendar) year than we had all of the previous season (2003-04). That speaks volume as to the type of hockey fans we have in Canada and, specifically, here in Hockey Country in Ottawa."
"I was one of the few guys that sat around when everyone was dooming-and-glooming, and I said, ‘You guys don't understand the hockey fan. Take it from me, if I was a year without hockey, I would be at every single game I could get to the minute it came back on.'"
Melnyk reflected on what a rising cap level would mean to the Senators. "The cap is almost irrelevant to the Sens organization only because we've been operating under a cap now for a decade. What you want to do is be able to spend wisely.
"You don't want to be raising ticket prices just to keep key players. But, saying that, we've got a program in place that we want to make sure that players who want to play in Ottawa, we want them to say, ‘We want to play here in this city in front of the best fans in the world.' We want to give them a great environment to play in."
Melnyk believes that if this group sticks together for the next few years, that Ottawa will have a Stanley Cup contender every year.
"The alternative is, maybe you can make a million dollars somewhere else, but it comes down to quality of life, the quality of team you want to play for and the quality of fans you want to play in front of. That's all we can do as a small market team. We can't compete with the big dollar clubs. All we can do is make it a better place to play."
Melnyk also noted that a solid off-ice team only strengthens a successful on-ice squad. "You've got to be smart on management. You've got to have great scouts, which I think we do. I think with John Muckler, we have arguably the best general manager. and I think we have great coaching.
"You combine that all together, and we just play smarter and we can play doing it with less dollars.
"It's the only way we can do it."