|Senators Sports & Entertainment's new executive leadership team includes president/CEO Cyril Leeder (left), CFO/executive vice-president Erin Crowe and GM/executive VP Bryan Murray.
Two decades ago, he was one of the men who launched the most audacious of dreams – a founding father of the modern-day Ottawa Senators, if you will.
Today, Cyril Leeder has risen to the very top of the organization, appointed by owner Eugene Melnyk as the president and CEO of Senators Sports & Entertainment, the umbrella group that includes the National Hockey League team as its prime asset.
It is a position, Leeder will tell you now, that he didn't envision all those years ago, when he, Bruce Firestone and Randy Sexton hatched the plan that resulted in the Senators returning to the NHL in 1992 after an absence of six decades. Leeder had been the organization's COO since 2002 before being offered his new opportunity by Melnyk over the weekend.
"I don’t think it’s ever been a goal," Leeder said Tuesday at a Scotiabank Place news conference held to introduce the organization's new executive leadership team, which also includes CFO/executive vice-president Erin Crowe and general manager/executive VP Bryan Murray.
"The work I’ve done here for the last 20 years has always been challenging and I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve done. It’s been a lot of great experiences and some big events, good people to work with in a great city... I love Ottawa a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever aspired to do anything more than I was doing. I just feel very fortunate and grateful that Eugene would show that confidence in me."
Now his world will include more trips to NHL board of governors meetings and more public appearances at charity events, the kind of things outgoing president/CEO Roy Mlakar handled so adeptly during his 13 years with the Senators.
"He worked hard in the community and that's part of the challenge for me and Erin and everybody else here with the Senators, to make sure we don't drop the ball on a number of great (charitable) initiatives that Roy championed," said Leeder, the longtime chairman and a founder of the Bell Capital Cup, the world's largest minor hockey tournament.
"We're going to be as active or, hopefully, more active (in the community) than we've ever been."
In creating a new executive leadership team, Melnyk elected not to renew Mlakar's contract, which expires at the end of June.
Leeder said it was a decision that Melnyk "agonized over for a long time."
"When it really came down to it, there were a number of factors that went into the decision making," said Leeder. "If we had an MLS team, if we had a stadium and a lot of what ifs … I think our organization would look a whole lot different than it does now.
"I just know that Eugene didn’t take that decision lightly. It was a long process for him to get to the point where he was going to make the change."
While Leeder, an admitted "behind-the-scenes guy," becomes more of a public face of the franchise and will be its alternate governor at league meetings, he doesn't expect fans should notice much change in what they see on and off the ice.
"Hopefully, to the fans and externally, we're the same Senators," he said. "We're involved in the community, we try to put the best hockey team on the ice every year, we provide good entertainment and we bring great events to the community."
He relishes the opportunity to make sure the team's voice is heard at NHL meetings.
"It's important to be there, so you're able to make the right decisions for your franchise based on what's happening with the league," said Leeder. "That's how I view it and I'll participate there as best as I can and, hopefully, represent our interests well."
Crowe, one of only a handful of top-level female executives in the NHL, looks forward to "my new expanded role" in the face of a challenging economy.
"The work I’ve done here for the last 20 years has always been challenging and I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve done. It’s been a lot of great experiences and some big events, good people to work with in a great city... I love Ottawa a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever aspired to do anything more than I was doing. I just feel very fortunate and grateful that Eugene would show that confidence in me." - Cyril Leeder
"We’re certainly aware that there are some current economic difficulties out there," she said. "We’re facing some difficult times and fluctuations in the Canadian dollar that certainly impact our business and we will continue to work closely with our owner and our management team to continue moving the organization forward in a positive manner and address these challenges."
While Murray gains an additional title, he said the hockey side of the business remains his priority.
"My role hasn’t really changed at all," he said. "What I am is the hockey guy and my responsibility is to continue to try to have a very competitive hockey team in this town. We will do that to the best of our ability."
Leeder said he'll do his best to ensure Murray can make that happen.
"I'm like everybody else here. I want to win a Stanley Cup," he said. "That's the organization's vision and I'm going to do everything I can to give Bryan and Eugene the resources that will help them win a Stanley Cup."