Senators owner Eugene Melnyk dangles relocation on eve of outdoor game

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk threatened relocation on the eve of the franchise’s outdoor game. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nothing – not the unforgivably cold weather or the similarly frigid reality that faces a franchise with the second-worst record in the conference – could take from this weekend for the Ottawa Senators, who finally have an outdoor game to call their own.

Or so they thought.

Moments before legends of the franchise played pick-up on Parliament Hill – the outdoor appetizer ahead of Saturday’s NHL 100 Classic at TD Place Stadium between the Senators and Montreal Canadiens – owner Eugene Melnyk dangled the idea of moving the team, telling local and national reporters in town for the event that he didn’t get rich just to prop up a floundering franchise.

Via Sportsnet’s Luke Fox:

I’m not going to blow a lifetime of working hard to support a hockey team. It’s not gonna happen. The bigger question is whether I’m prepared to blow all that money I made over many years in a different industry in a different country. How long can you underwrite a team?

Ill-timed and yet totally deliberate, Melnyk blamed the fans with his veiled threat. This, while die-hards lined an outdoor rink in arctic conditions to see Alexandre Daigle school other alumni at half speed.

Though not committed to Ottawa, Melnyk, despite his discontent, intends to continue running his business, his way.

He compared his plight to owning a McDonald’s, saying the simple decision would be to move the burger chain to a more profitable location, not giving up on its potential profitability, because the hard part is acquiring the business in the first place.

“It’s just too much fun,” Melnyk said. “What else are you going to do? I’m a Canadian. I’m a hockey fan.”

The best-of-both-worlds scenario for Melnyk and fans of the Senators is believed to be a move downtown to the Lebreton Flat development. But it appears he’s souring on the prospects of that as well.

“I’m not sure downtown is necessary,” he explained. “All those Kanata people, are they going to come downtown? Are you just moving an arena closer to people who can’t get tickets?”

Melnyk’s media meltdown has been the culmination of some awful PR this season for the Senators, who, from an on-ice perspective, have fallen off a cliff since their improbable run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last spring.

He made the decision to throw a tarp on more than 1,000 seats in the upper bowl in a failed effort to increase ticket demand. More recently, after Erik Karlsson ruffled feathers in the Senators boardroom when insisting that he will receive his true value when he signs his next contract, there were reports that the superstar captain was (inexplicably) asked to provide his no-trade list. Then this week, former Senators centre Kyle Turris (and his wife) blamed Melnyk for his departure, telling members of the Ottawa media that management wanted to sign him long term.

Though operations is comparably threadbare, Melnyk’s player payroll is currently just outside the top 10 in the NHL, which he used to defend his comments Friday.

But he insisted that slashing cost will soon trickle down to the roster – a situation Karlsson will keep tightly fitted under the microscope as he moves closer and closer to unrestricted free agency in two summers.

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