One of the more prominent storylines to come out of Ottawa Senators home games this post-season isn’t about the players on the ice but the fans watching from the stands.
The Senators have, at times, struggled to sellout seats throughout the playoffs — a fact especially noticeable when juxtaposed with the raucous full house of the Nashville Predators, who they could be meeting in the Stanley Cup Final with a Game 7 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night. (This one’s a road game for Ottawa.)
On Tuesday, an editorial written by Don Brennan of The Ottawa Citizen pointed the finger at Senators owner Eugene Melnyk as the main reason behind the unsold seats.
“It’s hard to imagine empty seats at a playoff game if the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group that owns the Redblacks was also in control of the Senators,” wrote Brennan. “But then, it’s hard to imagine those local, shrewd businessmen making the same mistakes as Melnyk.”
Those mistakes, per Brennan, include high ticket prices and jacked-up parking rates for the playoffs, the arena’s “middle of nowhere” location, and fans’ disapproval of the manner in which Melnyk fired loyal team co-founder Cyril Leeder in January.
Melnyk wasn’t happy about being singled out, and wrote a letter in response to the criticism titled: My commitment is to making the Sens a great hockey team.
Here’s what he wrote:
It was hugely disappointing to see that Don Brennan, a veteran member of our Ottawa sports media establishment, has chosen to single me out as the root cause for empty seats during our spectacular playoff run.
This has been too good a moment for our team, our city and our fans. I won’t ruin it for them, nor our organization, by trying to counter the bully claims this journalist has made.
Not many expected us to make the playoffs, let alone the Eastern Conference finals. It has been an incredibly positive time for Ottawa – and for all Canadians – to see us persevere and come within five wins from bringing Lord Stanley’s coveted Cup home to Canada.
That Cup has always been my singular focus as the privileged owner of our hockey team. I have made it one of my core priorities to ensure we ice a competitive hockey team every year and that we do so with the resources we have. But our playoff success this year is no one person’s doing. I couldn’t possibly name all of the people in one letter.
And similarly, if there are empty seats in our building during these playoffs, it is certainly unfair to point the blame squarely on any one person – especially me.
If someone chooses to put the blame on solely for this reality, well they simply have no clue how hard I work, how passionate I am, and how committed I am to the Ottawa Senators and their success on the ice, off the ice and in our community.
We could debate for days on why things are the way they are. I will only say that I, along with our entire organization, remain steadfastly committed to working hard on numerous fronts to make the Ottawa Senators an even bigger part of this city and equally important – to our country.
We have shown this commitment on many levels including our redevelopment efforts, our charitable work, and by bringing an NHL Outdoor Game to our city this December to help close out the NHL’s Centennial celebrations and Canada’s 150th.
So rather than point fingers, how about our city and fans savour each and every moment of this glorious playoff run. We are making history. Live it and enjoy it. – Eugene Melnyk via The Ottawa Citizen, May 25, 2017