OTTAWA — Embattled Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk will meet with fans at two town hall meetings in the coming weeks as the club attempts to quell public criticism in the midst of a disappointing season.
General manager Pierre Dorion will also participate in the meetings, he told a conference call for season ticket-holders Friday.
The call came a few days after billboards, paid for by fans, were put up across the city with the message MelnykOut.
Melnyk has been taking a beating from fans this season, especially after he raised the idea of moving the team back in December, saying "if it doesn’t look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else."
The Senators and their fans were optimistic heading into the 2017-18 campaign after advancing to the Eastern Conference final last year. But much to the fans’ dismay, they have tumbled down the standings this season and will miss the playoffs.
Dorion opened Friday’s call by expressing his condolences for Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda, whose son was stillborn earlier this week, saying the captain would be given all the time he needs to deal with the loss.
Expecting numerous questions regarding Karlsson’s future with the club, Dorion addressed it right away.
"Erik Karlsson is a fantastic player," Dorion said. "The professional relationship between he, Eugene (Melnyk) and myself and the entire organization is strong and I want all of you to know that. I do think there is something we should clarify that I didn’t communicate well enough early on in terms of his current deal. When we can offer Erik a contract on July 1 we will do so. I hope this clarifies things and we don’t want to get into specifics on too many players, but we think it’s important that we need to mention that."
That being said, the possibility of Karlsson being traded the NHL draft still exists.
Dorion went on to say that a full evaluation of all hockey personnel would take place following the conclusion of the season.
When it comes to the potential for buyouts, Dorion said it would be part of the ongoing discussions.
"It’s not something that we like to do," he said. "On this roster there could be possibility of buyouts, there could be a possibility of maybe trading players that we were thinking of buying out so there’s a lot of scenarios that we’ll have to get through during the off-season."
Earlier this season when the team was struggling, Dorion gave head coach Guy Boucher, who has one year remaining on his contract, his full backing. He was more cautious on Friday.
"When it comes to our coach and coaching staff we all feel that Guy is still a very good coach," said Dorion. "In saying that, we didn’t meet expectations, so when the end of the year comes I think we’ll have to re-evaluate what we’re doing with our coaching staff. I think right now to give a vote of confidence or do the opposite is not the right thing. We still have nine games to play and at the end of the season we’ll sit down and definitely look at that."
Fans have struggled with the direction of the team following the trade of Kyle Turris in November and the spiral to the bottom of the standings.
"We’re not big ones to brand plan or big proponents of telling everyone what our exact plans are because then you seem to give an edge to the opposition," Dorion said. "Are we going to be in some sort of a rebuild? Yes, or is it going to be some sort of a re-tool, yes. Do we want to be as competitive as we can be? Yes, without a doubt. Sometimes when people hear the term rebuild, retool they think you’re going to take a step backwards and that’s not what our plans are. Our plans are to be as competitive as we can be next year.’