OTTAWA — Disgruntled Ottawa Senators fans want team owner Eugene Melnyk to know exactly how they feel, and their message is hard to miss.
Four billboards with the message MelnykOut went up at four different locations across the city Monday thanks to a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $10,000 in less than a month.
The fund was started by fan Spencer Callaghan, whose growing frustration with Melnyk reached a breaking point after rumours began to swirl that captain Erik Karlsson might be traded.
On the GoFundMe page launched Feb. 23, Callaghan wrote: "Eugene Melnyk has decided that he would rather tear the team down and sell it for spare parts than admit he can no longer run it effectively. Sens fans and the city of Ottawa need to step up to save a pillar of this community."
He said billboards are a way for fans to be heard, and he feels that the current regime has driven players and front office staff away.
"One of the big things I was trying to do was get some attention for the fans message," said Callaghan on Monday afternoon.
"The really clear message I want to get through is this is not about this season, this is not about a bad season. This is about Daniel Alfredsson leaving, twice, this is about why Kyle Turris left, this is about why Mr. Leeder left, why Mr. Anselmi left. This is about a series of decisions over a long period of time."
Not everyone agrees with what Callaghan is doing, but says he felt compelled to take action because of his passion for the Senators.
"I really don’t think the ship has sailed on Mr. Melnyk turning this around, I truly don’t believe that it’s impossible at this point," Callaghan said. "But it requires some collaboration, it requires some humility and it requires some listening and I haven’t seen any desire on the part of the organization to do that."
The Twitter hashtag MelnykOut was launched in December by a fan after the Senators owner threatened to relocate the team if he didn’t see better fan support. Melnyk’s comments were made the night before the first-ever outdoor game in Ottawa and set off a firestorm on social media from outraged fans.
Things on the ice haven’t been much better as the Senators, who advanced to the Eastern Conference final last season, will miss the playoffs. Karlsson’s future in Ottawa remains unknown, adding to the fan unease.
Players can appreciate there is fan frustration, but Senators defenceman and Ottawa native Mark Borowiecki says Melnyk deserves credit for coming to the city’s rescue when the team was on the verge of bankruptcy.
"Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion," said Borowiecki. "I will say this, running a sports franchise isn’t quite as easy as some people think it is. There’s a lot to it that I think a lot of us don’t understand and can’t appreciate.
"Eugene’s stepped up big for this city. Growing up here, being a fan, I can remember there was a real danger of losing this team. Fans might have gripes, certain sections of that fan base especially might take issue with things, but there was a real possibility a few years ago that we wouldn’t have a team here so I’d much rather have a team and take small issues with it than not have a team at all.
"Eugene stepped up with the city and brought the team back to us and he kept hockey in this market and I think it’s important to always remember that."
Borowiecki wasn’t even aware of the billboards or the funding campaign until told about it Monday.
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, who is in Boca Raton, Fla., for NHL GM meetings, was asked about the billboards but said: "I’m not talking about that."
The billboards are slated to be up for two weeks, with a fifth going up April 2.