LAS VEGAS – The growing concerns around the Ottawa Senators aren’t shared by those in the NHL’s head office.
The organization has been rocked by a series of scandals this season and saw its fans erect four billboards in March that read "#MelnykOut" – a reference to team owner Eugene Melnyk. But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman came out of a meeting with the board of governors on Wednesday claiming that the situation is not quite as bad as it has been portrayed.
"There’s always going to be some issue somewhere that has to be dealt with," said Bettman. "The headstone has been written over the years for many franchises under a variety of circumstances and none of the burials ever took place. So it’s a moment in time."
The Senators are heading to the NHL draft this weekend without assistant general manager Randy Lee, who is suspended while the court proceedings move forward on a harassment charge against a 19-year-old hotel employee in Buffalo.
Ottawa is also fresh off trading winger Mike Hoffman under difficult circumstances. It was revealed last week that Melinda Karlsson – the wife of captain Erik Karlsson – sought a peace bond in May to protect her from alleged harassment and threats from Monika Caryk, Hoffman’s partner.
Even though the player claimed he and his girlfriend were innocent of any wrongdoing, the Senators released a statement Tuesday saying that trading Hoffman would "strengthen the future of the team by improving chemistry, leadership and character in the locker room and on the ice." Hoffman was sent to San Jose and later flipped to the Florida Panthers.
The team is coming off a 30th-place finish and is no closer to moving forward on its downtown arena project, according to Bettman, and saw attendance drop by nearly 1,000 fans per game last season. That has raised some concerns about whether Melnyk has the ability to continue operating the franchise.
When it was pointed out to Bettman that the league has occasionally brought out a defibrillator for struggling teams, he said that wouldn’t be needed in Ottawa: "We don’t think the club is anywhere close to cardiac arrest – to use your analogy. We don’t need ‘em, OK? There’s no issue up there. I think it’s more sensationalized than anything else."
Further complicating the path forward for the team is that they have to send a first-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche either this year or next to complete the Matt Duchene trade. The Senators have the fourth overall selection in Friday’s draft and intend to hold on to it and choose a player, according to a source.