GATINEAU, Que. — Mark Borowiecki is making no apologies for playing a major role in the latest controversial move by the Ottawa Senators.
The rugged defenceman interviewed owner Eugene Melnyk in a team-produced video released Monday night outlining the Senators’ plan for a rebuild.
The six-minute clip went viral and received significant backlash on social media, but as far Borowiecki is concerned, he did the right thing.
"I was approached and asked to help out with something for the team and I was told what it was and as a member of this organization we had a chance to get a message out to fans and season-ticket holders and I think it’s something fans deserved to know, and probably should have known earlier, and I was happy to kind of help get that message out," the Ottawa native told reporters before the team’s annual charity golf tournament on Wednesday.
"I did it knowing full well there would be backlash, but that’s part of being an adult sometimes. I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team and I thought fans deserved to know the message, deserved to know the plan. Setting the forum aside, the message was really the important thing there."
Borowiecki said his priority is to help turn the Senators around after a disastrous run on and off the ice. The team finished second-last in the NHL and Melnyk hinted at relocation if attendance didn’t improve, although he changed his tune in the wake of those December comments and again in the video, saying the team is staying.
Things didn’t get any better over the summer. There has been constant speculation about captain Erik Karlsson’s future with the squad, which only picked up when his wife filed an order of protection against former teammate Mike Hoffman’s fiancee for alleged cyberbullying. Assistant general manager Randy Lee, meanwhile, resigned after being accused of harassment at a pre-draft combine in Buffalo.
"It’s cool right now to dump on this team, right? That’s the cool thing to do online, I get it," Borowiecki said. "It’s been a trying year for everyone. There’s been things that have happened outside of our control that have reflected poorly on this organization and I get it, but I’m not going to participate in that. The easy way out for me there would have been for me to say no and keep my head low and let everything blow over and hope I’m here on the other side. That’s easy. Avoid all the backlash, avoid all the criticism, but that’s not the way I’m wired.
"I put myself out there, I took a risk of potential backlash for me, but I was asked to do a favour for the organization and I did it."
Borowiecki admitted he was "a little stressed out" when the video hit the Internet, but spoke with a couple teammates who offered their support and understood his position.
"It was something new that I haven’t seen," said forward Matt Duchene, who like Karlsson is entering the final year of his contract. "It was our owner trying to get a positive message out and I thought Boro did a good job of it as well."
After the Karlsson-Hoffman drama, players admit there were issues in the dressing room last season.
"You could see from the on-ice product something was not right and the onus falls on all of us for that, myself included," said Borowiecki. "It’s time for us to step up and make sure we get this thing righted here. The easy way out on a lot of situations is to just sit there and keep your head low and not be involved, and I could have done that with Eugene’s message, too. I did that last year with issues in the locker-room. I just sat there and said, ‘Well, I’m going to mind my own business.’
"Shame on me for doing that and this year it’s not going to happen. We have a group of good leaders, guys who want to be here, who want to turn this around and that’s going to be our focus."
Meanwhile, the Karlsson watch continues, after the team’s captain and star defenceman wasn’t mentioned in the video all about a rebuild.
Karlsson — who attended the golf tournament, but did not talk to the media — rejected the Senators’ offer of a contract extension in July, fuelling speculation of a trade.
Training camp starts Thursday and players say they will not allow it to be a distraction.
"It’s out of our control," said goalie Craig Anderson. "As long as Erik is here, he’s our captain and we’re here to support him. Going forward if that changes then we’ll make a change, but as far as right now we’re here to support him as players, as teammates, as friends and what his fate is with the organization we don’t know and we don’t control it."