OTTAWA — Eugene Melnyk expects to make the playoffs every year, and when his team misses out he plans to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The Ottawa Senators owner voiced his disappointment over the team’s performance this season in a conference call with media Tuesday, and said changes could be coming. Melnyk said he and general manager Bryan Murray are "in the process of evaluating everything, our players, our prospects and our coaching staff."
"Definitely not a wholesale change, we just need to show up more often," Melnyk added. "I think we need leadership. I think we need accountability from top to bottom and that’s more of a mindset and it could also reflect the maturity of the team and as they mature, don’t kid yourself, because I did some exit interviews and these are not happy campers."
While there had been speculation that head coach Paul MacLean could be relieved of his duties, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
"I think it’s pretty certain, well I can assure you Paul’s our coach," said Melnyk. "And he’s going to be our coach going into next year, but we’re evaluating everything within the hockey operations, but as far as the leadership is concerned that’s staying put."
That’s not to say management was overly impressed with MacLean’s performance this past season.
"They should have done better," said Murray of the coaching staff. "Unless you win a championship I think you can say that about everybody. I think there were some stages in the year where maybe a different decision could have been made."
On Monday MacLean admitted that he went into the season with the belief that he needed to be more demanding of his players, and Murray said it probably wasn’t the wisest strategy.
"My note to him today was the player’s like the old Paul," Murray said. "They like the guy that sat and talked to them, treated them in a more easy-going fashion, that taught, not confronted.
"There were some mistakes made obviously. You don’t go to some of your better players and confront them early in the year and expect change. The change is usually in the negative form. I think what Paul did two years leading up to this was a real strong indication of the type of coach he is. I think as you go through your career you learn lots of things and I think it’s a stage that he’ll be much better because of it."
Murray’s biggest decision in the off-season could be whether or not to move captain Jason Spezza.
Spezza has one more year remaining on a contract that has a cap hit of US$7 million, but a salary of $4 million. Speculation of Spezza being traded surfaced at the trade deadline and one has to wonder if the Senators feel now is the time to make a significant change.
"I think Jason understands what his role was and is," said Melnyk. "He’s a professional. He understands you’re here today, could be gone tomorrow.
"It’s very dependent on what other pieces we have to put together and I think at the end of the day he’s just one of 20 plus players that participated this year and we just didn’t get it done. "
Murray said Spezza was one of five players going into the final year of a contract and that all five, in addition to this year’s three unrestricted free agents, would be evaluated.
"I’m not sure why Jason is the single guy here being evaluated," Murray said. "Number one I guess maybe he wore the ‘C’ and that’s part of it, but we, I believe, have five guys going into their last year and decisions have to be made and they will be made at the right time."
The Senators actually have six players entering the final year of their contract including Spezza. Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, Erik Condra, Marc Methot and Craig Anderson will all be looking for new contracts next season.
At this point it seems Ryan could be the first to re-sign as both parties seem eager to come to terms on a new agreement.
Milan Michalek, Ales Hemsky and Matt Kassian are all unrestricted free agents this season and it appears Michalek could be the only one returning.
Murray said Kassian isn’t in his plans and he didn’t believe the Senators were in Kassian’s plans. As for Hemsky, it doesn’t appear he will return.
Michalek has expressed an interest in returning and it’s likely term and money will play a factor.
The Senators have a number of young players who will be pushing for playing time and they want to ensure there’s room.
Murray said Mark Stone, who played 19 games this season and had eight points (4 goals, 4 assists), now looks like an NHL player and was impressed with Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s play late in the season. He also mentioned that Curtis Lazar looks to be NHL ready and will be pushing for a roster spot as well as a few others who are currently playing in Binghamton.
In addition, Murray said the Senators would like to find a tougher forward.
The Senators have three restricted free agents, Mike Hoffman, Eric Gryba and Robin Lehner, that Murray will need to make decisions on.
Lehner, 22, will likely be the priority, considering Anderson will be heading into the final year of his contract.
"I still think to be a good team in the league you need two goaltenders," Murray said. "You need both that can win games for you. I think Robin’s very close (to being a number one goalie). I think if we gave him the stick and said go in the net and play every night I think he could win a lot of hockey games for us."
Financially the Senators are in good shape, but they don’t anticipate significantly increasing their salary structure.
"It’s very, very easy to increase payroll, any idiot can do it and a lot of idiots do and they overspend and they go to the cap and I’ve done it twice and both times it didn’t make an impact," Melnyk said.
The Senators owner says he prefers to spend money on various resources that can be used in the development of players on the roster and in the minors.
Notes: Much was made last Saturday when Kassian didn’t dress for the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Murray said a decision had been made earlier in the day when a call between he and Toronto GM Dave Nonis took place. Nonis wanted to call up a young player, but was concerned that if Kassian was in the lineup things could get physical and so Murray assured Nonis he wouldn’t play Kassian.