Colton Praill is the Managing Editor of Last Word on Hockey and a lifelong Sens fan.This is his open letter to Eugene Melnyk.
It’s been an eventful 48 hours for Senators fans. While the eye of the national media has been focused on the drama that surrounds the team, the truth is that it’s been there for much longer. After five years of heartbreak, it’s time for Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators to part ways.
It’s not me, It’s you: An Open Letter to Eugene Melnyk
Dear Eugene Melnyk,
Never did I think I would be sitting at my desk, writing a letter like this; after all, it’s to you I owe everything.
Hockey, and in particular the Senators, were what drove me to a career in journalism; now I report for a national television network. They were what pushed me to write. I help manage what is, in my unbiased opinion, one of the most entertaining hockey blogs, with some of the best prospect writing, there is.
But it’s more than that.
The Senators shaped my childhood. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in my living room in 2003, choking back tears as the team I love fell short in the Conference Final; a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. It wasn’t just that the team I loved had come within a game of going to the Stanley Cup, it was that it was potentially the last chance they would have. The team had filed for bankruptcy in the middle of the 2002-03 season.
But then you came, and single-handedly saved the Senators. It is something the city will forever be grateful for. Ultimately, it’s not enough.
In the 15 years since then, things have changed. Five years ago was the first sign, a warning that no one – no matter how sacred – was bigger than your ego.
It’s hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there, to an outsider. Daniel Alfredsson simply had a presence. He didn’t need to be in the arena, or at an event, he didn’t even need to be in the city. He was everywhere. At every corner, on every ad, he was even a bumper on TSN 1200. Daniel Alfredsson wasn’t just our captain, he was the franchise.
And then he was gone. Just like that.
I was in the car, driving with my dad when I heard the news over the radio. My dad and I sat in silence, listening to TSN 1200, aghast. It was the first time this team truly broke my heart. Sure, there were tears after the Stanley Cup run in 2006-07, and when my favourite player Mike Fisher was traded to Nashville I was devastated, but never before had my faith in the team been shaken.
He was Alfie.
If anyone was untouchable, surely it was the man who had taken the weight of a city on his back, who had shouldered the team as though he were Atlas himself, who had given so much to this city. But you moved him, all because he had the gall to ask for a little money; money he left on the table the last time around under an understanding that he would be treated fairly down the road.
For the first time, I questioned what it was to be a fan of the Ottawa Senators.
Two years later it was Jason Spezza on the move; this time I wasn’t surprised. Spezza was always a polarizing player, and his last years in Ottawa were certainly strained, but when the centre I spent my childhood watching, a player who I imagined would spend his career in Ottawa and one day see his jersey hanging from the roof, asks to be sent elsewhere, it should have been unfathomable. Instead, it was just another heartbreak; a crack in the wall that was my unshakeable love for this team.
Now that wall feels like it belongs in Jericho more than it does China.
The next summer it wasn’t a franchise player, it wasn’t a player that would command a high dollar figure. It was an effective, gritty, lovable bottom-six forward: Erik Condra. For six years the seventh-round pick was a part of the organization. He had fought for a spot, earned it, and given this team his all. When he asked for something of them, a three-year deal, they were determined to refuse. A career Senator took less money to play somewhere else.
It was another crack, another disappointing decision that took its toll; but that’s sports, right? Well, what you did next definitely wasn’t.
For as long as I can remember the Ottawa Senators were a team that had character players. Staples like Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, Marc Methot; players who you were happy to have on your team and in your city. Kyle Turris was one of those players.
On the ice, he was a standout centreman who gave his all to the team. His breakout playoff game-winner against the Rangers remains one of my favourite Senators moments. Off the ice, he was a model citizen. His work with the Capital City Condors wasn’t just an obligation. It was a heart-warming display of dedication.
This is a man who after playing an exhausting overtime in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, raced to the Condors end of the year banquet. Not because he had to, but because he had promised them he would.
He’s someone who spent his spare time memorizing each of their names with his wife so that he could greet them by name the first time they met. Kyle Turris was one of the best human beings on the Ottawa Senators and was someone who genuinely loved this city.
You drove him out of this city.
That should have been the final straw, and truthfully maybe it was. A Senator who gave his all to the team, and the town, was expelled over money. It’s impossible to ignore. He was a centre who helped take this team to within one goal of the Stanley Cup Finals. A player who has performed similarly to his replacement, despite playing second line minutes on the Nashville Predators.
It wasn’t a hockey move. It never was. And that’s what makes it so hard to swallow.
If everything leading up to this moment was a crack in the wall, this was like removing the keystone. It was only a matter of time before it all fell crumbling down. That time is now.
Through it all there was still a part of me that held out hope. A part that clung to the notion that as long as we had Erik Karlsson it would be okay. After all, you can only be so bad when you’ve got the best defenceman in the world on your roster. And then you tried to change that too.
Despite what Pierre Dorion said at his press conference it’s impossible to believe that this team was not shopping the best player in franchise history. A player who has made Ottawa his home. Who found his wife here, who found his best-friend here, who has wholly adopted this city. And the reason for all that? Money. As it always is.
For the past 48 hours I have been trying to come to terms with trading away the face of the Ottawa Senators; with trading away the best thing this city has had since Daniel Alfredsson. What’s worse is that it seemed inevitable.
Just months ago this would have been unthinkable. Now it seems like a matter of time.
This fanbase gave you your life back. When you needed us most, we rallied. Every time we need you, you disappoint. We have watched you force the only modern Senator to have his number retired walk away not once, but twice. We have watched you chase every elite player this team has had out of town. And when it came to the best we ever had, you’ve treated him as though he’s an expensive asset ready to be cut, so that you can protect your bottom line.
That’s what it’s always about.
When we went on an impossible run last year, you made it about empty seats. When we celebrated a century of hockey, and finally enjoyed an outdoor game, you threatened to move the team. Every moment, every memory is tarnished by your antics.
It’s time for one of us to step away. And since you’re hell bent on running the team I love into the ground, maybe it’s best that person is me. After all, you’ve already made sure it looks nothing like the team I fell in love with growing up.
An exasperated, and emotionally-drained fan
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