Eugene Melnyk has built a complex legacy over his 20 years in Ottawa

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When residents awoke to the news that Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk passed away on Monday, they remembered a man who saved the team from relocation nearly 20 years ago, but whose relationship with the city has become complex.

Melnyk bought the Sens and their arena in 2003 for US$130 million when the franchise’s former owner Rod Bryden went bankrupt. Melnyk made the offer and reached a deal with creditors after Bryden’s deal to buy the team fell through.

The team reached its peak in the mid-2000s which culminated with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals four years after Melnyk became an owner. Amid lagging performance and attendance in recent years, however, many disgruntled Senators fans had openly criticized Melnyk’s leadership and called on him — loudly — to sell the team.

This discussion came to a head at the end of a disastrous season in 2018 when a fundraising campaign raised more than $10,000 for billboards emblazoned with #MelnykOut in large block letters.

A billboard asking Melnyk to sell the team is seen in Ottawa in March 2018. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

It came after Melnyk hinted at the possibility of moving the team and complained about having to “beg” fans to buy tickets ahead of an outdoor NHL 100 Classic game.

The failed 2019 bid to build a new NHL arena in the heart of Ottawa as part of a redevelopment of LeBreton Flats – a large parcel of land close to downtown, straddling the river des Outaouais – was another dark mark of his relationship with the city.

At the time, Mayor Jim Watson publicly criticized Melnyk for being difficult to deal with.

But in a social media post on Tuesday, Watson wrote: “Although we have not always agreed on some issues, I have always appreciated that Mr Melnyk has stepped forward to keep the [Senators] in Ottawa, solidifying the organization’s place as an integral part of our city.

“My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and colleagues.”

Mayor Jim Watson and Melnyk had a public argument in 2019 when Melnyk’s attempt to redevelop LeBreton Flats failed. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Ottawa Senators founder Bruce Firestone said by phone Tuesday that he was saddened to learn of Melnyk’s untimely passing at the age of 62, and that he chooses to remember Melnyk as the youngest handsome and “full-bean” man he got to know when Melnyk took over the franchise.

“Later on, as the team got worse and player turnover increased, it got harder,” Firestone said. “Actually, I checked yesterday, before I heard the news, and I was quite disappointed to learn that the Senators are last in the NHL, out of 32 teams…in terms of attendance. And there are several reasons for that, but it’s disappointing.”

WATCH | Bruce Firestone on Eugene Melnyk’s time as an owner:

Melnyk deserves credit for saving Ottawa Senators from relocation, says founder

Ottawa Senators founder Bruce Firestone says team owner Eugene Melnyk deserves some credit for saving the team from relocation 20 years ago. Melnyk died Monday at the age of 62. 1:10

In Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, as the Senators prepare for tonight’s game against the Predators, team captain Brady Tkachuk called it a “sad day” for the organization and the city.

“Ottawa has lost a person who cared so much about the community,” Tkachuk told reporters, adding that it was “a great honor” to be named captain by Melnyk at the start of the season.

Tkachuk said Melnyk is focused on getting the Stanley Cup in Ottawa, and said that remains the team’s ultimate goal.

“It’s going to be something we want to accomplish and bring a cup back to Ottawa, and that was his mission and we certainly want to honor him by doing that,” Tkachuk said.

Touching message from GM senators

At a meeting of NHL general managers in Florida, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion paid a moving tribute to Melnyk.

“He’s someone who brought stability to the Ottawa Senators franchise. Without Eugene Melnyk, the Senators wouldn’t be in Ottawa,” said Dorion.

“He’s committed to the city of Ottawa, to the franchise, to try to build a winner,” Dorion said, thanking Melnyk for giving him the job as general manager. “I’m so grateful [to] him for giving me this opportunity, and I want to promise Ottawa fans that we will deliver a Stanley Cup one day. »

The Senators’ next home game is Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings. Fans call out to each other to fill the stands at the Canadian Tire Center in honor of Melnyk.

Here is part of their online response to Melnyk’s death.

All in one day10:19Ottawa Senators fans react to passing of owner Eugene Melnyk

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk had a complicated but colorful relationship with the team’s fans, but he will also be remembered for saving the team from bankruptcy and relocation. Two Senators fans offer their thoughts on the NHL’s most outspoken owner and his legacy. 10:19

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