Melnyk muses about relocating Sens at NHL 100 weekend in Ottawa

Outdoor game
Lansdowne Park was turned into an outdoor NHL arena for Saturday night's game between the Senators and Canadiens. (Photo via NHL Public Relations)

On a weekend celebrating the game of hockey in the nation's capital, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk put a damper on the festivities.

Melnyk brought up the possibility of relocation, took a shot at fans and said a new downtown arena might never happen while speaking during the Senators' alumni game taking place at Parliament Hill Friday night. His comments came less than 24 hours before Ottawa hosted the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL 100 Classic, an outdoor game at Lansdowne Park marking the NHL’s 100th anniversary.

Melnyk denied rumours the team was for sale, but did insinuate relocation could be considered.

“If it doesn't look good here, it could look very, very nice somewhere else, but I'm not suggesting that right now. All I'm saying is that I would never sell the team.”

Melnyk says the constant challenge to sell tickets is frustrating. In his opinion he's spending more than enough on player salaries to make this team a worthwhile investment for fans.

“At one point one of the two have to break,” said Melnyk. “You can't keep spending at the top end and getting the lowest revenues.

“Here we're fighting everyday to sell a ticket, honest to God. When you get to the third round of the playoffs and you're begging people to buy a ticket something's wrong with that picture so we're just hoping that changes.”

Melnyk says he's running most areas of the organization on a shoestring budget and the next area to be cut could be players' salaries.

Melnyk went on to add the redevelopment of Lebreton Flats in downtown Ottawa is not a given, saying he's not convinced a downtown arena is a necessity for this franchise.

“I'm all in, but it wouldn't be a disaster for us at all if Lebreton didn't happen,” said Melnyk. “We need something to happen at one point. Something's got to break somewhere and I mean a positive break. We're just basically sitting it out, working through with the (National Capital Commission), and they've been co-operative and reasonable and we're just going to try to continue to get that completed. I don't trust anything happening our way necessarily.”

The following day, hockey commentator Don Cherry said he believes the Senators will leave the nation’s capital if the club doesn't find a way to draw more fans to their games.

The Hockey Night in Canada personality was speaking on his weekly Coach's Corner segment during the first intermission of the NHL 100 Classic game.

“If people don't show up and pack the place all the time … He's gone, Ottawa’s gone for sure, don't know where, but Quebec would be nice,” Cherry said.

Tired of seeing too many empty seats, the NHL club made the decision in the off-season to reduce capacity at Canadian Tire Centre by 1,500 to about 17,000. Rows in the upper bowl are currently covered with tarps.

“I don't blame him at all, he cannot survive with 13,000 people,'' said Cherry. “I'm not saying he should move (to downtown Ottawa) but it's too far out Kanata.”

On the ice, the Senators capped off a weekend of festivities with an impressive 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night at the NHL 100 Classic outdoor game in front of 33,959 fans at TD Place.

The temperature at puck drop was -10.8 C., and dropped throughout the game to -25 C. with wind chill, but it was an experience that won't soon be forgotten.

“I think that's the coldest I've ever been,” said Sens winger Bobby Ryan. “The fans came out and made it a heck of a night by being loud and being engaged and when the home team gets two points and the city can rally around it for a great event makes it all the better.

“It was worth every second of it. We had a blast.”

Canadiens goalie Carey Price agreed.

“The whole experience of being outdoors was special for the fans and I think it's good for the game,” he said.