Op-ed: Sens sale is a lot bigger than hockey

Photo of a crowd cheering during an Ottawa Senators game w Andlauer

Love or hate professional sports, you cannot deny the ability of a sports team to energize and galvanize a city.

When the Ottawa Senators went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007, the city had a full-blown case of hockey playoff fever. Thousands of cars were adorned with mini-flags. The ByWard Market and Elgin Street were jam-packed with hopeful fans transfixed by live sports broadcasts. Suburban shopping centres set up giant screens in parking lots for families to cheer on their home team. Businesses had a hard time keeping employees focused, the same with schools and students. Frankly, I struggled to think of anything other than the upcoming hockey game. It was all-consuming. It was hockey madness.

Non-sports fans will brush this off as silliness, a waste of time, a distraction from far more important matters.

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But what if a hockey team could accomplish something far greater than a “here today, gone tomorrow” championship run? What if a sports franchise could challenge a city to rethink its aspirations?


Let’s give Eugene Melnyk full credit for stepping up, purchasing an insolvent franchise and sticking with it for nearly 20 years. Kudos to him.

At the same time, let’s acknowledge that his ownership fell short in many ways. His financial situation put the franchise in a bind, his relationship with local fans (and business owners) was shaky at best and he didn’t fulfill the vision of a downtown stadium.

The sale of the Senators is an unprecedented opportunity in the hands of the right ownership group.

Consider the fairytale story of Ryan Reynolds and Wrexham United in the Ottawa context: Hollywood stardom and billion-dollar bank accounts meet an underperforming franchise in a relatively small city that is looking to redefine itself.


This is about more than the sale of an NHL team. It’s Ottawa’s best chance to address two giant challenges: rebuilding the long-abandoned neighbourhood at LeBreton Flats and laying the cornerstone for a plan to rejuvenate Ottawa’s entire downtown core.

Again, whether you’re a sports fan or not, recognize that a downtown stadium at LeBreton Flats is the spark this redevelopment project needs. Yes, we want greenspace and affordable housing and social services and cycling trails, but a world-class sports and entertainment centre is key to making this a vibrant gathering space for generations to come.

Let’s recognize this is a unique moment in time for Ottawa.

Any astute sports fan will tell you that an ascending sports team in pursuit of a championship has a very narrow window to succeed. Here today, gone tomorrow.

With an ownership dream team almost in place, political, government and business leaders should take careful yet swift action to realize a vision that benefits the entire city. Let’s not let this slip from our grasp.

Michael Curran is the publisher of OBJ.

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