End of an era as Melnyk passes away
In a very large way, Eugene Melnyk saved Ottawa from losing its National Hockey League team nearly 20 years ago.
The sometimes controversial Senators owner passed away on Monday at the age of 62 after battling what was reported to be a lengthy illness. Melnyk received a liver transplant back in 2015 following a public plea to find a donor, but there was no early word on whether there was a connection.
It was many years prior when the Toronto native saved the Senators from bankruptcy, purchasing the club in 2003. Four years after the purchase, Melnyk watched as his team skated to the 2007 Stanley Cup final, only to lose in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.
“It is with great sadness that the family of Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators hockey organization announce his passing on March 28, 2022, after an illness he faced with determination and courage,” the organization wrote in a statement.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement late Monday.
“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. The words ‘passion’ and ‘commitment’ define the man who has owned the Ottawa Senators since 2003. Whether it was in the boardroom with his fellow governors, at the rink with his beloved Senators or in the community with his philanthropy, he cared deeply about the game, about his team and about bettering the lives of those in need, particularly underserved children, organ donation and, most recently, with his commitment to his parents’ home country of Ukraine,” said Bettman.
Senators' current captain Brady Tkachuk took to Twitter to express his condolences.
“Mr. Melnyk provided me, my teammates, and many Sens players who came before us with an opportunity to live out our dream. The Ottawa community will miss you greatly. Condolences to your family.”
Melnyk leaves as owner, chair and governor of the hockey team. He also held a successful hand in the world of horse racing and was named Canada’s top owner on two occasions and was named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2017.
Melnyk’s final years with the Senators were marked by controversy. He was a frequent target of a fan base which grew frustrated with team management’s propensity for trading away organizational staples like Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone in their prime years.
Seemingly veiled threats of eventually moving the team if Ottawa ticket-buyers didn’t step up also lit a fuse under the fan base.
A proposal for a new arena and entertainment complex built on LeBreton Flats fell apart in 2018, much of which was blamed on the Senators’ owner and prompted a fan outburst sporting the hashtag #MelnykOut.
Still, Melnyk continuously displayed an optimistic approach toward the product on the ice.
“We’re building for something,” he said to NHL.com, nearly two years ago. “We’re focused on a plan that we’ll win a Stanley Cup. That’s the long game. And that’s the long game I’m playing. I committed to playing that play three years ago.”
“I think history will show that this was a plan that was put together that has never been done before. Nobody’s ever trashed a team like we have. (We) cut our top six guys. Do that to any team and see what happens to them.”
Photo: Courtesy Sportsnet.ca