The other night I was hanging out with a friend of mine who is not really up on hockey. I mentioned something about the issue with Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman’s significant others, and he said, “Yeah, I saw that. What’s going on there?”
I then tried to explain to a person with little to no familiarity with the Ottawa Senators as they exist today all the ups and downs — mostly downs — the organization has gone through in the past year or so. It wasn’t easy. The number of times I had to go back and explain context for everything embarrassing about the club was substantial.
This explanation included why the team didn’t have a CEO, how Eugene Melnyk threatened to move the team before the outdoor game, the Kyle Turris saga, Randy Lee’s arrest, Daniel Alfredsson quitting his job then saying he and the mayor of Ottawa think Melnyk should sell the team, the best player in franchise history allegedly wanting out, ownership allegedly cheaping out on player contracts and front office personnel, and so on. That’s probably not even a complete inventory.
Since that conversation on Wednesday night, two new issues have somehow arisen for the organization, and boy if that doesn’t just feel appropriate at this point.
First, TSN’s James Duthie told Toronto’s TSN 1050 radio that he’s heard there may be more issues in the pipeline for the club, and they’re perhaps just waiting to see the light of day. Then TSN’s Travis Yost posted a story on his personal blog about an anonymous Twitter account that seems to show a lot of support for and knowledge of the team’s inner workings. Tough to say if these two things are connected (that is, if Duthie is referring to this Twitter account), but I’d tend to doubt it.
The former issue is, I guess, not that surprising. This is an organization that seems to be a breeding ground for the dumbest and most avoidable dramas imaginable, so if there’s more just waiting to bubble up from under the surface, the only takeaway has to be, “Well, obviously.”
The latter is more concerning because it certainly calls to mind the Bryan Colangelo saga with the Philadelphia 76ers, in which it turned out his wife likely had multiple burner accounts that used insider-type information in tweets to local fans and media. Colangelo resigned a little more than a week after an internal investigation, but not before he likely did significant damage to his team’s reputation and certainly his own. Not that I’m saying the @JimboMikeFisher account is anyone even tangentially connected to the Senators’ front office, but the question here, too, is, “Would you be even remotely surprised if it were?”
Everyone knows team executives, coaches, players, etc. use anonymous “burner” accounts — hell, isn’t that what’s at the heart of the Karlsson-Hoffman saga? — to do everything from interact with people to simply keeping tabs on what goes on with the league. It is not farfetched to imagine certain of those people going overboard with those accounts, especially where it concerns the embattled GM of an embattled organization. And just to reiterate, I’m not alleging anything about who’s behind the account and what they do or don’t know. It’s just one of those, “Ah, well that’s interesting” things for now, but certainly something to monitor.
All of which is to say that if any, what, three of the scandals that happened to this organization in the past four or five months were to happen to a bigger-name team in the NHL (I dunno, let’s say the Rangers or Penguins), or to literally any team in any other league (to pick three: the Houston Texans, the Orlando Magic, or the Detroit Tigers), it would be getting 24/7 coverage on every sports TV and radio station in the country.
Instead, the reaction seems to be, “Those wacky Senators are at it again.” That it’s a team no one really cares about too much in a fourth-place-by-a-mile league is the only thing preventing a total [crap]storm from descending upon the league and franchise.
Take the Randy Lee thing, for example. He was charged with second-degree harassment for “inappropriately touching and making lewd comments toward a hotel shuttle driver.” Publicly, it would appear as though the club has taken no action against him, and the league has so far deferred to the team itself about how to handle disciplinary issues. He’s awaiting trial — and will miss part of the draft because of it — but this is the kind of thing that would seem to lend itself to at least some punitive measures until the issue is resolved. That apparently hasn’t happened, despite Lee’s role in player development and the age of the shuttle driver in question (just 19).
That would be enough to get the media talking in any other sport, but not the Senators and not the NHL. Same with the Karlsson-Hoffman thing. It would be total front-page news if this were to happen to, say, the Milwaukee Bucks. The hockey world seems to have largely already moved on. This is also true of the owner of, say, the Kansas City Royals threatening to move if people didn’t start showing up to more games or whatever Melnyk’s beef was.
Taken collectively, though, one wonders if maybe it’s just, to quote Slap Shot, “too much too soon.” As with the Trump White House, it seems the hockey world can’t keep up with the sheer number of controversies and scandals cascading out of Kanata over the past several months. You try to adequately address any one of them and there are suddenly more developments to deal with elsewhere. And, to Duthie’s point, we might not even be done!
Maybe there’s no way for the league to come down on this. You can’t force an owner to sell a team he doesn’t want to sell, and all indications are Melnyk won’t sell until he gets an arena deal that makes the team significantly more valuable than it is right now.
But at what point does any or all of this simply stop being acceptable? The NHL has a seemingly infinite capacity to coddle even its most disfunctional and least popular franchises (see also: the Phoenix Coyotes saga of a few years ago) and can apparently withstand any amount of shame heaped on it over these deeply embarrassing issues.
The only solace anyone can take is that it’s only the Senators, and even in the in the hockey world, few feel like they’re worth paying attention to. It’s fair to say that apathy is Melnyk’s doing, and in that way he has shielded himself from criticism by lowering the expectations that this is an organization that can function in a way any other sport would see as “normal.”
The question, then, isn’t “How many more scandals before the sports world at large cares about this?” It’s, “Is there even a number that would make the sports world at large care about this?” The answer is probably no. Credit Melnyk for that.
And that should be humiliating for the team and league, but it isn’t, because no one expects any better at this point.
Pretty sad. But definitely par for the course.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.