By Ken Warren and James Gordon
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk can expect to hear from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. And it won’t be to talk about the weather.
Melnyk broke the NHL’s internal policy against individual team personnel speaking about the on-going NHL lockout and collective bargaining agreement negotiations during a Wednesday interview on Toronto radio station The Fan 590. Among other comments, Melnyk said, “we should be playing hockey by now. Everybody knows it, and we’re not.”
Bettman and Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, are the only two league executives who have permission to speak publicly on the lockout-related matters.
“The league has a long-standing policy against club personnel speaking on collective bargaining matters,” Daly wrote in an email to the Citizen Thursday night. “It’s a serious policy and one that is well-founded in purpose and rationale.”
Daly says, however, that the league employs “discretion” and “common sense” in determining whether specific comments cross the line. He says the league will remind Melynk of the policy, but so far, the Seantors owner has not been fined or disciplined.
“We intend to talk to Eugene and understand the circumstances and context of his comments before determining next steps which, depending on their nature, are generally maintained as internal league matters and not disclosed publicly in any event.”
In other words, if Melnyk is fined or even slapped on the wrist, it won’t be made public.
While Melnyk’s words weren’t overly controversial, he came across sounding more like a passionate hockey fan than an NHL owner. He says fans don’t want to play the blame game over the NHL lockout — they just want to see some hockey.
“I’m extremely disappointed, like any fan, of where we are,” Melnyk said. “We should be playing hockey by now. Everybody knows it, and we’re not. Everybody can fingerpoint all they want, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anybody cares who’s at fault. All they know if we’re not playing hockey, why aren’t we playing hockey?”
Melnyk was also asked about the apathy some youngsters who may not even grasp the issues behind the impasse are feeling towards the league are feeling towards the league.
“I think of these kids too, 14 and under, kind of thing, they don’t even understand the concept of what’s going on. All they know is, there’s no hockey. So it’s a huge disappointment. You know, this should not happen, but it did, and you gotta do the best you can and live with it and hopefully resolve it and get back to playing.
Melnyk also revealed he was a rabid baseball fan when he was younger, but after the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series, he was “gone.”
Now his baseball knowledge amounts to knowing “a guy named Rodriguez” and that he “makes a lot of money.
“I’m telling you, I couldn’t name another player and I don’t care.”
Major League Baseball suffered a great deal at the time and needed 10 years to get attendance back to where it was pre-strike.
As for the Winter Classic, which is expected to be cancelled Friday, Melnyk said: “Well I think it’s an important part of the game. It’s very widely, you know, it’s got a huge, huge audience. It’s extremely profitable for the NHL, which means its also profitable for everyone else. It is, you know, it has become a marquee event. It’s something that I think is very very important to everyone to promote the game everywhere. I mean, it’s a big, big deal.”
Melnyk also said he didn’t take advantage of the NHL’s window that allowed owners and general managers to talk to the players.
“Personally, I didn’t do any kind of outbound calls.”