SUN Hockey Pool

Melnyk: It's got to change

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has thrown his support behind the NHL lockout. Speaking yesterday for the first time since NHL commissioner Gary Bettman imposed the lockout on Sept. 15, Melnyk declared he backs the decision fully.

The Senators owner told a Toronto radio station yesterday that the system is "broken," claimed the lockout could be long and warned the players they should believe reports NHL teams were losing millions under the expired CBA.

"We can't continue to operate the way we have. The owners have lost a lot of money and I don't know if people are choosing not to believe the numbers, but I have seen them and I can tell you they are very real," said Melnyk.

"We got the operating reports of every team in the league and I know what the numbers are. The system is broke and it's got to be fixed for the long-term good of hockey. I can tell you that the days of owners signing players to $10-$15 million contracts have disappeared."

COULD BE A LONG ONE

Melnyk was made aware of the situation with the CBA when he decided to buy the bankrupt Senators from Rod Bryden in 2003. Like all other owners, Melnyk was asked to put $10 million US into a league lockout fund.

He attended the NHL board of governors meeting in New York last Wednesday and was impressed by the owners' resolve.

"This could be a long lockout," said Melnyk. "It's tough for me to say how long it might be. A lot of the owners are like me, they're hockey fans. Most of them aren't in this to try to make money. They just want to break even. Most owners have a secondary business to support the team.

"They're going to do whatever they need to do in this situation. You had 30 owners all looking at the same numbers and it was quite depressing. The league has been working on trying to change this for the last five years. It's got to change. I know the league is going to try its best to get an agreement in place. Until then, there's nothing we can do."

Melnyk said the owners are getting plenty of support from fans.

'CAN'T FOOL THE PEOPLE'

"I sense (the support)," said Melnyk. "I get e-mails from fans in Ottawa and letters that do recognize the system is broken. Fans are intelligent enough to realize the difference between a player making an average salary of $1.8 million and $1.3 million that we've been offering.

"They understand. You can't fool the people."

The biggest challenge for Melnyk: Finding ways to spend his Saturday nights at his home in Barbados.

"This is a really rough time for all of us," said Melnyk. "I'm a hockey fan first and I'm wondering what I'm going to do on Saturday nights. That's a staple in my home: Turning on Hockey Night in Canada and watching the game."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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