'Back for a long time'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

TORONTO -- Senators owner Eugene Melnyk wasn't in the mood to make any bold predictions yesterday.

As his team prepared for its season opener at the Air Canada Centre yesterday, Melnyk was down the street trying to temper down the massive expectations the Senators are facing.

Melnyk, who declared the Senators would "kill" the Leafs before Game 7 of their playoff series in 2004 -- a game Ottawa lost -- chose his words more carefully yesterday during a press conference on the campus of St. Joseph's Health Centre. Right now, all he wants is a playoff spot.

"I would love to win the Stanley Cup," said Melnyk, who made a $5 million donation to the hospital for the Vera and Ferdinand Melnyk Pavilion. "To say I expect it ... Well, we haven't even started the season yet. Let's see how we perform.

"We are just starting the season off and I don't want to predict anything until we get on the ice and, specifically, into the playoffs. I think we've got a great team. We've got all the people put in place and I don't think we've got any weaknesses. I think we've got strength at all positions and we're going to be competitive. That's all I ask."

MISSED HOCKEY

Melnyk, who'll be in Ottawa for Saturday's home opener against the Buffalo Sabres, said the lockout year wasn't easy on him. He missed Hockey Night in Canada so much that, at one point, he watched all eight games of the 1972 Summit Series on DVD.

"It was probably one of the most bizarre years last year and very unnatural after spending the better part of 40 years getting used to watching hockey on Saturday night," said Melnyk. "It throws you completely off. Certainly, like any other fan, it was very frustrating.

"We're back and we're back for a long time. I think, specifically for the fans in Ottawa, this is important. These fans have been put through a lot with the financial uncertainty, the bankruptcy (in 2003) and potentially moving, then there's a (lockout) ... If these fans come back the way they expect we will, they have got to be the most loyal fans after the adversity they've gone through in the last five years."

He remains bullish about the Battle of Ontario, despite all the trouble his club has had beating the Leafs in the playoffs.

"This is the best thing for hockey," said Melnyk. "If this were baseball, this would be Boston and the Yankees. This has turned into a big thing in Ottawa and I know it is a huge thing in Toronto."

Melnyk, whose team has a $34.9 million payroll and who won't make money unless it wins the Cup, doesn't mind all the experts picking the Senators to grab the Cup. But he's maintaining an underdog attitude.

"The Senators, since their inception, have been underdogs," said Melnyk. "They've always had a (self-imposed) financial salary cap, so they've had to work in a system that made them actual underdogs. They couldn't spend $60-or-$70 million on salaries. To the average fan, they were a small market that was financially strained.

"But they did it by being smart, drafting wisely and bringing up their players. Even now we've got four or five elite players that we want to keep over the next several years and we have to come up with strategies on how to try to keep them.

"That's a whole new game for us."

Melnyk isn't convinced this will be the club's last chance to win a Cup if guys like Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden become unrestricted free agents this year. But he likes their chances this season.

"We have 'The Dominator' in goal, the terminators on defence and a group of predators up front," said Melnyk. "It almost sounds like a sci-fi movie. That's the team we have. Hopefully, we have a happy ending."


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