'We will bring a winner to this city'

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Okay, first off, keep in mind Eugene Melnyk made these comments before last night's game.

The owner made them in the minutes before they dropped the puck on his Senators' home opener, which turned into an embarrassing 6-0 wipeout at the hands of the hated Toronto Maple Leafs and wound up with $11.1-million goaltender Martin Gerber banished to the end of the bench.

Melnyk put to rest rumours he has just about run out of the patience with the current Senators management regime and put them on "alert," if we can borrow a Mike Milbury favourite.

There have been rumours swirling around and a couple of references in newspapers -- without quoting Melnyk directly -- have said he's grown frustrated with the inability of his management group (president Roy Mlakar, GM John Muckler and coach Bryan Murray) to turn potential into playoff success.

This season, so the talk goes, is the last shot for this bunch to deliver the goods.

'ABSOLUTE NONSENSE'

"That's bull," said Melnyk. "I don't know where this stuff starts, that I demanded a Stanley Cup and heads will roll if we don't win it. That's absolute nonsense.

"I'll keep John Muckler around as long as he wants to be around. People talk about Bryan Murray. He's in his second year.

"For gosh sakes, give him a chance. If we have blowouts in the playoffs in the next five or six years, you look at it then.

"Do you want to win a Cup? Do you want to win the lottery or the Kentucky Derby? Of course. These guys are working 24/7 to (win a Cup). They've got my support 150,000%."

You could understand where the rumours would originate. Melnyk is said to have handed out coffee mugs before last season bearing the phrase made popular by NASA: "Failure is not an option."

It wouldn't take much of a liberal interpretation of "failure" to judge the Senators' second-round loss to the Buffalo Sabres as just that.

After that loss Melnyk, as passionate and enthusiastic as any Senators fan, was moved to write a letter, published in the daily papers as a full-page ad, pledging he and his organization would do whatever it takes to deliver a winner here.

"I guarantee that I will not rest until Ottawa becomes the hockey Mecca of the NHL," he wrote.

"I've been accused in the past of harbouring unbridled optimism, but I'll tell you this -- I always deliver."

Melnyk's unbridled enthusiasm was cranked up again before last night's game.

He said he liked the direction the team was taking under Muckler's direction. After losing franchise defenceman Zdeno Chara to free agency and having to trade flashy winger Martin Havlat because of his salary demands, Muckler added free- agent goalie Martin Gerber, defenceman Joe Corvo and traded for, among others, defenceman Tom Preissing.

"I think the three main additions make us solid all around," said Melnyk, shrugging off the loss of Chara and Havlat. "It is what it is. That's the new reality (of life under the salary cap). I think we've got a real gritty team."

Melnyk, like many Senators fans, said last night regular season success is just that: Regular.

GRITTY TEAM

"We've learned everything starts in the playoffs," he said. "Now we've got a team with grit."

Melnyk, his team and its followers had to live through another long summer after the team's elimination at the hands of the Sabres.

When asked if he had suggested to his senior hockey people that the team needed more determination and less fancy skating, Melnyk said, "I think they told me that. It doesn't take a genius to see that.

"Look at the Sabres. They didn't have any real elite players. They were a group of 20 guys who played as a team and ground it out.

"You need three or four lines, solid defence and two great goaltenders. As long as we stay away from injuries, we'll be there," he said.

And he repeated his pledge:

"We will bring a winner to this city."


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