Melnyk keeps the faith

GM John Muckler has taken plenty of heat from fans upset about the Sens' slow start, but team owner...

GM John Muckler has taken plenty of heat from fans upset about the Sens' slow start, but team owner Eugene Melnyk insisted yesterday he's still happy with Muckler and coach Bryan Murray. (Ottawa Sun/Sean Kilpatrick)

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

NEW YORK -- If I remember this right, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said at the beginning of the season he backed general manager John Muckler "150%."

In a pre-emptive strike yesterday to quell the rising crop of rumours and speculation that have sprung from the barren ground of his club's 7-10-1 start, he said he had 150% confidence in his management team.

Hmmm.

At that rate, all these guys are going to be gone by Christmas.

Okay, so maybe that's being a bit flippant in what is a very serious situation in the minds of many -- not the least of which is Mr. Melnyk himself, who threw his support behind his embattled GM and the rest of his hockey operation.

Things had really started to spiral to new levels of breathless anticipation the last couple of days with the arrival on this trip of Sheldon Plener, a lawyer and advisor to Melnyk.

Depending on the source, Plener is either:

a) Saving the company some money by hitching a ride in a free seat on the club's charter here from Buffalo for meetings, or;

b) Razing the entire hockey department and bringing in Bob Nicholson, Pat Quinn and Ken Hitchcock.

Melnyk said he felt he had to speak up, even if it's just to figuratively grab the media and do the ageless dance that these situations ultimately demand.

"It's unusual for me to make these types of calls, but when you start reading and listening to all the stories about the potential personnel changes and me looking at firing this person or that person, or any kind of wholesale changes, I kind of feel like I'm being painted as the angel of death or something," said Melnyk.

"The main thing I want to get across to everyone today because of the rumours and speculation, the most important thing to me, is a message to everyone that I have absolute, 150% confidence in our current management team, our coaching staff and our GM, John Muckler."

Melnyk told everybody to take a deep breath.

He's glad Senators fans are upset because that shows their passion and he'd be worried if Phil From Kanata wasn't burying the post-game show under an avalanche of irate e-mails.

"I sit there side by side with them and sweat it out as well," he said.

Now is not the time for rash decisions, he said.

He calmly assured his audience he believes better days are ahead.

"I look at this almost as a horse race. Nobody remembers who's first going around the first turn in the Kentucky Derby, but everybody remembers who crossed the finish line first," he said. "What we're looking at is a winning hockey club that's getting itself together and I believe that six months from now, we will be standing there and there's going to be 29 other clubs that aren't.

"You become impatient at a certain point in time but right now, it's just not the time. I hope we don't ever get there. I have confidence we're not even going to get to that point. Is there tweaking that John might engage in at some at some point? Maybe. I personally believe we're never going to be at the stage where we have to start making any kind of major changes," said Melnyk.

"I can't think of a time point right now or a box score or a win-loss column that to me right this second, I'd say okay, that's my time point, I've got to start really digging into this. You look at (Wednesday's) game (a 4-2 win over the first-place Buffalo Sabres) and you say hey, you know what? For all we know, we could go into a huge winning streak and watch how quickly everybody forgets these first 18 games."

He sidestepped questions about extending the contract of coach Bryan Murray, who's in the last year of his deal, saying it was Muckler's call. He said he didn't know about accusations the Senators had the "firemuckler.com" website shut down, but was starting to look into it.

He probably went a bit far in saying he would trade his Senators roster for any in the league because there might be a few teams out there (Buffalo, Carolina, Anaheim) that even Senators fans would consider superior.

If anything, a statement like that does a disservice to the very hockey people he was trying to defend yesterday because it helps create unrealistic expectations.

Apart from that, Melnyk did the dance pretty well yesterday, but the inevitable truth is if the Senators continue to win at a rate of seven of 18 games, people will be changing addresses.

That is the way it is and even the people in the hotseats know that.

I believe that 150%.


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