Sens show Mlakar door

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

The Senators officially gave president and CEO Roy Mlakar the boot yesterday.

And both the team and the city of Ottawa are poorer because of it.

Owner Eugene Melnyk's timing couldn't have been much worse.

Less than two weeks away from the NHL draft in Montreal and already at war with No. 1 winger Dany Heatley, Melnyk informed Mlakar yesterday that his contract will not be renewed on July 1 -- a move that's been anticipated for months.

Melnyk, possibly motivated to save a front-office salary, promoted Senators COO Cyril Leeder to the role of president, while GM Bryan Murray has also been promoted to the role of VP in charge of the hockey operations. Accountant Erin Crowe completes a three-headed management team.

The decision doesn't come as a surprise because Mlakar's deal expires July 1 and he hadn't discussed a contract extension with Melnyk.

Mlakar, hired in 1996 by then-owner Rod Bryden, didn't just make an impact with ticket sales off the ice, he also played a huge role as a leader in the community with countless hours of charitable work. He told Sun Media in an e-mail he didn't want to make any comments and would discuss his situation with media at a news conference later this week.

Only two months removed from missing the post-season for the first time in 12 years and with Heatley announcing last week he wants out of Ottawa because he can't stand playing for coach Cory Clouston, the Senators look to be in a state of disarray as they head into next season.

Selling the firing of Mlakar is going to be difficult for the organization. Sure, Leeder has been with the club since Terrace Investments made a bid for the expansion franchise, but it was Mlakar who has made the Senators one of the more successful franchises financially in the NHL.

Leeder and Murray will be available at a press conference today at Scotiabank Place.

NOT A BAD WORD

Melnyk, who said in a press release that he has looked at all aspects of the organization for the last four months, had a tough time saying a bad word about Mlakar. Many NHL insiders think Melnyk's timing is "curious" and that Mlakar deserved more respect after all he had done in Ottawa.

That might be why Melnyk opted to release the news later in the day.

"Roy Mlakar's leadership over the past 13 years has been an impressive journey of achievement and success," said Melnyk in a statement. "Roy has worked in professional sports for nearly 40 years. That depth of experience and leadership, along with his constant compassion and support for Ottawa's many charitable organizations has contributed greatly to defining the Ottawa Senators and our relationship with our community and our fans.

"Roy has much to be proud of and I am grateful to have worked alongside one of North America's most accomplished sport executives. I know all of our fans will join me in thanking Roy for his many, many contributions to our community and our Senators organization."

Mlakar's firing sent shockwaves through the hockey community. Not only did Mlakar have a strong presence in his role with the Senators, he also spent countless hours helping out charities and carrying on the legacy of late Ottawa assistant coach Roger Neilson.

"We're going to miss him because he's always been such a good friend," 67's GM Brian Kilrea said last night. "Not only was he a friend personally, he was also a friend of junior hockey. This is a tough one."

Melnyk said he needed to make the move to ensure the club continues to maintain a elite level in the league.

"Returning the Stanley Cup to Ottawa remains my top priority for Senators Sports & Entertainment, but we will also continue to stay focused and work very hard at seeking out additional opportunities to invest further in Ottawa," said Melnyk.

Melnyk, who recently failed in a bid to bring an MLS expansion franchise to Ottawa, said Leeder and Co. will "be responsible for managing and more effectively integrating our current business as well as source future opportunities for growth beyond hockey."

Sounds like something Mlakar could have easily handled.


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