Leeder of the pack

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

At Scotiabank Place, the employees are now playing follow the Leeder.

In an upper management shuffle that began with the confirmation of president/CEO Roy Mlakar's release, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk gave the green light for his three top executives to hold a press conference yesterday.

Replacing Mlakar at the top of the organization will be Cyril Leeder, who along with Bruce Firestone and Randy Sexton helped bring the Senators back to the NHL in 1992.

Erin Crowe will have the responsibilities of executive vice-president added to her role as CFO, while Bryan Murray gets the executive vice-president title added to a nameplate that already has him the team's GM.

Conspicuously, Melnyk was not in attendance.

"I don't think I ever aspired to do anything more than I was doing," said Leeder, who has been with the organization since its inception and the COO of the Senators and Scotiabank Place since 2002. "I feel very fortunate and grateful Eugene would show that confidence in me."

While Mlakar was lauded for the great job he has done the past 13 years as head of the Senators, it was left to Leeder to answer why "The Bald Wayne Gretzky" was let go. Leeder referred to a vague statement released by Melnyk a day earlier.

He also said that the organization would have 50-70 more employees had Melnyk been successful in getting the city's support for his Major League Soccer team and a new stadium.

"He's a very loyal guy, Eugene," said Leeder. "This is something he agonized over for a very long time. When it came down to it, there was a number of factors that kind of went into the decision making.

"If we had the MLS team, and a stadium and a lot of what ifs, our organization would look a whole lot differently than it does now, in terms of body count. Our executive suite would be different."

Leeder said that externally, little will change with the way the Senators are run.

"My personality is different (than Mlakar's)," he said. Roy really is a people person, where I'm more of a collegial, try-to-work with people, bit of a numbers guy.

"The main change is really on sort of the community side, the public side of the franchise. I've had all the business lines reporting to me over the last five years, so that doesn't change. I'll now be a representative as an alternate governor at league meetings ... and do more of these. Instead of being a behind-the-scenes guy, I'll change that a bit. I'll be more front and centre when I need to be, on behalf of the organization."

Numbers that will concern the new execs are season ticket sales. Leeder said the renewal rate is at 6,000 -- under 60% of last year's total. There's no real concern yet -- fans have until September to sign up again, but the goal is to make it back to the 9,000-10,000 neighbourhood.

"I think we're in reasonably good shape from a business perspective, given where the economy has been," said Leeder, a Brockville native. "We're not on pace to where we were last year, but we're in a spot where we're reasonably comfortable that we'll get to our objectives for the year."

Crowe, who has been the organization's CFO since 2003, has been a Senators employee since 1996. She was born in Ottawa and went to Queen's University, where she graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree.

"We're certainly aware there are current economic difficulties out there, we're facing difficult times, some fluctuations in the Canadian dollar that certainly impact our business," said Crowe, one of only a handful of females who are top execs with NHL teams. "I'm definitely honoured and I'm glad Eugene showed this confidence in me.

Other than a longer title, Murray's responsibilities remain the same.

"My role really hasn't changed at all," he said. "What I am is the hockey guy. My responsibility will be to continue to try and have a very competitive hockey team in this town. We will do that to the best of our abilities."


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