One-on-one with Melnyk

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Eugene Melnyk can't wait for tomorrow's opener against the New York Rangers. Missing the playoffs had made the Senators owner very antsy.

"It's been 175 days since we played our last game, but who's counting, right?" said Melnyk with a laugh in a telephone interview from his Barbados office. "You talk about painful experiences. To wait six months, it's almost tougher than the lockout. It was just a very, very, very long summer."

But Melnyk, who will attend Tuesday's road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the home opener vs. the New York Islanders Thursday, is thrilled the off-season is over.

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with Sun Media, Melnyk talked about his expectations, coach Cory Clouston, the changes made by GM Bryan Murray and the club's season-ticket numbers.

Getting to the playoffs

"There's no question in my mind (the Senators will get back to the playoffs). Depending on where we end up in the standings, I think this team can go a long way. It all goes back to what happens with potential injuries and that we don't have any type of meltdowns anywhere. With seven new players -- each one of them can contribute in a different way. If they just play up to their potential, this is a tough, tough team and people are going to learn that very quickly."

Off-season changes

"If you go back since I bought the team, we've never had a top-flight goalie. Pascal Leclaire can be one of the top goalies in the league. He can't wait to play. You've got (Alexei) Kovalev and he can do anything. You've got guys like Peter Regin and (Erik) Karlsson, who is out to prove he can play in the league. He's a rookie, but he's very skilled. (Milan) Michalek is a big hopeful for 25 or 30 goals. As long as we stay healthy and everybody plays up to their potential, we can go very deep in the playoffs."

Cory Clouston

"He's a no-nonsense guy. He will mentor and be patient, but he does have an edge to him that I've seen. He might come across as a nice guy and everything else, but let me tell you, I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of him."

Season-ticket sales

"People are going to see what this team is all about. We've got 16 home games in October and November and that's okay because I think you'll see very quickly the sellouts that we used to have. Summer is over. Hockey is back and it won't take people long to get back into it. It's not easy (to sell tickets), but it's still not bad. We've got 10,000 season-ticket holders and we had 11,500 last year. This whole Heatley affair hurt our ticket sales because nobody was sure what kind of team you're going to have. Plus, you don't make the playoffs, and if you go deep into the playoffs that's your biggest selling feature. We kept our prices the same as last year. People will realize there are no distractions and this team is going to be fun to watch."

Total package

"A lot of work has been done in the last five months to build this team back to where the people in Ottawa expect it to be. I expect a winner and I'm the No. 1 fan. I'm not just 'Mr. Optimist.' We have virtually every single piece in place. We've got grit, we've got speed, we've got goaltending, we've got defence. Some nights we'll be explosive and other nights we'll be tough. Even having Kovalev is going to help us get points just with his shootout skills. How many games did we lose last year by not winning shootouts?"

Big expectations

"In a small regional market, we are spending up with the big boys. There are no excuses for not having a playoff team. I can see if we cut $10 million off the (salary) cap, then you can have an excuse. I'm taking the position by putting down the full cap (of $56.7 million), that will translate into fan excitement, fan attendance and getting back to the old days of having people walking around with a big swagger."

The captain

"He is the role model that every single hockey player or role model that people should look up to. People should want to be like Daniel Alfredsson in every respect. He's not only a great player, he's a great team leader, a good person. I've got nothing but good things to say about Daniel Alfredsson."


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