Senators owner Melnyk cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances

Sens owner Melnyk sees reason to be hopeful

OTTAWA — It’s no surprise that following a life-saving liver transplant Eugene Melnyk has a greater appreciation for life. The Ottawa Senators owner is grateful for his second chance and plans to make the most of it.

Melnyk was in the nation’s capital Wednesday to launch his new foundation, The Organ Project, whose main initiative is to end waitlists for transplant patients. Melnyk, who received a live liver donation in May 2015, wants to take an active role in creating more awareness about organ donation.

“Being on death’s door is not a pretty sight when you’re sitting there, and you can’t do anything about getting people to donate deceased organs or even live organs until you do a public plea, and then it’s a shot in the dark,” said Melnyk. “The best way to do it is to make sure there is no lineup and that really is the objective.”

Melnyk plans to take a personal role in the new foundation while keeping a close eye on his team with the playoffs approaching. 

In the 14 years since he bought the Senators, Melnyk has only seen his team advance to the Stanley Cup final once, in 2007. Since then, Ottawa has not made it past the second round.

Entering Wednesday night’s games, the Senators (29-19-6) were tied for second place in the Atlantic Division. A post-season berth is a real possibility and Melnyk sees reason to be hopeful.

“I think now, finally, (we) have dug out of a three-year hole,” he said. “It was kind of sad. One out of three years you get into the playoffs and you get blown out and the others you don’t get in. Now it’s exciting.

“I just think we have the potential, first, of getting into the playoffs and secondly, potentially going into the second, third and even the fourth round. I think finally I’ve become optimistic cautiously.”

With the trade deadline two weeks away, the Senators are still interested in adding a few pieces. However, Melnyk said he would wait until after Saturday’s game against Toronto before sitting down with general manager Pierre Dorion to discuss how to proceed. 

“Did you see what they want for (Avs forward Matt) Duchene and stuff, oh my God,” said Melnyk. “It’s going to be silly because there’s so many competitive teams, especially in our conference. From bottom to top, even if I was at the bottom I’d still have hope. I think it will be way too expensive and we’re not going to jeopardize our future. Everyone wants our young stars and I don’t blame them.

“I think we’re going to be smart about it to build a long-term base and a long-term team, but we’re urgently wanting to win of course.”

Melnyk said he’s not opposed to bringing in a player or two, but doesn’t want to spend excessively. He added that team payroll is connected to how well the Senators can draw on home ice. 

Over 31 home games this season, the Senators have averaged 16,336 spectators at Canadian Tire Centre. That’s well below the arena’s capacity of 18,572.

“It’s a catch-22,” he said. “You need more people to come to the games to spend more to get a better team and the better your team is the more people come.”

Melnyk also said he’s hopeful an announcement regarding an outdoor game in December will be forthcoming.

“We’re done as far as the Senators are concerned, we’re all in,” he said. “We’ve made our deals. I think all the other parties, which includes the city, OSEG, the NHL they have to do their deal. That’s the only reason. We’re done. We’re in. I want to do it. I’m excited about it.”

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press