One goal. One Chris Kunitz knuckle puck over Craig Anderson’s blocker in double OT of game 7. This is how close the Ottawa Senators were from a surprise berth in the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals. Two years later, the team could not be on a more different path, poised to finish last in the league standings. Dispassionate fans, declining revenue, and the departure of star players all raise questions surrounding the franchise’s future in Ottawa.
Don Cherry, host of Hockey Night in Canada’s “Coaches Corner,” along with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, have entertained the idea of relocating the team. Were this to happen, only one location makes sense, and that is Quebec. Fans in this city long for the return of the Nordiques, and its proximity to Montreal makes for a classic, francophone rivalry.
A Gradual DeclineFor much of the 2000s, Ottawa had one of the most passionate fan bases in the NHL. Consistent playoff berths, a President’s Trophy season, and a trip to the Finals in 2007 generated excitement in the city. The Senators’ core players began leaving the team, including 17-year veteran Daniel Alfredsson, who chose to play his final season in Detroit in hopes of playoff success. The team became increasingly uncompetitive, and attendance suffered. During their heyday in the late 2000s, Ottawa averaged nearly a sellout each game in their 19,000 seat arena. According to Hockey Database, average attendance at Senators home games for 2018-19 is a paltry 14,456 fans.
Along with the team’s poor play, part of the reason for such dismal attendance may be the Canadian Tire Centre’s inconvenient location. Located in the suburb of Kanata, nearly 15 miles from downtown Ottawa, commuting to this arena is a hassle for many Senators fans. Plans to convert the LeBreton Flats area of downtown into a housing and entertainment district, along with a new arena have stalled, leaving Melnyk to pursue other plans for the Senators’ long-term future.
The RebuildOttawa’s commitment to rebuilding is evident, based on GM’s Pierre Dorion’s actions over the past two seasons. The first of such transactions involved trading defenseman Erik Karlsson to San Jose in September of 2018, in exchange for prospects and conditional first and second round picks.
The Senators also dealt forwards Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel, and Matt Duchene at this season’s trade deadline, again hoping for long-term returns in the form of draft picks and prospects. All of the aforementioned players are relatively young, with long careers ahead of them. Their trade value is high, and the draft picks gained could well pay off. However, fans do not take well to seeing their team lose, particularly after tasting playoff success just two seasons before.
Fan RelationsThe relationship between Melnyk and a large contingent of Senators fans is quite sour. Many accuse him of giving up, and responded by purchasing billboards throughout Ottawa reading #MelnykOut. They blame Melnyk for not doing enough to support the team. He has fired back at Senators fans, criticizing their weak attendance, even making a vague threat to move the team “if it becomes a disaster” during an interview with Sportsnet.
Don Cherry agrees with Melnyk, making his case for relocation during a broadcast of Coach’s Corner. With the LeBreton Flats arena plan relegated to a pipe dream, and an increasingly acrimonious relationship between ownership and fans, Melnyk may well decide to invest his time and money in a market which supports his vision.
The FutureUncharacteristically, I’m siding with Don Cherry. Both Melnyk and the fans appear unwilling to compromise on the desired direction of the franchise. Rebuilds are tough, but fans of formerly dominant teams such as the Maple Leafs and Islanders remain loyal, enduring decades of disappointment.
Should neither side be enthusiastic about the future of the Senators, there is a hockey-crazed city about five hours to the east who would welcome them with open arms: Quebec City. The city has been without a team since the Nordiques left for Colorado in 1995, leaving Canada’s second most-populous province with only one team.
The Centre Vidéotron, built in 2015, seats 18,259 and is considered state-of-the-art compared to the Nordiques’ old arena, the Colisée Pepsi. With about 800,000 residents in the metro area, Quebec City is the largest Canadian metropolis without an NHL franchise. The existing arena, coupled with Quebec’s history of producing top-notch players, makes it a slam-dunk destination for the Senators to relocate.
Although not having a team in Canada’s capital may seem odd on the surface, so does leaving a team in a city where attendance is consistently at the bottom of the league. Moving the Senators to Ottawa would restore the Canadiens-Nordiques rivalry, which was particularly heated in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and give Eugene Melnyk what he desires: a more passionate and receptive fan base. ■
Joe Banish is a die-hard Red Wings fan who lives in the pro hockey vacuum of the Pacific Northwest. He also likes beating goalies high glove side, playing basketball, and cheering on his alma mater, Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @BanishJoe.
4 thoughts on “Why the Ottawa Senators Should Move to Quebec City”
Melnyk’s biggest problem is that he isn’t as rich as he used to be. The Sens used to be a toy for him while he made his money in the pharmaceutical industry, but the tides have changed and a few bad investments have rendered his side gig (the Sens) his main source of revenue, which is unsustainable in a billionaire NHL world.
He’s thus extremely conservative in his spending, allegedly refusing to make Karlsson a $10M player. He wouldn’t be spending more in Québec, meaning he’d risk alienating a second mad-hockey fanbase…
He’s the current NHL’s version of Harold Ballard, whose refusal to spend made the Leafs the laughingstock of the 1980s.
Very interesting take on this one, Joe. But I will say that I am not on board with the team relocating to Quebec City because I don’t think that will cleanly fix the mess. If anything, it may make it worse for the franchise and that wouldn’t be fair to QC. If QC is going to get a team, it shouldn’t be a relocated one. It should be their own that they can build from the ground up, with their own ownership group, their own management team, and a plan for development from within.
Ottawa’s problem is the circus that Eugene Melnyk has allowed to develop around him by being an overbearing, warlord-type owner that can’t keep his mouth shut or face away from reporters microphones. He bumbled the “situation” with Mrs. Karlsson and Mrs. Hoffman, he refused to keep Karlsson as a Senator for life (which may have single-handedly alienated 70% of SenatorNation), he fired Guy Boucher which I didn’t think was a good move at all, he poorly handled the “Uber” incident, and worst of all, he can’t stop posturing against what he calls bush league media and imposter fans. The cherry on top is the collapse of the deal that would put the team in a location that will do exactly what he wants, put butts in chairs. It is clear that EM is the problem. Not the city/suburbs of Ottawa.
But really, what can anyone do here? You can’t force the guy to sell the team and he obviously has no interest to do so. What should happen is he eats a large slice of humble pie, fades into the background, and lets his management team take care of team operations. They are already looking for a president of hockey operations that can help out the GM and putting a “hockey guy” in there will be key. Whatever they can do to deflect responsibilities to someone not named Melnyk will do wonders for PR in the Toronto media.
When the team traded away Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Mark Stone, they made some strides to set a foundation for the future. Getting a ton of picks and a handful of young up-and-comers in return is exactly what they needed for a team that is rebuilding. In my opinion, if they stick to their development plan and EM can pull his head out of his ass and stick to the shadows, this team could return from the depths of the NHL standings basement in only a few years.
Yeah I don’t buy a lot of what your selling here.
The basic problem is ownership. Melnyk has been in a p1ssing contest with the mayor for a few years now since the mayor chose to not back his plan for redevelopment in Kanata which would include a casino.
Besides, everyone talks up the location here in Kanata as horrible. This is mainly what Melnyk wants. Everything he says publicly is essentially Kanata bad, downtown Ottawa good. I mean its not just every comment about how shitty the attendance is on an average night. Look at what he does behind the scenes people from out of town who think there is a problem with Kanata never talk about. 10 years ago parking was anywhere from $10-15. Now? $25-30. People complained about it so at the start of the season he reduced one lot from $30 to $25….it was the lot farthest away from the rink. Check out the concessions. $6 for a regular Tim’s coffee when across the rink it’s like $3. Getting a pint? Costs $12. He charged “premium” amounts for tickets for popular teams like the Leafs, Habs and Pens. Yeah we’ll all come down and get gouged, that will fill the rink! At one poine 2 years ago you could only buy tickets to “premium” teams through ticket packages of 5 games min. Which means you were buying a Pheonix in mid Feb on a Tuesday to go to your Habs game. No one bought them so he lowered it to 3 game packages and then singles by November. I like seeing the Pens and since they come one a year or so, I’ll buy 100 or 200 level tickets and treat myself. If I go with my spouse that was going to cost $500+ for tickets and then $30 for parking and then ++++ for food, etc. At the end of the day it was cheaper for me to take a friday off of work, drive down and get tickets in Pittsburgh (where I would probably rather be) along with a hotel. Seriously, who can afford to go to Sens games, much less buy season tickets when your steady being gouged? And then he wonders why he can’t fill the rink….. Common sense says he is charging too much, plus the fact that if you fill the rink by reducing ticket prices alone, you’ll make more money than charging a ton to less people. More so when these people, who live near the rink in the burbs, often have families. Kids. People who want to go to the game. But what family can afford a few hundred dollars for a treat? He simply has priced himself out of his market. Again all done on purpose to get the city to pay for a rink.
I won’t touch on personnel really, but let’s face it, the on ice product sucks because he won’t invest in quality players. New contract time? Trade him. While I think karlsson is overrated and can’t play defence, he would never pay up to keep him. That was shown when Methot wasn’t retained at the expansion draft when given the opportunity. If your not going to keep and invest in the support players a skilled offensive player like Karlsson needs to balance his game, then how is it surprising when A) team eventually sucks and B) you won’t pay to keep him. And the playoffs against the Pens two years ago is also a red herring. That was poor management. They faced a tired Pens team and pushed them sure. But they played over their heads too. There was a graphic going around at the trade deadline this year which was the team pic from that year and showing a “where are they now” approach. I think Steve Warren from TSN 1200 here had it on his twitter if I remember right. Anyway 50% of the team two years later is not in the NHL – either retired or playing in the minors/Europe. The other half is mostly playing for other teams. Shows how they overrated themselves the next season when they went all in with the Duchene deal whereas they should have stood pat.
The whole point is he wants to threaten to move the team if he can get attendance down enough so that he can force the city to pay for a new rink in LeBreton, thus raising the value of the team so he can sell it for that much more and pocket the difference. There is nothing wrong, repeat, nothing wrong with the current rink in Kanata. The rink itself is only 24 years old (barely old by most standards) and the location is only a problem from those coming in from the Quebec side and from the east end of the city. They do get a ton of people coming in from the Ottawa valley, who I guarantee (I know a lot of people in the valley who’ve told me they just won’t come) will either come less or not come at all if it gets moved downtown. I mean the fact that there will be half as much parking at a downtown location should be problematic enough, but then think about the fact that our downtown here really just sucks and is dead (meet me downtown at Sparks street at 11 pm on a typical Saturday night. Doesn’t matter where. You’ll see me since I’ll be the only one there besides you anyway). People in the burbs don’t want to go downtown since as it was mentioned, it is 15 miles.
For the most part, people who have nothing to do with Ottawa tend to be online whining about the location. But here is my challenge for you (that no one has been able to rationally explain):
Two seasons ago when the Sens almost made it to the finals, they had trouble selling throughout the season and playoffs as we all know.
In 2008 the Sens made it to the Cup finals against the Ducks. It was the height of their popularity. The 417 had 1 less lane in either direction to Kanata and no dedicated bus lane. For that matter, the bus infrastructure to the rink was only getting set up properly. Yet the team sold out every game easily.
Why? What changed?
If anything things got easier and better to come to the rink.
It’s all Melnyk trying to torpedo this team.
Should they move to QC? NO! WC should have a team. That’s a given. But we shouldn’t lose another quality Canadian market to do that. The problem here is like I said – ownership. It’s not like some of the crappy US markets that barely care about their teams (looking at your Arizona).