Eugene Melnyk was still pondering what might have been but was just as excited to think about what might be.
“Some people say that time heals all wounds, but that Game 7 loss still stings and almost reminds me of 2007,” the Senators’ owner said Monday via conference call, referring to when Ottawa lost in the Stanley Cup final to Anaheim. “It’s something you won’t forget for quite a long time, but it happened and we move on.”
Melnyk’s words were his first publicly since the New York Rangers beat Ottawa 2-1 on Thursday in the seventh and deciding game of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
Overall Melnyk felt the season was a success and said it was important to remember expectations were surpassed for a team many had predicted wouldn’t make the playoffs.
“The rights probably outnumber the wrongs 20-1 so I’m going to focus on what went right for us,” he said. “There were very few expectations that we would get to where we got.
“We are in the very first year of a rebuild and let’s call it what it is and it’s a rebuild year.”
In addition to the team’s playoff run, Melnyk was quick to point out other highlights that included captain Daniel Alfredsson scoring his 400th career goal, Chris Phillips playing in his 1,000th career game, the evolution of defenceman Erik Karlsson and Ottawa hosting a successful NHL all-star contest.
Senators’ players could also figure in a number of post-season honours. Karlsson is nominated for the Norris Trophy, Alfredsson is up for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and head coach Paul MacLean was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.
“With a list like that it’s hard for me to say there’s any disappointment at the performance of our team and the organization the past season,” said Melnyk. “It’s been a great, great year with great memories and I think it can only be better.”
Melnyk would also like to see Alfredsson back with the team next season. The Senators’ captain is contemplating retirement although he will play for Sweden at the upcoming world hockey championship.
“There’s no question we want him back,” said Melnyk, adding he’d be happy to keep the 39-year-old in the organization if he retired. “The players want him back, I want him back, the coaching staff wants him back, the fans want him back and even his kids I read want him back.
“Everyone wants him back. It’s a very personal decision at this point.”
As part of this season’s rebuild Ottawa significantly reduced its payroll, but general manager Bryan Murray has expressed a need for a stay-at-home defenceman and a scoring forward. And the Senators will likely have to dish out more to keep Karlsson, who is slated to become a restricted free agent.
“(Murray) knows what we need to work and within what numbers we need to work and I think we can still get to a point where we fulfill those needs without breaking our bank,” Melnyk said.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated Karlsson was set to become an unrestricted free agent. Instead he will be a restricted free agent.