The life and times of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk

Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the Ottawa Senators who died of an undisclosed illness on March 28 at the age of 62, was born in Canada to Ukrainian parents. The founder of a major pharmaceutical company, he was best known for his controversial ownership of the Ottawa Senators – credited with saving them, but also unpopular with fans in later years.

A resident of Barbados, Melnyk was ranked among the richest people in Canada by Canadian Business in 2017, with a net worth of over $1 billion.

Melnyk was both outspoken and at times private, and his history with the Senators was marked by controversy, as were some of his business dealings.

Former Toronto Star sportswriter and current contributor Damien Cox said unlike many other NHL owners, Melnyk was never afraid to call in for an interview — he was talking about a big game and was struggling for the team.

Although he got a good deal with the team on the verge of bankruptcy, it wasn’t just a business decision for Melnyk, Cox said.

“There was no one who was a bigger fan of the (Senators) than Eugene,” Cox said. “He would do what he could to protect the team.”

But while Melnyk likely saved the Senators from bankruptcy, over the years his actions combined with a series of contentious trades – likely prompted by the team’s financial troubles – have brought Melnyk out of favor with fans. Cox said.

Now, the Senators’ future is in question, Cox said — they’re once again a struggling team, with game attendance at pre-pandemic levels.

Just a few years ago, Ottawa Senators fans wanted Melnyk out. Now they will find out what it really means for the team.

Here’s a look back at Melnyk’s greatest moments.

Melnyk buys struggling Senators

In 2003, the Ottawa Senators were on the verge of bankruptcy when Melnyk took over and purchased the team and arena for $92 million (US). The arena, known as the Corel Center at the time, is now the Canadian Tire Centre.

This wasn’t Melnyk’s first foray into hockey team ownership. The founder and CEO of Biovail Corp. Pharmaceuticals also brought the Belleville Senators as an AHL affiliate team and owned the Mississauga IceDogs between 2006 and 2007. However, its first purchase in 2001 was the St. Michael’s Majors, a Hockey League team of Ontario. who played in the arena at St. Michael’s College School, his former school.

Broadcaster Roger Lajoie, a longtime friend and marketing director for the Ottawa Senators, met Melnyk when he rushed to buy the St. Michael’s Majors. Lajoie first spoke with Melnyk when he called from a private plane, Lajoie recalled.

“He lived like a billionaire,” Lajoie said, adding that he met Melnyk in person at a game, where the friendly business mogul wore jeans and a St. Michael’s jacket.

Senators in Stanley Cup Final

Just four years after Melnyk bought the beleaguered team, the Ottawa Senators qualified for the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2006-07 season – the first and so far only appearance since the team joined the NHL in 1992 (the original Senators team was founded in 1883 and won 11 Stanley Cups).

Game 3 was the first Stanley Cup Final played in Ottawa in 80 years and the team’s first and only victory in the Finals, 5–3. The Anaheim Ducks beat the Senators to win the Cup in Game 5.

Prior to buying the Senators, Melnyk was a season ticket holder with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a fact many forget, Lajoie said. When Melnyk bought the Senators, he got rid of that coat and became a Senators fan for life.

“He was the king of Ottawa. He was the savior of the franchise,” Lajoie said.

Melnyk sells shares in a pharmaceutical company that has earned him millions

Melnyk sold his shares in 2010, just a few years after retiring as president of the company. He founded the company in 1989, and at one time it was the largest pharmaceutical company in Canada. The Wellbutrin XL antidepressant was one of his best-selling drugs.

In 2007, after being accused of failing to file trading reports and other disclosures related to offshore accounts, Melnyk was fined $1 million (CAN) by the Securities Commission of Ontario and banned from being a director of Biovail for one year.

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission sued Biovail in 2008, alleging it misled investors. The company settled for 10 million dollars (US).

In 2009, the company admitted to violating Ontario securities law, in a settlement with the Commission over allegations of misrepresented financial statements several years earlier.

In 2011, the Ontario Securities Commission fined Melnyk and banned him for five years from holding executive positions in public companies in Canada.

Melnyk asks the public for a liver and gets one

At 55, Melnyk was battling liver complications and needed a transplant, but struggled to find a match in part because of his rare blood type. The senators released a statement in May 2015 calling on members of the public to fill out a form in an attempt to find a compatible donor, a move that was ultimately successful.

It was also controversial, as many criticized Melnyk for using his privileged stature to essentially skip the donor line. Melnyk then started a foundation to advocate for organ donation called The Organ Project.

Fans launch campaign to remove Melnyk

Few sports team owners can say their fans raised thousands of dollars for a campaign to get rid of them. But Melnyk could.

In 2017, Melnyk said he would consider relocating the Senators franchise if fan attendance at games did not improve. The comment sparked a backlash on social media and led one fan to start the hashtag #MelnykOut in December 2017.

In 2018, Ottawa Senators fans raised enough money to put up several billboards urging Melnyk to sell the team, after a series of controversial trades that saw Kyle Turris and several other key players leave. , as well as the comment on the reinstallation.

On the GoFundMe page for Billboards, fan Spencer Callaghan wrote: “Eugene Melnyk has decided he’d rather tear the team apart and sell it for spares than admit he can’t take it anymore. make it work effectively Senators fans and the City of Ottawa must come together to save a pillar of this community.

After months of speculation, captain Erik Karlsson has also been traded, as part of Melnyk’s efforts to “rebuild” the team.

As is often the case, Melnyk was as hated for the team’s struggles as he was loved for his successes.

“That’s why I think so many successful business people are drawn to sports…it’s the bottom line,” Lajoie said.

“When you win, you are loved. And when you’re not, not so much.

But for Lajoie, it’s all about the record as hockey fans remember Melnyk after his passing.

“It’s a Canadian success story,” said Lajoie. “There will be better days ahead for this team thanks to some of the things he has done.”

Ottawa development fails

A proposal by Rendezvous LeBreton, which was a partnership between the Ottawa Senators and Trinity Developments, was chosen by the National Capital Commission in 2016 to redevelop a strip of land near downtown Ottawa known as of LeBreton Flats.

The mixed-use plan would have included a new arena for the Senators, bringing their arena significantly closer to downtown.

However, despite reaching an agreement for the development in 2018, the NCC canceled the project soon after due to a dispute between plan partners; Melnyk eventually sued Trinity Development Group, blaming the failed development on Trinity and alleging a conflict of interest. Trinity filed a countersuit, claiming Melnyk was trying to get a new arena for the cash-strapped team paid for by Trinity or the City of Ottawa.

Melnyk donates large sums to a wide range of charities

Melnyk was involved in a wide range of charities. He has donated large sums to children’s benefit organizations, health organizations, his alma mater St. Michael’s College School and more. In 2014, he led a campaign to boycott the sponsors of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in an attempt to kick it out of Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Lajoie said he would like Melnyk to be here in the months and years to come to see the fruits of his efforts to rebuild the Senators.

“Any future success for the Ottawa Senators will always be thanks to Mr. Melnyk,” he said.

“Eugene… was the eternal optimist. And I think that optimism is contagious within our organization.

With files from The Canadian Press, Braydon Holmyard, Tara Deschamps


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