Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk dead at 62
Longtime Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has died at age 62.
Melnyk passed away on Monday after an illness he faced "with determination and courage," the Senators said in a statement late Monday night. The team said he died peacefully surrounded by his family.
Melnyk bought the Senators out of bankruptcy in 2003, along with the team’s home arena in Kanata. The team played in the 2007 Stanley Cup finals and the Eastern Conference finals in 2017 under his ownership.
An emotional Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, speaking at the NHL GM meetings in Florida, said Melnyk made a commitment to the city of Ottawa to build a winner.
"He’s someone that brought stability to the Ottawa Senators franchise,” Dorion said. “If not for Eugene Melnyk, the Senators would not be in Ottawa.”
Dorion said one of the saddest parts of Melnyk's death is he won't get to see the results of the rebuild the team embarked upon beginning in 2018.
"He'll be missed dearly. We started something together, and we're going to finish it," Dorion said. "I want to promise the fans in Ottawa that we will deliver a Stanley Cup one day."
The team did not specify the illness Melnyk was battling. Flags are flying at half-staff outside the Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday.
“Eugene never wavered in his desire and commitment to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation's capital,” the team said in the statement. “Eugene was confident the current team of talented players and coaching staff that he and his organization built will challenge for and eventually deliver on that championship promise.”
Team captain Brady Tkachuk said Melnyk's biggest goal was to bring a Stanley Cup to Ottawa, a goal the team will now try to honour him by fulfilling.
“He gave us the opportunity to be in Ottawa and play for a great city and the great people there,” Tkachuk told reporters in Nashville Tuesday. “It’s definitely a really sad day.”
Condolences began pouring in Monday night for his two daughters, extended family and the Senators organization.
"The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "The words ‘passion’ and ‘commitment’ define the man who has owned the Ottawa Senators since 2003.
"Whether it was in the boardroom with his fellow governors, at the rink with his beloved Senators or in the community with his philanthropy, he cared deeply about the game, about his team and about bettering the lives of those in need."
Bettman spoke with reporters Tuesday and said Melnyk was a respected voice on the NHL's Board of Governors, calling his death a big loss.
"He was occasionally controversial in the media, but that was something we admired and respected about him. And he will be missed, there’s no question about that."
Bettman said he has been in touch with the executor of Melnyk's estate and the franchise will run "in the ordinary course."
"Beyond that, all the issues in terms of what the future looks like ... those are questions that will get dealt with over time, particularly by his daughters Anna and Olivia and by his executor."
Former Senators forward Chris Neil spoke of Melnyk’s generosity.
When Neil’s mother passed away, he said Melnyk flew up from Barbados, picked up Neil, five of his teammates and other Senators brass, and flew them to the funeral.
“That’s the type of guy he is. He picks people up when they need it, and he did that for me.”
Senators coach D.J. Smith also highlighted Melnyk's passion.
“Passion to win the Stanley Cup at all costs. Didn’t care what anyone thought about how we went about it. He just knew how to get to it. And I think we will fulfill that dream for him," Smith said.
Many fans tweeted their appreciation that Melnyk stepped in to buy the team in 2003, which kept them in Ottawa amid an uncertain future. Mayor Jim Watson, with whom Melnyk sometimes clashed about city-building matters, highlighted that in a statement on Twitter.
"While we didn't always see eye to eye on some issues, I was always appreciative that Mr. Melnyk stepped forward to keep the Senators in Ottawa, solidifying the organization's place as an integral part of our city," Watson said Tuesday morning. "My sincere condolences go out to his family and colleagues."
Other NHL owners and teams also sent condolences.
Melnyk was a Toronto native born to parents from Ukraine. He was an avid supporter of the Canadian military and a philanthropist who supported numerous causes. The Senators' charity invested more than $100 million in organizations that support children and youth across the region.
The resident of Barbados was also a successful horse racing breeder who won many of the sport’s biggest prizes. He made his fortune in the pharmaceutical industry as the founder and CEO of Biovail Corporation.
Melnyk had a liver transplant in 2015 after the team ran a public campaign for a donor. Afterwards, he started an organization dedicated to raising awareness for organ donation.
Local politicians also paid tribute Monday night, with Coun. Diane Deans tweeting she was "very saddened" to hear the news.
"Thank you Eugene for being a difference maker in the City of Ottawa," she wrote. "Sincere condolences to your daughters and family. You have left us far too soon."