Despite seeing his team underachieve on the ice all season, Ottawa Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk is dismissing the suggestion that the team needs major lineup surgery in order to compete.
"Anybody that says we should blow up this organization should get their own bomb and go blow themselves up," Melnyk said at a press conference on Wednesday. "This is not an organization that is completely crippled. It needs fine tuning, it needs some tweaking, it needs a player here, a player there, a few good bounces and that's it. But we are nowhere near that type of environment."
The Senators, who currently sit 13th in the Eastern Conference, 13 points out of the final playoff spot, have been a big disappointment this season. Despite an off-season purge that saw the team jettison long-time Senators Ray Emery and Wade Redden, Ottawa was still expected by many to compete for the Northeast Division title. The team has struggled mightily, however, and sits dead last in the league in goals scored with 109.
There have been suggestions in the media and from the team's fan base to fire both general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Craig Hartsburg, who signed a three-year contract prior to the season. When Melnyk was seen celebrating with Pat Quinn following Canada's gold medal performance at the World Junior Hockey Championship in the nation's capital in early January, it appeared that the writing was on the wall. Melnyk vehemently denied rumours he was pursuing Quinn, but admits that things have not gone as well as planned this year.
"This has not been the season we had all hoped to have," Melnyk stated. "We had great high expectations but it's not over 'til it's over.
"I still continue to believe in our players, our organization and our staff. You can mark my words - things are going to get better."
Melnyk said he would continue to leave hockey decisions in the hands of the hockey people as the Senators continue to pursue a winning formula - unless the losing continues.
"As far as I'm concerned right now we are at a crossroads," Melnyk said. "This is it. We have to win 26-27 games. It's got to be done and if it's not done, well, we will have to deal with it."
While Melnyk says the team won't throw in the towel until they are mathematically eliminated from contention, it has become apparent with recent moves that the Sens are looking towards the future. Rookie goaltender Brian Elliot was recalled from Binghamton earlier in the month and has been given the lion's share of starts. Former starting goalkeeper Martin Gerber was sent to the AHL for a conditioning stint before being placed on waivers, and the team is now looking for a way to get Gerber's contract off the books.
Despite the odds that are stacked against them, Melnyk says he still believes the team has the right pieces to compete.
"I have hope in this team and optimism in this team and I know what we can do," said Melnyk. "I know we have the talent, it's just putting it all together. We have seven points in the last five games - that's a start."
All the momentum that the team had, though, may have disappeared following Tuesday night's 4-1 thumping at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
"We know what we have to do - we've got to win 26-27 games with 37 games (remaining) - I think that's what the number is, 37 games left. Can it be done? Yes, absolutely," said Melnyk. "If we get on a roll it can be done.
"If we can get the momentum, if we can get players working hard and everything clicking our way it can happen. I still am very optimistic it can be done.
The Senators will attempt to kickstart their second-half surge Thursday night in St. Louis against the Western Conference cellar-dwellers, the Blues. The game will be a chance for the team to justify their owner's faith.
"The excuses are over," Melnyk said. "We are down to the stretch run. This is the time it's either going to happen or it's not."