Taking Ownership: The Worst Owners Make Losing An Art Form
It takes a lot of talent to screw up an NHL franchise in a Canadian city. But Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is up to the challenge. The Melnyk Misery Tour has reduced Ottawa to the frozen equivalent of an Albanian shoe factory.
Currently the Sens are four points clear in the Titanic Cup, my fictional award to the NHL team finishing dead last in league standings. They fired their coach Guy Boucher just days after saying he’d remain. They saw a new arena project in LeBreton Flats go flat. From Erik Karlsson to Mark Stone, they’ve systematically traded every one of their legitimate stars.
Hell, they’ve turfed Daniel Alfredsson, the nicest man in the NHL, not once but twice. And while Melnyk received a life-saving liver transplant himself, he has starved the club he owns of resources since its Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2007.
Watching Melnyk destroy the hopes of Ottawa fans underscores Dowbiggin’s Sports Law No. 1. If you ain’t got ownership you ain’t got nothin’. Having a jerk own your favourite team is like that veiled threat: Buy a ticket to our team or the puppy gets it. (Sure enough, Melnyk has threatened to move his team if fans don’t snap up ducats to the Senasnores.)
He’s not alone, of course. The ranks of Odious Owners is replete with Melnyk Wannabes. In the NHL alone there are several more owners running their clubs into the muck. While Edmonton Oilers owner Darryl Katz has not demonstrated the sociopath tendencies of Gene The Destroyer, his performance in charge of the team with the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 gets him a bust in this Salon of Shame.
While most inept owners can be characterized by megalomania, Katz appears to live in fear of the Oilers’ fabled legacy from the 1980s. With the Gretzky Group always hovering on the perimeter of the team 30 years after its dramatic 1984 Cup, Katz has never been able to get the equation right in management.
So the Oilers are headed to their thirteenth season in fourteen out of the postseason. While possessing the greatest player in the league in Connor McDavid, Katz’ Oilers are a shell team, lacking in so many areas that it boggles the mind how they squandered their top picks. But like many awful owners he threatened to leave Edmonton if he didn’t get a new arena (he did).
By contrast, the Florida Panthers franchise has been one ownership disaster after another. Currently owned by someone named Vincent Viola (who was an unsuccessful Trump cabinet candidate), the Panthers host as few as 2000 people to their BB&T arena as they steam toward another season out of the playoffs (this will make it 18 out of 20 whiffs).
A few years back the Panthers looked like they might be revived with young talent culled from so many terrible finishes. But ownership fired coach Gerard Gallant and now the team’s a retread again. Gallant, meanwhile, has alredy propelled the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to the Finals. Luckily, Panthers fans are so few the misery isn’t too much in south Florida.
Miami is the home of bad ownership. The MLB Marlins have made torturing a fan base into an art form. For years it was the dread Jeffrey Loria, destroyer of the Montreal Expos, bringing his noxious charm to the market. Loria, described as the worst owner in sports on a number of occasions, won a World Series in 2002. But any good feeling was dissipated by disassembling several promising lineups in cost-cutting deals.
Oh, yes, like all bad guys, he also threatened to move the team. He finally unloaded the Marlins on a group run by Yankees legend Derek Jeter and a money guy, Bruce Sherman. Their first act was to gut the team once more, dealing both the 2018 MVP Christian Yelich after dumping Giancarlo Stanton. One would say they broke faith with fans, except that presupposes there’s any faith to break.
Don’t get us started on the Baltimore Orioles owners, the Angelos family. Papa Peter was initially a fans’ best friend, spending hard to keep up with the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays in the AL East. But his feelings about overpaying hardened his resolve to go cheap. The O’s, once synonymous with how to build winners, now are Tanking Titans, going cheap to cash their portion of MLB’s lucrative revenues.
The dumping of 26-year-old superstar Manny Machado this year is just another heartbreaker for Baltimore’s fans. The team shows no signs of improving in the next decade unless Angelos gets more parity in the sport. Good luck on that.
There are a number of NBA owners living close to the edge in cities like Sacramento, New Orleans and Orlando. But for terrible owners, it’s hard to surpass James Dolan, owner of the iconic New York Knicks. Dolan, who’s also the indifferent owner of the NHL Rangers, has been the controlling owner since the turn of the century.
Since that time, the Knicks have squandered the advantages in their lucrative market by chasing losing propositions. The Carmelo Anthony era produced a series of postseason misses. Importing guru Phil Jackson was a similar misbegotten mess. Despite playing in a fanatical basketball market, the Knicks are so frustrating even uber-fan Spike Lee uses them as a punch line at the Oscars.
The Dolan demise culminated in him sending a blast to a lifelong fan telling him to "root for the Nets because the Knicks don't want you”. Nice touch.
Finally, the NFL Oakland Raiders have been synonymous with losing for a while, but the Cleveland Browns have truly added to the oeuvre of awful owners in the past generation. Since 2007 the Brownies under two owners have gone 45- 139.
Current ownerJimmy Haslam (2012) has been up to the Cheeseball Challenge, letting head coach Hue Jackson go 3-35-1 before firing him. He’s used 15 QBs from Johnny Manziel to Derek Anderson to DeShone Kizer to the current guy, Baker Mayfield.
Haslam’s had many problems on and off the fireld. But when he said a homeless guy had told him to draft Manziel we knew he had gone full Melnyk. And that’s the ultimate tribute you can pay to a miserable ownership.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.