Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has died at the age of 62, the team announced Monday.
“It is with great sadness that the family of Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators hockey organization announce his passing on March 28, 2022 after an illness he faced with determination and courage,” the Senators said.
The team did not provide the specifics of the illness. In 2015, Melnyk underwent a liver transplant following a public campaign to find a living donor.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement that Melnyk “cared deeply about the game, about his team and about bettering the lives of those in need, particularly underserved children, organ donation and, most recently, with his commitment to his parents’ home country of Ukraine.”
“On behalf of the entire National Hockey League, I extend my deepest sympathies to Eugene’s daughters, Anna and Olivia, his extended family, and all those who benefited from his generosity,” Bettman added.
Melnyk purchased the Senators in 2003 and saw the team make the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 and the Eastern Conference final in 2017.
Melnyk also owned Ottawa’s AHL affiliate Belleville Senators and previously the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of the Ontario Hockey League. Away from the rink, he was a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Was this unexpected?
Ian Mendes, Senators beat writer: For the past several months, there was a lot of speculation about Melnyk’s health. His absence over the past three months in particular was noticeable. Melnyk was often in front of the microphone and in the public spotlight. Instead, he had receded into the background in recent months.
What’s Melnyk’s legacy in Ottawa?
Mendes: This is a complicated question. Melnyk certainly deserves a lot of credit for rescuing the franchise from bankruptcy in 2003. And in the first several years of his ownership, the club was a perennial playoff and Stanley Cup contender. But things quickly deteriorated after that. The club struggled to keep star players, with their financial situation often being pegged as the reason for the exodus.
The breaking point between the fan base and the owner came during the outdoor game in 2017, when Melnyk openly mused about moving the team. That led to a #MelnykOut billboard campaign in which fans tried to oust the owner. Attendance numbers sagged and there was a real disconnect between the franchise and the fan base in the final years of Melnyk’s ownership.
(Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/NHLI via Getty Images)