Senators fans back radical rebuild, GM insists

The general manager of the Ottawa Senators insists the NHL team’s fan base backs the organization’s radical rebuild, including last week’s trade of star defenceman and captain Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks.

GM Pierre Dorion told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning on Monday that management decided to rebuild the team in February around a core group of veterans including Karlsson, but that not too long after July 1, contract talks with the former captain weren’t going well and the writing was on the wall.

“When we saw that we couldn’t come to a contract agreement with Erik, and there was very little discussion, we just felt that it was time to move on … and maybe focus our attention on other leaders that would possibly want to be part of a rebuild,” Dorion said.

“Sometimes it’s a bit painful [at] the start, but we know, for the long-term success of this hockey team … this is definitely the right route to take.”

Many Sens fans are still fuming over the decision to trade star captain Erik Karlsson. We ask Sens general manager Pierre Dorion and Chief Operating Officer Nicolas Ruszkowski. 11:35

Fans trust management, COO says

Nicolas Ruszkowski, the team’s chief operating officer, said the team recently completed its largest poll of fans and found that most are happy with the team’s direction.

They’re passionate about the team, they trust management. – Nicolas Ruszkowski, Senators COO

“We know that the very large majority of the fans are enthusiastic about the team, they’re passionate about the team, they trust management,” Ruszkowski said.

“There is a very vocal minority that does have concerns, and they have no difficulty expressing their feelings. But the overwhelming majority, roughly 75 per cent, are in a place where they are confident with the direction of the team.”

Nicolas Ruszkowski was hired as the team’s chief operating officer this summer. He was born in Ottawa and has worked in communications for the Ottawa Hospital, along with PR firms in the U.S. and France. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Reducing parking costs and investing to enhance the in-game experience are steps the team is taking to appease unhappy fans, he added.

And there are other reasons for optimism.

“We have probably the largest pipeline of talent among young players that I’ve witnessed since the team came to Ottawa in 1992, so I think that’s part of the reason we had a fantastic turnout at [the team’s Fan Fest event on Sunday],” Ruszkowski said.

“People are starting to realize that there’s an opportunity to see a young core of players with whom they can evolve and grow over the next few years.” 

With training camp underway, everyone is being looked at closely, Dorion added.

Plenty of Karlsson jerseys were on display at Fan Fest on Sunday, where Ottawa Senators fans were still reeling from the news that former captain Erik Karlsson has been traded to the San Jose Sharks. 0:24

Dorion said he didn’t meet a single unhappy fan at Sunday’s event.

“I walked the concourse at Fan Fest — not one person was mad at me. I shook every hand. A few people said we’re a bit disappointed Karlsson’s gone, but a person said we have faith in what you guys are doing,” Dorion said.

“We’re comfortable with this trade, we’re comfortable with the direction we’re going. We know that there might be a few bumps in the road in the next year or two, but [for] the long-term success of this organization we feel comfortable doing this.”