Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is remembered for his strong and complex ties to his NHL club and business, as well as his passion for horse racing.
The Ottawa team announced late Monday that the business and sports mogul died at the age of 62 in Toronto.
“He was a human being who gave a lot,” said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion.
A shrewd businessman, Melnyk, through his corporate empire, provided the capital to buy the Senators in 2003, when the organization faced bankruptcy and a precarious future in Canada’s capital.
The team bought for $92m is now worth $525m, according to Forbes.
Dorion fought back tears at Tuesday’s NHL general managers’ meeting in Florida, where he reflected on Melnyk’s legacy.
“Eugene Melnyk was a son, he was a father of two wonderful daughters, Anna and Olivia,” the Senators general manager said. He was someone who meant a lot to many people.
“He brought stability to the Senators. Without Eugene Melnyk, the Senators wouldn’t be in Ottawa. He was someone who had a great passion for hockey.
“He’s committed to the city of Ottawa, to the club to try to build a winning team. I think one of the saddest things about his passing is that he won’t be able to see all the hard work we all put together to put together a winning team.”
The Senators made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, with Ottawa losing in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.
After reaching the Eastern Finals in 2017, the Senators have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons.
The team has talented young players including Brady Tkachuk who, at 22, is the youngest captain in team history.
“We (are going to play) with a heavy heart, of course,” Tkachuk said Tuesday in Nashville, ahead of a game against the Predators.
“We just want to do our best. There should be a lot of eyes on us, so we want to make sure we play well and honor Mr. Melnyk with a good game.”
Melnyk’s relationship with Senators fans hasn’t always been obvious.
His comments before an away game in Ottawa in 2017 that he could move the team without better crowds sparked a “#MelnykOut” campaign on city billboards and social media.
“He was controversial at times in the media, but it was something we admired and respected about him. He will be missed, said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He bought the club at a difficult time, stabilized it and made it competitive. He has always had a passion for hockey.
Melnyk founded Biovail, a pharmaceutical company specializing in timed-release drugs, and sold it for millions in 2010.
He also acquired a majority stake in a cosmetics company in 2007 and founded a medical device company in 2019.
Melnyk’s net worth was estimated at $1.15 billion in 2017, according to Canadian Business magazine.
Melnyk underwent a liver transplant in 2015 after an emergency public appeal for a donor.
Bettman did not expect any immediate change in Senators operations.
Melnyk was no stranger to corporate litigation as a plaintiff and defendant.
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission sued Biovail in 2008 over its business practices, and Melnyk eventually paid a settlement.
The Ontario Securities Commission fined Melnyk and barred him from holding executive positions in public companies for five years in 2011 for conduct “contrary to the public interest”.
Infighting and legal action between Melnyk and a developer over the construction of a new arena in downtown Ottawa ultimately torpedoed that deal in 2019.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson publicly argued with Melnyk over the matter.
“While we have not always agreed on some issues, I have always appreciated that Mr. Melnyk has offered to keep the (Senators) in Ottawa, thus reinforcing the organization’s place as an integral part of our city,” Watson said on Twitter on Tuesday.
Melnyk was well known among Canadian Thoroughbred owners and breeders.
He has twice been named Canada’s top owner, and his horses have won all three rounds of the Canadian Triple Crown.
“Eugene Melnyk was a true sporting figure in Canada, one of our principal owners and a dear friend of Woodbine and the horse racing industry here in Ontario,” Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson.