The Ottawa Senators pulled off a huge trade Tuesday.
No, we're not talking Tommy Wingels, who brings his five goals and three assists from the San Jose Sharks to Ottawa for a seventh-round draft pick and two minor-leaguers.
We're talking presidents: out with Cyril Leeder, last of the three founders still with the 25-year-old franchise; in with Tom Anselmi, late of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and later of the Vancouver Canucks organization.
In the Battle of Ontario, he just switched sides.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk introduced Anselmi at a Wednesday news conference saying Leeder had been informed – fired, really – late Tuesday and would no longer be with the organization.
Leeder, along with Bruce Firestone and Randy Sexton, had been there from the very beginning. He was in the dressing room at the old Lions Arena in the Westboro neighbourhood of Ottawa when the three shinny players, over a few cold ones, cooked up their cockamamie idea of chasing an NHL franchise.
It had been Leeder's university thesis on sports ownership that they'd dressed up with all sorts of wild real estate promises, much of which would come to fruition in an abandoned cornfield in suburban Kanata. The three brash dreamers won the franchise over Hamilton on a promise to pay $50-million, no questions asked. No one thought to ask them if they actually had the money.
Soon, Firestone was gone, the financially strapped franchise saved by Rod Bryden. Soon, Sexton was gone after a short term as general manager. Soon, Bryden was gone, the franchise in bankruptcy. It was Melnyk who picked up the club and rink at garage-sale prices – $127-million – in 2003. And it was Melnyk who kept the 57-year-old Leeder and eventually made him president.
Leeder is popular around town and the Senators, who stumbled last year, seem playoff bound under new head coach Guy Boucher – so why give him the boot?
"I don't know how exactly what was missing," Melnyk said, "but something was missing."
The Senators had just completed a remarkable series of games in which, on the road, they had defeated the St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Back home, they had lost in overtime to Columbus and then crushed the league-leading Washington Capitals 3-0 on Tuesday, the day Melnyk made his big switch.
There being no problem in the standings, perhaps it lay in the tickets.
Crowds have been down all season in Ottawa. Tuesday's visit by the NHL's top team and one of its top attractions, Alexander Ovechkin, left nearly 2,500 seats empty.
Weather may have been a factor – school buses were cancelled in the morning – but, on average, the crowds have been around 3,000 short of a sellout. Many Ottawa fans give Boucher credit for the team's record but say they find his suffocating defence-first style rather boring.
Melnyk denied sagging ticket sales had anything to do with the change at the top. "That's a separate issue," he told reporters.
He thanked Leeder for the first 25 years but said the question now is "what we're going to need to do for the next 25 years."
That's why he turned to the 60-year-old Anselmi, first contacting him in mid-December. Anselmi oversaw the Toronto Maple Leafs' shift from Maple Leaf Gardens to the Air Canada Centre and was involved with the construction of BMO Field (home of the football Argonauts and soccer Toronto FC).
Anselmi is now tasked with leading the Senators' move downtown to the vacant industrial land known as LeBreton Flats.
The Melnyk group proposal was selected by the National Capital Commission in 2016 as best positioned to develop the flats.
Melnyk says the total project – which will include a state-of-the-art facility for the Senators – will cost $4-billion to $5-billion and take 25-30 years. In his eye, they will "rebuild all of downtown Ottawa."
An ambitious project such as that won't "happen overnight," Melnyk said.
"We need to reinvigorate the brand. We need to reposition things and rebrand. There's a ton of work to do."
The Senators also announced the hiring of Shiv Raj as director of corporate development. Raj previously worked in the Prime Minister's Office under Stephen Harper, where he served as manager of tours and operations. He is expected to work out of Toronto and build connections with corporate clients that might be headquartered in Toronto but might find a corporate suite or advertising in the Canadian Tire Centre attractive.
"This will never be Montreal and this will never be Toronto," Anselmi said. "But nobody else can be Ottawa and the nation's capital.
"That's the sort of the spirit of the brand I see growth in. I'm personally about organization excellence, doing your best and it's about being the best experience you can be for your fans."
The new president and CEO appeared so fresh to the job that he claimed the only thing he knows at the moment is "where the water cooler is," but clearly he will be expected to address the ticket situation, among other matters.
Melnyk believes the ticket situation will largely take care of itself so long as the team continues to put up points.
"We have a real shot," he said.