By Hailey Salvian and Chris Stevenson
Mar 4, 2020
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
A season of relative calm in the Ottawa Senators’ front office ended Wednesday with the surprising dismissal of CEO Jim Little, who had been on the job for 54 days.According to a press release from the organization, the team’s board of directors made the the decision, “as a result of conduct inconsistent with the core values of the Ottawa Senators and the National Hockey League.”
Team sources told The Athletic there were points of conflict between Little and owner and governor Eugene Melnyk, and other executives and subordinates within the organization.
On Wednesday afternoon, Little released a statement saying in part, “On Valentine’s Day, the owner and I had a personal disagreement over the approach that I had been pursuing. I am a strong-willed person, and the disagreement included me using some strong language with him over the phone, including some swearing, which he did not appreciate and for which I later apologized. It was these events, to my knowledge, which led to my dismissal. Any other inference from the statement is wrong.”
When asked to comment on the situation at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tried to keep people from jumping to conclusions.
“It’s not what you think,” Bettman said. “I generally don’t comment on club personnel decisions — it has to do more with internal operations.”
Little did not return emails requesting comment. The Senators’ senior vice president of communications also did not respond to requests.
This leaves the Senators without CEO once again. The team said an executive search firm has already started identifying appropriate candidates with a replacement expected to be announced “in a few weeks”. In the past, Melnyk has also served as interim CEO.
Even by the Senators’ often dysfunctional standards, the situation with Little is unique. He was hired on Jan. 10 with much enthusiasm and optimism. He had worked with major Canadian companies and had a track record of identifying struggling properties with the potential to make improvements.
At the time of his hiring, Canadian golfer Graham DeLaet said, “Has there ever been a more well-liked person in the corporate golf world? Jim’s the best and he’s going to kill it in Ottawa just like he did at Bell, RBC and Shaw.”
Little’s firing continues the turmoil in the Senators C-suites. He is the fourth executive to part ways with the franchise in three years.
Popular long-time president and Senators co-founder Cyril Leeder was fired on Jan. 25, 2017, sending the revolving door spinning. It spit out Tom Anselmi (CEO, Jan. 2017 – Feb. 2018) and Nicolas Ruzkowski (COO, June 2018 – May 2019), along with chief marketing officer Aimee Deziel.
So, after almost two years of turmoil, this season had been (by Senators standards) relatively quiet when it came to controversial news. Melnyk’s comments on the eve of the NHL100 Outdoor Classic in December 2017 about potentially moving the team started a run of bad publicity which alienated many fans and corporate partners.
It was followed by Anselmi leaving the team, the decision in February 2018 to embark on a full rebuild, accusations of cyber-bullying involving the partners of two players, the trading of forward Mike Hoffman, the controversial resignation of an assistant GM, and the unpopular decision to trade captain and two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson on the eve of training camp in 2018.
Last season saw the departure of Ruszkowski and the unpopular trading of star forward Mark Stone.
Melnyk had been keeping a low profile this season which had shifted the focus to the promise of the rebuild, constructed around forward Brady Tkachuk and defenceman Thomas Chabot.
This latest news once again shifted the focus back to the familiarity of the Senators front office instability.