The Ottawa Senators have been trying for years to secure a downtown arena, and took a very positive step forward today. The National Capital Commission has reached a preliminary agreement with the RendezVous group led by Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk, to develop the LeBreton Flats area including a new arena. The development will be completed in two phases, the first of which will include the a building for the Senators to move downtown. The major agreement is not in place yet, and will continue to be negotiated over the next 12-18 months. While that leaves wiggle room for the deal to collapse, this is a huge step forward for the Senators organization.
Even without the disappointing results of the 2017-18 season, the Senators have had a tumultuous recent history. Last year during a playoff run that went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, the team had trouble filling their current home, the Canadian Tire Centre, which is located outside of the city center and is difficult for many fans to reach. That was followed by Melnyk’s comments just prior to the team’s outdoor game this year, where the owner hinted at potential salary slashing measures if the fans wouldn’t increase their support of the team. Those comments hung over the head of GM Pierre Dorion, who is under immense pressure to sign his superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson before he reaches free agency in the summer of 2019. Karlsson was clear that he wouldn’t take a so-called “hometown discount” to stay with the Senators and expects to be paid his market value—a number that is likely in excess of $10MM per season.
While a downtown arena by no means fixes every problem the Senators have, the idea of a new home could catapult them into a different financial tier among NHL clubs. With easier access and a downtown presence, fan support should increase along with ticket sales and merchandising. While Ottawa is not likely ever going to become the brand powerhouses of Toronto or Montreal, moving downtown certainly affords them some level of security. After all, it was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman himself who proclaimed a downtown arena as “vitally important” to the Senators’ long-term future in Ottawa.