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Inside the NHL: Capital of a nation, Ottawa is league's circus capital too

The Ottawa Senators spent the weekend celebrating the league's heritage and its birthday outdoors in the NHL100 Classic against Montreal. Maybe the hoopla surrounding the first outdoor game in the Canadian capital is a distraction the Sens could use. Right now, owner Eugene Melnyk's franchise is about the biggest circus going in the league.

After what had already been a wild week for the Senators, Melnyk couldn't get out of his own way on Friday's practice day and the Sens alumni game held on a special rink set up at Parliament Hill. This was not the time nor the place to throw hints about the club's future if it doesn't get a new arena downtown, even if Commissioner Gary Bettman agrees it's time for the Senators to get out of Canadian Tire Centre in inaccessible suburban Kanata.

Melnyk's team, remember, didn't sell out playoff games last year during the Eastern Conference final and attendance this season is under 16,000 per game.

"I don’t bluff,” Melnyk said. “I won’t sell it. It just won’t happen. Imagine if you own a McDonald's franchise, but you can move it. Why would you sell it? It’s something that’s very difficult to buy. We’re doing OK here. We’re not doing great.

"If it doesn’t look good here, it could look good somewhere else. But I’m not suggesting that right now. That’s always the possibility with any franchise. If you open a grocery store and nobody comes, but one opens two blocks down and there’s a line outside, where are you going to have your store?”

Melnyk said he's got "probably one of the thinnest management groups in the league" and can't keep spending $68 million a year on player payroll without more revenues. Bad news for Erik Karlsson's future with the club.

"I’m not going to blow a lifetime of working hard to support a hockey team," he said. "It’s not going to happen.

"Here we’re fighting every day to sell a ticket. Honest to god,” Melnyk said. “When you get to the third round of the playoffs and you’re begging people to buy a ticket, something’s wrong."

When Ottawa hit town here Tuesday for the finale of its seven-game roadie, you could feel the tension surrounding the club. Karlsson flat-out admitted it, then had to deal with questions about whether Melnyk asked him for his list of teams he'd accept in a trade.

Sabres Notebook: Lehner watching Karlsson drama; 'Road to Winter Classic' starting

The next day, the Senators returned home and Melnyk had to swat away continued rumors he was selling. He took another hit Wednesday when Kyle Turris said the owner -- and not GM Pierre Dorion -- paved the way for last month's trade to Nashville that brought Matt Duchene to the Sens from Colorado.

Duchene has been a disaster with no points in his first seven games and the team 2-10-2 since he arrived. Nashville has gone 12-2-2 with Turris, who signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Predators.

"It's tough because I think management did want to sign me, but I think that the owner didn't," Turris told the Canadian Press. "And that was his decision."

"Everything hockey goes through me, not through Mr. Melnyk," Dorion told reporters in Ottawa. "We made a decision here, obviously we talked about it when we made the trade. We wish Kyle the best of luck, he's a great human being. The contract that he signed with them he wouldn't take with us."

Turris' wife, Julie, had the last word on all this. When Dorion's comments were tweeted by an Ottawa radio reporter, she replied back with a simple "lol." If you don't speak chat/social media lingo, that stands for laughing out loud.

Beleskey on Moulson-like waivers

In the spirit of Matt Moulson, the Bruins put winger Matt Beleskey on waivers for the purpose of getting him to the AHL -- with two years left on his contract at $3.8 million per season. Beleskey had no points in 14 games, the same numbers as Moulson, after getting just three goals last year in 49 games.

The Sabres overpaid Moulson at five years and $25 million but at least he had three straight 30-goal seasons early in his career for the New York Islanders. Beleskey had a 22-goal season in 2014-15 for Anaheim after his previous career high was 11. Turns out it was a fluky 15.2 shooting percentage that couldn't be maintained. In his three seasons with Boston, Beleskey shot at 8.9 percent, 3.8 and now zero.

As for Moulson, he piled up seven points -- all assists -- for his first three games with Ontario in the Kings organization. Four of them came Wednesday as he assisted on all four goals in a 4-2 win over Texas. He also assisted on the overtime winner in a 3-2 victory Sunday in San Antonio.

Sabres' Matt Moulson producing during his minor-league assignment

Great One: One isn't enough

Wayne Gretzky was on hand in Toronto Sunday to watch the Oilers and Leafs and said it was unfair to expect Connor McDavid to carry the struggling Oilers by himself. The same could be said for Auston Matthews of the Leafs or Jack Eichel with the Sabres. Tankers take note.

"That doesn’t work in hockey,” Gretzky told Sportsnet. "You’ve got to have a team, you’ve got to have a second goaltender, you’ve got to have six defensemen, you’ve got to have that seventh guy ready, your fourth line has to be a factor in the game. You can’t win with two good hockey players … Bobby Orr would have won 12 Stanley Cups, Gordie Howe would have won 15 Cups. You can’t win like that in hockey.

“That’s what makes it such a team sport and that’s what makes it so unique that I think we’re the only sport that each guy gets their name on the actual trophy.”

Sabre points

* Still shaking my head about the double minor St. Louis star Brayden Schenn got Sunday in St. Louis in a dustup with Sabres defenseman Justin Falk. Schenn came to the defense of teammate Alexander Steen after a Falk hit but the burly Sabres blueliner quickly turned the tables and pounded away on Schenn. Falk  got only two minutes.

"Punches were 3-0 for him and I got four minutes," Schenn said. "I'm not going to call that a fight because I got beat up. It's just a play, he hit Steener, a clean check, you've got to get in there for your teammate. I heard Rob Bortuzzo in the background yelling 'no.' I think he was looking for the fight. I ended up taking it and it didn't go so well for me."

* Among the many problems the Sabres have is the fact they entered the weekend just 4-12-4 against the Eastern Conference, but are 4-6-3 against the West.

* Six shots on goal for Jack Eichel in the Dec. 8 overtime loss in Chicago. After that? In the next three games: Two shots on goal, one assist. Friday night's three-goal, 11-shot explosion against Ottawa was long overdue. Eichel had gone nine straight games without beating a goalie; his only goal in that stretch was an empty-netter in Colorado.

Eichel scores three, but Sabres can't pull win out of the hat

Around the boards

* Can we put to rest talk of the Golden Knights being a fluke? So far, they're pretty clearly a playoff team. Thursday night's 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins was their 20th in 31 games, easily the all-time record for a first-year expansion team to get to 20 wins. They're 5-0 against last year's final four, with wins over the Penguins, Senators, Ducks and Predators.

It will be fascinating to see what they do with some of their expiring contracts as the trade deadline approaches. How do you deal a key guy like, say, James Neal when you're in a playoff spot? It's a scenario Vegas GM George McPhee never could have imagined on expansion draft day in June.

* The Leafs host Carolina Tuesday afternoon at 2 in Air Canada Centre in what's being billed as the Next Century Game. The time is in honor of the exact moment of the league's birth 100 years ago on Dec. 19, 1917, as the Toronto Arenas lost, 10-9, to the Montreal Wanderers. The Leafs will wear special Arenas throwback jerseys and have asked season ticket holders to bring a youth to the game or donate the tickets if they can't be used.

The Leafs are hoping to reach more than 10,000 kids to watch the game in school assemblies or on TV at Toronto's famous Hospital for Sick Children.

* Lightning coach Jon Cooper on former Sabres and Canisius College winger Cory Conacher grabbing ice time with two goals and an assist in six games: "He hasn’t come out. We don’t hand out lineup spots like Halloween candy. He’s earned it.”

* Leafs coach Mike Babcock to TSN's Gord Miller, after pushing the team back to mandatory morning skates after some slow starts in games: "We’re going from sport science to Babcock Saskatchewan Science."

* The Flyers played 21 of their first 31 games against the West, going 8-9-3. Thursday's win over the Sabres put them at 5-2-3 against the East and they became the first team since the '95 Sharks to put up a five-game winning streak after a 10-game winless streak. The Flyers won all five in regulation, a first for them since 2010.

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