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4 billboards inside Ottawa: Fans want Senators owner out

A jogger runs past a billboard calling for Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk to sell the NHL hockey team in Ottawa on Monday, March 19, 2018. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Disgruntled Ottawa Senators fans want owner Eugene Melnyk to know exactly how they feel. Their message is hard to miss.

Four billboards with the message (hash)MelnykOut went up at four spots across the city Monday thanks to a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $10,000 in less than a month.

The fund was started by fan Spencer Callaghan, whose frustration with Melnyk reached a breaking point amid talk that captain Erik Karlsson might be traded.

On the GoFundMe page launched Feb. 23, Callaghan wrote: "Eugene Melnyk has decided that he would rather tear the team down and sell it for spare parts than admit he can no longer run it effectively. Sens fans and the city of Ottawa need to step up to save a pillar of this community."

He said billboards are a way for fans to be heard, and he contends ownership has driven off players and front-office staff. And, he adds, this is not just about this season, but "a series of decisions over a long period of time."

The Senators advanced to the Eastern Conference final last season but will miss the playoffs. Karlsson's future in Ottawa remains unknown, adding to fans' unease.

The billboards are scheduled to be up for two weeks, with a fifth going up April 2. General manager Pierre Dorion, when asked about the billboards, said he's "not talking about that."

For all his anguish, Callaghan does not discount the possibility of the Senators eventually turning things. But he has grave doubts.

"It requires some collaboration," he said. "It requires some humility and it requires some listening and I haven't seen any desire on the part of the organization to do that."

The Twitter hashtag (hash)MelnykOut was launched in December by a fan after the Senators owner threatened to move the team if he didn't see better fan support. Melnyk's comments were made the night before the first outdoor game in Ottawa and set off a firestorm on social media.

Players can appreciate the fan frustration, but Senators defenseman and Ottawa native Mark Borowiecki says Melnyk deserves credit for coming to the city's rescue when the team was on the verge of bankruptcy.

"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion," said Borowiecki, who wasn't aware of the billboards or the funding campaign until told about it. "I will say this, running a sports franchise isn't quite as easy as some people think it is. There's a lot to it that I think a lot of us don't understand and can't appreciate.

"Eugene's stepped up big for this city. Growing up here, being a fan, I can remember there was a real danger of losing this team."

Updated March 20, 2018

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