Over much of the 2013 offseason, Hockeybuzz blogger Travis Yost reported on the financial woes of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. As of Sunday morning, however, every single post that Yost wrote in the past several years has disappeared from Hockeybuzz's website, and Yost's Twitter account has vanished from the web.
If you connect the dots, it seems possible that Melnyk -- at least tangentially -- has something to do with the disappearance of Yost's work.
Let's first get up to speed on that work, which we can still see via cached versions of the since-deleted Hockeybuzz articles. Here are cached versions of everything he's written:
- July 2: Gene Melnyk Money
- July 3: Gene Melnyk Money II
- July 5, 12:32 a.m. ET: Gene Melnyk Money III
- July 5, 11:55 a.m. ET: Gene Melnyk Money IV
- July 11: Gene Melnyk Money V
- August 6: Gene Melnyk Money VI
- August 10: Why Can't The Ottawa Senators Afford Anything?
- August 10: Gene Melnyk Money VIII: More Loans
And finally, a story entitled "Report: Ottawa Senators Under NHL Observation" published on August 15, in which Yost reported the following:
Speaking on the strict condition of anonymity, a highly-placed source within the National Hockey League (herein "NHL") confirmed a growing level of concern with the financial situation of the Ottawa Senators dating back to early-2012, including the placement of the team on a league "watch-list".
Melnyk (and the NHL's Bill Daly) then denied the allegation, via the Ottawa Sun:
"No chance," [Melnyk] said in an e-mail to the Sun. "It's all B.S. coming from a random useless blogger. All this stuff is nonsense. Kinda annoying as well ... doing just fine thank you very much!"
Earlier in the day, the website hockeybuzz.com reported that there has been concern from league about the Senators' "escalating debt and the lenders." The source said trouble has been brewing since early 2012, and now there's "a fear the organization will be unable to make interest payments at some point, capitalizing the interest", adding that the league has encouraged Melnyk to seek investors."
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly also said the story didn't hold water Friday night.
"Yes, it's all B.S.," Daly said in an e-mail to the Sun. "There is no 'watch list.' And there is no concern (about the Senators). And you can quote me."
Later on Aug. 16, the Ottawa Citizen published an extremely in-depth report detailing how the Senators have lost $94 million under Melnyk's leadership. Yost had mentioned following Melnyk's denial in the Sun that "their insight into this matter should be noted, as should this post's inability to corroborate the report with additional sources," but between Yost's summer full of work and the report in the Citizen, it certainly seems like there's at least something here.
That's how we get to Sunday morning, where essentially Yost's entire Internet presence has been eliminated from the web. At around 3 a.m. ET, Yost published a piece on Hockeybuzz -- since deleted, here's the cached version -- that pretty clearly points a finger at Melnyk or somebody associated with Melnyk. Here's a backed-up version of that story:
In a nutshell: Yost seemingly traced the identity of his hackers back to an IP address in Ukraine. That IP address is associated with an "aliveview.com.ua" domain, which according to a Google search isn't associated with much else aside from the "Help Us Help The Children" charity. Melnyk is listed as the "honorary director" of that charity and has ties to Ukraine.
We were able to draw the same lines as Yost, but other than that we can't verify Melnyk's involvement or the involvement of anybody connected with Melnyk. Even if there's somebody associated with the charity involved here, there's no way we could make a direct connection to Eugene Melnyk based on the evidence available.
Nevertheless, it's all very interesting and certainly worth a deeper look.
We reached out by phone to Sens PR, who told us they were unaware of Yost's story -- it is a Sunday in August in the hockey world, of course -- and that they couldn't assist without more concrete facts about the story. We sent over details about what we know and are hoping to hear back.
Until then, all we do know for sure is that somebody is clearly trying to silence a reporter who has done some important work on the finances of an NHL team in the capital of hockey's homeland. It's worth finding out who's involved.