Two years ago, I wrote that Ottawa Senators fans shared some of the blame for the team's failings, because they had shown they would not support a rebuilding club. Readers soundly rejected this notion, saying that it was an unexciting team they would not support.
Those claims are about to be tested.
Last night saw the disheartening loss of Karlsson to a lacerated Achilles tendon; we'll have more coverage on that when we know more. User ZebraStripes offered some encouraging news about that:
Just read (aka skimmed) a prospective cohort study of 46 complete ruptures in athletes.
But even if 6 months is the minimum recovery time for Karlsson, he's lost for the season. Jason Spezza is out for the majority of it. If we thought the team was struggling offensively with Spezza out, it's going to be downright strangled having lost the league's leader in shots. Karlsson and Spezza were the two engines that drove the offense.
So, is there still excitement to be found on this team? That's what we're about to find out. Craig Anderson is still playing at an extremely high level, and it's time to watch the team's top prospects grow as well as what may very well be Daniel Alfredsson swan song.
This is what the team would be looking at in a normal rebuild--the kind I didn't believe Senators fans would support. Much of the rest of the season is going to be about kids like Kyle Turris, Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad, and Patrick Wiercioch taking their lumps as they find their way in the NHL. There are a lot of nights where it won't be pretty, but that's the normal curve for a rebuild. We don't have to look any further than Edmonton to know that.
So, the question we wake up to this morning is simple: Now what?
This may very well be a lost season, but so what? There are still positives to find. There's still the opportunity to watch Alfie play. There's still reason to get excited for Zibanejad slappers and Wiercioch breakaway passes. Those may just be silver linings on a large gray cloud, but consider this: Cowen is not lost for good. Spezza is not lost for good. Karlsson is not lost for good.
All three players will return to the team healthy next year. Spezza may even return to the team before this year ends, even if the playoffs are out of reach--that's what he did the last time he was hurt in Pittsburgh. Whatever this team's record turns out to be, it won't be indicative of where the team truly stands. If you jump ship now, you reveal yourself as nothing more than the kind of fairweather fan I ranted about two years ago. Maybe the season is lost--it's too soon to say, no matter how bad things look--but the future of the team is not.
Now what? It's time to find different positives than we were originally expecting, that's all. Just like last year, when we got the pleasant surprise of a playoff appearance instead of a lottery pick. The reverse may turn out to be true this year, but so what? There's still a lot of good, young talent on the team, and that's exciting in its own way. There will still be reasons to cheer on most nights regardless of the final score once the shock of losing Karlsson wears off.
And if you think winning is the only thing that's exciting, and choose to tune out until next year, well... you'll only have proven me right.