This week, as the four surviving NHL teams move into the conference finals and the rest of the teams enjoy the halcyon days of spring before the business portion of the offseason begins, I find myself thinking about the fans.
Here are a handful of the things I am thinking.
1. On the mood of Senators fans: I may be projecting, but I think Sens fans are in an interesting place right now, mood-wise. With "silly season" beginning, some of the emotional scars from last season are beginning to fade (but not heal) and fans are starting to dream again. Speculation about trades and free agent signings is already the most popular topic of conversation in Senators forums, and imaginary rosters are already being built. It's nice to see people dreaming again.
2. On Lowered Expectations: That being said, I've yet to see anyone dreaming too big. Most Senators fans have already accepted that the team going to lose the entire first line – with no compensation for Michalek or Hemsky – and fan "fantasy" rosters are being built around budget replacements. It's crazy, when you think about it, how quickly and successfully the expectations of this fanbase have been lowered. It only took a year to go from, "what tweaks will make us real cup contenders?" to, "how can we still make the playoffs despite three of our best players leaving?"
I'm not saying we're happy about this plummeting standard (I get furious every time I think about it) but we are learning to live with it. I wonder if that's a mistake.
3. On Standing Up: I wonder how Senators fans will react when some very ugly things happen this offseason. There were some obvious holes in the roster last season, and it’s likely that those gaps will either go unaddressed or be poorly filled with cheap additions. Worse, it’s looking certain that some new cracks are going to appear, and I’m fairly certain that these will only be papered over as well. In short, we are probably going to spend a summer watching a struggling team get worse.
The galling part is that there’s no good reason for what is going on. This team is effectively being stripped of its assets and its integrity for no other reason than the personal profits of its owner. It's inexcusable and unacceptable, and fans shouldn't be putting up with it.
But such a statement begs the question: if the team does continue flipping its captains for low cost replacements, what can fans possibly do about it? Is it enough to boo Eugene Melnyk twice a year when he appears at the rink? Should fans "talk with their feet" and refuse to go to games? Should fans go further and find a way to make their voices heard by twitter, rally, petition, etc? I’d be interested to hear what our readers think.
4. On Apologists: One thing that shocks me is that after all the events and revelations of the past year is that there is still a portion of the fanbase that could be described as "Melnyk apologists".
Every time one of them pops up on Twitter to harass anyone criticizing Melnyk, I’m reminded of this guy.
In standing up for the poor sod who is making millions of dollars driving their favourite team into the mud, these people will usually cite one of two (fallacious) arguments:
(a) "Melnyk saved the team, so we should be loyal to him"
This argument would be ridiculous even assuming the truth of the first part (which is certainly open to debate) because it fails to acknowledge that: (a) his purchase was hardly for philanthropic reasons; and (b) time didn't freeze when Eugene Melnyk bought the Senators, so he's going to have to be judged on his subsequent actions too.
There’s also a pathetic "what will happen to us if you chase him away?" vibe to this argument that ignores the fact that new investors would probably be interested in an asset that pays for itself and has approximately doubled in value over the past ten years. We’d be just fine, my anxious friends.
(b) "Well it is a business"
Notably, this point often goes hand in hand with the unbearable "are you going to tell a billionaire how to run a business? Are you a billionaire?" I hate this argument. For one, it ignores the point that this billionaire may have motives different from your own, so blind trust may not be the best course of action here. In any event, "you can’t criticize something until you’ve done it" is an asinine way of thinking and if you can't see the problem with it, no amount of reasoning will save you (except for that wonderfully bizarre time that Marc Methot actually was saved by a combination of Adnan, Kevin Lee, and Keith Olbermann).
As for the "can you criticize a business owner for trying to make a little money?" argument: yes, I can. Seriously, I get that franchise owners need to make money; I still reserve the right to criticize how they make that money. Eugene Melnyk isn’t a man with a goose that lays golden eggs: this goose belongs to the whole village. He’s just the man who currently holds the rights to any eggs laid. When Melnyk tries to cut open our goose, the village should certainly have something to say about it.
5. On the Spezza Appreciation Rally: Many of you are no doubt aware of the Jason Spezza Appreciation Rally on Parliament Hill planned by the Red Scarf Union for this Saturday, March 17. I'm of two minds about this event:
My first reaction was something along the lines of, "Oh, guys...no." It's not that I don't appreciate the sentiment, but the first attempt at such a rally – a much-hyped but sparsely-attended event in 2010 – was a source of nationwide laughter that only served to underscore the lack of support Spezza gets in Ottawa. I can't help but fear that this is going to get thrown in our faces again when the rally fails to make Parliament Hill look like the "Sens Mile".
But thinking about it a bit more deeply, I realize that the part of me that feels that way is a cowardly cynical asshole. I support what the rally stands for; I'm just afraid it won't work and afraid what people will say when it doesn't. Because of this, my first instinct is to sneer condescendingly to show that I'm not like those naive fans. But that's bullshit. I'm glad that there's a portion of the fanbase with enough passion to stick their necks out and support the team's captain. Ottawa is full of people who will ask you to sit down rather than stand up themselves. The Spezza ralliers are refusing to sit, and I'm proud of them for doing it. We should all be a more like them, and I hope that some of you will go out and help them on Saturday afternoon. For those of you interested in doing so, the information is here.