Trading Erik Karlsson isn’t the Ottawa Senators first controversial decision in the franchise’s 25+ year existence, but the level of fan revolt that came from that debacle — which spanned almost nine months — was unprecedented.
As writers who cover the team, this emotion made it into our work. There were numerous opinion pieces crafted, endless analysis of various rumours, and lumps in our throat as we watched the Senators, their fans, and larger community try to navigate this experience.
Hence, we decided to focus one of our reflections on the team’s first month on the question of fandom. Like before, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our thoughts (and whatever else is on your mind after watching the team this month) in the comments.
Here’s question two:
The season started with Erik Karlsson being traded, Zack Smith on waivers, and fan revolt at an all-time high. What’s your read on the fan-team relationship after one month, and where are you personally at? Is this where you expected you’d be at this point after the events of September 13th?
Brad: Since Smith was run through waivers there hasn’t really been a fresh, new horror from management to fuel the anger. Add in some early success, the team (mostly) playing some exciting hockey, and a handful of small but smart decisions from the business side of the team, and I think we’re in a bit of a “cold war” phase right now. There’s not much open hostility from the fans, but they’re not really buying tickets again either and we’re probably still one “Eugene Melnyk went on Toronto radio...” soundbite from things blowing up again.
Beata: I think it’s been kind of hard for me to judge the fan-team relationship so far, because all the Sens fans I follow on Twitter are either enjoying the new season, or not talking about the Sens at all because they’ve completely checked out. I think all the outreach to social media influencers has improved the relationship a bit, but I also don’t think anyone has forgiven the organization. I agree with Brad that it’s sort of a cold war situation where things could blow up again at any moment.
Spencer: It does seem like the overall fan-team relationship has hit a plateau of “we’ll watch the team but we still want Melnyk out” — and that’s pretty much where I’m at as well. It might be the addition of new PR-experienced people, but not having Melnyk and Dorion speak too much publicly has led to a lack of, let’s call it, “stupid things” being said out loud. That being said, we’re probably one dumb quote away from erecting another set of billboards.
Ross: It’s really weird. The Sens decided to trade the greatest player in franchise history for peanuts right when they decided to start treating “social media influencers” as an integral part of the team. So guys like bRian5or6 and MattyGoSens suddenly have a huge official platform, but the fanbase was also threatening revolt. I think cold war is a good analogy. Melnyk has done enough to poison the relationship with the fanbase that everybody’s just waiting for the next issue to flare up.
Brandon: Like Brad said, management has been fairly quiet since the Smith decision, so things have quieted down a bit. That said, the prevailing notion appears to be that all the rage is still bubbling under the surface, and it’s only a matter of time before Melnyk/Dorion bring it to the surface again. I can agree with that, so far the team has done nothing of note to repair the fractured relationship. It’s going to take a lot more than a mediocre record and a partnership with bRian5or6 to do that.
Beata: I almost feel like this fanbase has reached its limit for how angry it can get at the team, and we’re all resigned to this new, kind of awful reality. We all want #MelnykOut, we’re all angry at the organization for a multitude of reasons, but at this point, what can we do except either keep watching or not watch at all? The one thing I have noticed is that there’s been a lot of infighting. Lots of people disagree on how we should react to all the stuff the team has done, so you get some fans attacking others for going to games, or for not going to games, or for getting excited about the team, and so on.
Colin: As Brad alluded to earlier, I think it’s helped a lot that Melnyk has avoided the media rounds (I was expecting a “told you so” quote to pop up after the first two games, colour me surprised). The distrust in management runs really deep, and rightly so, so I don’t see any scenario where anything he says won’t come without some sort of scrutiny.
Brad: A few more games like this last road trip and things might heat up again, though.
Nada: I think the Sens are starting to take the right steps to remedy the relationship, but it’s safe to say the reaction has been only cautiously optimistic. A lot of trust has been broken between the organization and the fanbase, and it will take a lot to fix it. Add the fact that Duchene and Stone are still without contracts beyond this season, and it’s easy to imagine any updates that don’t sound promising on either player will surely give rise to more rage. At this point, I think fans are still numb from everything that’s happened in the past year and are holding onto a few entertaining games here and there to justify why we still should be fans. As for the record, the last few games really hurt them but at this point I’m not really surprised by their record — a few good games followed by some horrible games. I see this trend continuing long term. Let’s hope Melnyk stays always from the media.
Ross: I haven’t seen as much of the people fighting about who good fans are — maybe I’ve just managed to not follow the wrong voices on Twitter. For me personally though, I feel very emotionally checked out from this team. I have a hard time getting worked up about the thought of re-signing Stone or Duchene, because the team already let Karlsson go. I think if the team announced they were moving to Québec City tomorrow, I wouldn’t be nearly as devastated as I was the day of the Karlsson trade.
Beata: Agreed, Ross. I kind of suspect that even if the Sens won the cup this year, I wouldn’t just be apathetic, I would be angry that this team won when it’s not the Sens team I love. It feels like every time I allow myself to get excited about new players, I start thinking about how nice it would be if they were playing alongside my old favourite players, and I get sad again and have to step away.
Nada: Ross, you need some of the more dramatic followers we have. But yeah, I agree with Beata on the fan division, it’s become overly sensitive on both ends.
Ary: Yeah, Brad may be onto something here. At least on Twitter — which is only one platform — there was a noticeable groan/sarcasm/apathy response to the Melnyk refinancing news earlier this week, and some additional banter recently given the Sens Foundation story. This month has also given me more of a sense of the unity and division between Sens fans, especially across different settings. For example, we’ve both seen unity in Sens fans uniting in a campaign against the owner both publicly and online, when generally speaking, that was primarily an online narrative pre-2018. However, that’s also led to some division, hence the “influencers” and “real fans” discussion that have occasionally popped up. All-in-all, it’s a really confusing time, and I think we’re all just trying to figure it out. Do you think you could get more angry at this team (i.e., if they’re actually in a lottery position, the media/fans of other teams start to circle around Stone/Duchene again, etc.)? Or is apathy the dominant feeling for you?
Ross: I don’t think I could get more angry about anything hockey related. It would have to be something off-ice, like the handling of the Randy Lee incident for example.
Brad: I’m with Ross. If they find a way to make me more mad than I have already been, it’ll be something off-ice.
Beata: Maybe as a fandom, we could collectively become more angry. But I doubt I, personally, could become more angry about something on-ice.
Let us know what you think in the comments!