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Five Thoughts For Friday: Bubble Hockey and Former Senators

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This year’s playoffs are very weird, in so many ways

New York Islanders v Florida Panthers Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Who to cheer for?

The qualifying round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is finally underway, and I, like so many fans whose teams are not playing, am still trying to figure out who to cheer for.

And folks, I won’t lie: it’s difficult.

My usual strategy for the playoffs isn’t so much to choose a bandwagon team (though I have cheered for the Caps and the Hurricanes in the past) as it is to cheer against my least favourite teams. In each matchup, I think about which team I would most like to see lose, and I cheer against that team. When they lose, which usually happens at some point, I enjoy watching the team and its fanbase suffer. It’s the perfect solution for anyone who just wants to be a hater.

But how to be a hater when you also have to consider the fact that any team that loses the qualifying rounds has a shot at the first overall pick?

I hate the Habs marginally more than I hate the Penguins. But do I want the Habs to draft Alexis Lafrenière? Of course not! And I don’t want the Penguins to draft him, either. Not to mention that my desire to see the Leafs lose is currently warring with my revulsion at the idea of the Leafs getting another first overall pick. This is all very difficult and frankly I can’t wait for the actual playoffs to start so I can go back to my usual system and forget about all this nonsense.

Former Sens

I don’t have the exact numbers on this, but I’m going to hazard a guess that the Sens probably lead the NHL in fan favourite players that are currently playing for other teams. It’s kind of depressing, but it does mean that we as Sens fans have a lot of options when it comes to former players to keep an eye on in the playoffs.

Our collective son Jean-Gabriel Pageau already has two goals in three games with the Islanders, and while teammate Derrick Brassard hasn’t gotten on the board yet, it’s been nice to see our Gatineau boys reunited. They’ve been playing against Mike Hoffman, who also has two goals. We also got to see Mika Zibanejad play three games with the Rangers, though his team was ultimately swept. Kyle Turris and Matt Duchene are both playing for the Predators. Jason Spezza and Cody Ceci are on the Leafs. Ryan Dzingel is playing for Carolina. Then of course once the playoffs get started for real, we’ll all get the chance to watch Mark Stone and Robin Lehner play for Vegas, and Dylan DeMelo play for Winnipeg. Locked On Senators is actually tracking the stats of all these former Senators in a handy score sheet, which is both amazing and extremely sad.

That’s a lot of former players in action, and watching them definitely evokes a lot of mixed emotions. It really does feel like the 2017 Senators have been scattered throughout the NHL and I’m just watching them play each other and wishing they could all come together again because I miss them.

Also, why aren’t we hearing more jokes about former Senators being comfortable playing in front of empty arenas? Missed opportunities.

Pageau, Pageau, Pageau!

Speaking of former Senators lighting it up in the qualifying rounds, watching playoff Jean-Gabriel Pageau again has been an absolute delight. He’s been scoring goals. He’s been challenging players twice his size to fights. I love him.

I honestly, truly hope Islanders fans appreciate what they have in him. I’m still not entirely sure which team I’m cheering for in this series, but I’m leaning toward the Islanders solely because of Pageau. And yes, I’m well aware that we have the Islanders’ second round draft pick this year.

Even Mark Borowiecki has been hyping up Pageau online, posting Instagram stories analyzing his goals and anticipating his next four goal game.

Also, as I said on the most recent episode of the podcast, it is a tragedy that the Islanders haven’t yet put out a call for videos of fans singing the Pageau song to play in the arena after every one of his goals. If there are any Islanders fans reading this: YOU HAVE TO SING THE SONG. Every time he scores. It’s the only appropriate response. Please. I know you’ve been doing it for regular season games. Keep this tradition alive. Film yourselves singing it and post it online.

The Bubble

The NHL bubble has been in place for quite some time now, and so far it seems to be working. The league hasn’t had any positive tests yet, which is great. The bubble has also created a few interesting situations: players have already commented on how strange it is to share elevators with their opponents after heated games. One player has already left the bubble for the birth of a child, and he probably won’t be the first one to do it. Jake Muzzin’s wife and daughter apparently stood outside his hotel with signs for him after he was injured in a game.

It’s a really, really weird situation for everyone. I still think it’s extremely silly that this is happening at all, and I feel for Jake Muzzin and his family, but I’m also enjoying the pure chaos that this setup is already creating. This is only going to get more entertaining as the playoffs continue and the stakes get higher.

Doing better

The NHL has come under a lot of fire recently for its failure to support its Black athletes and fans during a time when many other sports leagues have been explicitly speaking out against racism. To their credit, the league seems to have taken that criticism to heart and done marginally better in the week since the start of the play-in round. The official NHL website published a heartfelt article by J.T. Brown about why he raised his fist during the anthem in 2017. A few pregame videos explicitly mentioned Black Lives Matter and systemic racism. Matt Dumba gave a heartfelt speech about racism, took a knee during the anthem, and has been raising his fist during the anthem at every game.

Perhaps the most noteworthy action happened on August 3rd, when Ryan Reaves, Robin Lehner, Jason Dickinson and Tyler Seguin all took a knee during the anthem at an exhibition game between the Dallas Stars and the Vegas Golden Knights. The protest was Reaves’s idea and it would be difficult to overstate the courage it must have taken on his part, but I think what resonated with a lot of fans was the fact that two of the players who decided to kneel with him - Robin Lehner and Tyler Seguin - have pretty problematic pasts. Lehner in particular used to openly support Donald Trump, and didn’t publicly denounce him until recently. While I think we should be careful not to praise white allies over Black athletes, it is very heartwarming to see players learn from their mistakes and grow.

The NHL and hockey in general has been so resistant to change for so long that it’s kind of amazing to see players finally wake up and actually take a stand on important issues. Let’s hope this growth only continues.