Fragile. Agitated. Restless. Pick your adjective to describe the Ottawa Senators’ fanbase these days and maybe you’ll end up with something resembling a wounded animal. And in all fairness, we’ve had a long four years now since we saw a playoff game in Ottawa so I can understand the vexation heading into another NHL season without any promises ahead. No one can blame Sens fans for their collective exhaustion in response to Brady Tkachuk’s protracted contract negotiations because as GM Pierre Dorion said himself: This is going to be the fun part. So why doesn’t it feel that way?
Well, first of all, it depends who you ask. A confident faction within the fanbase does genuinely believe that this team has its proverbial ducks in a row heading into this season and that we can realistically hope for meaningful hockey in April (extremely cool if true!). Some pragmatists could argue that even if this team doesn’t make the post-season in 2022, the organization has built a competitive roster with ample depth that should make Senators hockey entertaining for years to come. And naturally, some folks have watched the Tkachuk negotiations proceed like the Doomsday Clock ticking towards midnight (Eat at Arby’s).
After all, we’ve scarcely had time to recover from the emotional damage of losing several franchise players in a span of mere months after standing at the precipice of playoff glory. We have the same owner, the same drawn-out debates about the location of the arena and in-game attendance, and the people want to know when we’ll spend to the cap. Ultimately, every fan makes their own choice about how to feel about their favourite team. No one can stop you from letting the thing you love make you miserable. And no one can stop you from having unwavering faith that even this broken clock of a hockey franchise can get it right once or twice.
If we assume that the road to emotional recovery from the darkest days of the rebuild follows a linear trajectory then today I want to know where you see yourself on that path. For some, recovery began immediately seeing the bounty of picks and prospects accumulated when Dorion and company shipped off Ottawa’s biggest expiring contracts. Others needed something tangible such as the long-term commitments made to Colin White and Thomas Chabot in the summer of 2019. I do believe that when Tkachuk signs in the coming weeks, many more will join those converted from skepticism to affirmation.
Will it be enough for all of us though? Humans tend to be avaricious by nature. We all want more even if we’ve just received the object we believed we sought most. A contract for Tkachuk will only bring Ottawa above the floor, and not to the ceiling. As soon as Tkachuk signs, eyes will turn toward Jake Sanderson and Tyler Boucher. What will happen when Josh Norris, Erik Brännström, and Tim Stützle come off their entry level contracts? When the Senators have all of their core players locked up long term will that finally allow you to forgive all those past betrayals as a fan? Do they need to make a big blockbuster trade or become active in the free agent market?
Depending on your feelings about the last 15 years (or really even the last 30 years in Ottawa) maybe you need to see a complete overhaul of how this organization drafts, scouts at the professional level, and implements statistical information. Because this organization has proven that it can it assemble a team capable of making the occasional post-season run ,but actually winning a championship takes a lot more. Given the strength of this division, good enough won’t suffice. The Senators also have a unique place in the Canadian sports media landscape as Canada’s forgotten hockey team. How does this affect our perception of the team and its potential?
And what about the results? Having a good core of players matters but as we saw last decade, sometimes even the most gifted core can’t deliver more than the occasional run. How many regular seasons of competent hockey will it take to help you forget? How much post-season success do you need to enjoy to alleviate the pain of yesterday? Every fan follows their own path. Their is no right or wrong way to feel about your favourite team. Some betrayals you may never forgive without a change in ownership. Some may have never felt betrayed at all. There are no real fans or fake fans. But for now there is anguish, whether justified or not, among some of us. Will getting Brady signed help you sleep at night, and if not then what will put your mind at ease?*
*As an Ottawa Senators fan. Hockey can’t stop climate change or nuclear war. Sorry.