A Postmodern Analysis of the Ottawa Senators

Are the Sens real? Does reality exist? These are the questions that must be answered before a new season can begin.

A Postmodern Analysis of the Ottawa Senators
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel / Unsplash

Inspiration often strikes in the strangest of places. An offhand comment, an earworm I could not let go, some facetious encouragement, and suddenly an article was born. At our latest Silver Seven staff meeting (that's right, we choose to have meetings during our non-working hours too), we were reminded that, as we approach a new season, recaps are not the place for our postmodern analyses of the Sens. I suggested in response that this would instead be appropriate for the longform, another writer* said that they would 100% read this article, and a ridiculous, unnecessary, and potentially insulting concept was born.

*This writer was Spencer. If you hate this article, blame him, it's his fault.

To begin such an audacious task, one must first define the parameters. Though postmodernism is often bandied about by laypeople in jest, what truly defines this philosophy? The Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as "a late 20th-century movement in philosophy and literary theory that generally questions the basic assumptions of Western philosophy in the modern period". PBS's Faith and Reason documentary defined it as being "skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person", that "considers 'reality' to be a mental construct". So, to tackle the Sens from the this lens, we must reject all previous notions of this team, of absolutes, and of reality itself.

Who are the Ottawa Senators? At an even more basic level: what is Ottawa? A city that many outside of Canada have never heard of and that many who have heard of mispronounce (I once had an Uber driver in LA tell me it should be pronounced oh-TAH-wah). Nevertheless, the original Algonquin word "adawe" actually has the emphasis on the middle syllable, so maybe it's Ottawans who have it all wrong. "Adawe" translates as "to trade", meaning that way back in 1855, when the moniker of Bytown was officially changed to Ottawa, the Summer of Pierre (TM) had already been prophesied. The point is that outside of Canadian politics, hockey aficionados, and international geography buffs, Ottawa may be a fleeting concept. Like the warmth of a Beavertail on a frozen canal or the the functionality of the LRT, Ottawa is like here-today, gone-tomorrow mist, leaving the seeker to wonder if it ever truly existed.

What, then, is a Senator? The team has always embraced a certain ancient Roman theme, but one that is much more emblematic of a gladiator. While gladiators were violent and ruthless (or else very, very dead), senators were pensive toga-wearing politicians. Ruthless, sure, but in subtler ways. In the context of Ottawa, the choice of Senators is even more perplexing. While the US Senate represents The Great Compromise (TM), the Canadian Senate represents a single-buttocked attempt at building a House of Lords in a locale where all with ancestral claims to land ownership had long been stripped of power. The very concept of unelected lifetime appointees who have control over the passing of all laws within a supposedly democratic constitutional monarchy is a perfect oxymoronic example to induce Pavlovian salivation in even a casual postmodernist. The shortening of Senators to Sens [sic] truly is a baffling choice that makes no sens(e), seeing as this is not a word in the English language. An epic showdown between a Pen and its Cap is undone in significance by adding a Sen (or a Hab?) to the mix.

But enough about the words. Let us move to the product itself. In many ways, the Sens have rejected the notion of hockey tradition. In a league which is Kafkaesquely homogeneous, the Sens have had more European captains than Canadian ones. Their current captain is American, the child of an American legend, the younger brother of a player who refused to commit to a fellow Canadian city. Canada's official capital somehow keeps adding American competitors to its roster. The Senators have managed to be both avant-garde—having Marian Hossa before two-way forwards were all the rage and Erik Karlsson before puck-moving defencemen were highly sought after—and après-garde, regularly running Chris Neil as an enforcer alongside heavyweights like Brian McGrattan, Matt Carkner, and Mark Borowiecki. In a league in which coaches and GMs are let go at the drop of a metaphorical hat, the Sens have had the same coach for four seasons despite missing the playoffs every year of his tenure, and have had the same GM for seven seasons despite making the playoffs in just one of his seasons. The NHL loves to recycle personnel, especially ones who "played the game" yet Pierre from Orléans had never been an executive before the Sens, and has (to date) never played any meaningful competitive hockey. The coach uses the cognomen DJ Smith, making it unclear if he is in fact a coach, a DJ, or a smith. If all the world's a stage, perhaps we are all dancers gyrating to the grooves lain down by our DJ? Though this also implies that all the world's a workshop, and we are being wrought and forged by our smith.

Hockey itself is truly an enigma wrapped in a conundrum stuffed inside a paradox. The physics of skating on ice is still debated. Ice itself is the only non-metal which expands upon solidification. Players then strap knives to their boots and glide around on this substance that defies comprehension. The game itself is illogical. Players use a "stick" that is no longer wooden but rather fibrous carbon to put a piece of rubber between some pieces of metal. The commitment to mixed media is unparalleled. Rather than using a ball like nearly all other sports, they insist on using a stout cylinder but referring to it as a puck. A self-professed nice guy sport involves regular bare-knuckle fights. Terms like "goaltender interference" and "distinct kicking motion" are bandied about without any collective definition as to their meaning.

In essence, this is to be expected, as hockey is a "game", making it, by Ludwig Wittgenstein's observation, inherently undefinable. As so-called fanatics of a team, we are devoting much of our available time, disposable income, and emotional health to something ephemeral, uncontrollable, essence-less. If we define ourselves based on our allegiances to something evanescent, we ourselves may be non-existent. To misappropriate Descartes, "I cheer, therefore I maybe am not."

I conclude by considering the words of Vaclav Havel: "We live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain." The suggestion of everything being possible is tantamount to stating that it is equally possible that the Sens will win the Stanley Cup, that the Sens will be relegated to the AHL, that the Sens are actually flamingos in realistic body suits, and that the Stanley Cup was used to stab Julius Caesar. However, I must disagree with his assertion that nothing is certain. When the apocalypse occurs, all is in ruins, and humanity breathes its last, one final certain truth will ring out from parched, fading lips: Go Sens Go.

Not everyone can afford to pay for sports coverage right now, and that is why we will keep as much of the site's content free for as long as we can.

But if you are able to, please consider subscribing to help keep our articles free (and get a few extra perks).

Erik Condra
  • Ability to comment and participate in our community
  • Twice monthly newsletter available only to subscribers
  • Ad-free reading
  • Our undying love and appreciation
Brady Tkachuk
  • Everything from the Erik Condra tier
  • 10% discount on all merch
  • Access to any future paywalled content
  • A personal thank-you from the Silver Seven staff
Daniel Alfredsson
  • Everything from the Brady Tkachuk tier
  • Inner peace knowing you are supporting quality, independent coverage of your favourite sports team