Q+A with Lauren Theisen of Defector

A chat with one of the tastemakers of nice hockey fandom

In Monday’s Links, News, and Notes we shared an article from Lauren Theisen entitled “Canada’s Funniest Team, The Ottawa Senators, are Up to Their Old Tricks” which we felt perfectly encapsulated the spirit of Sens fandom these days: they’re not always good, but God they can be entertaining as hell. As it turns out, Lauren, and other members of the Defector staff, have been delivering a lot of  great Sens-related content in the last twelve months. She was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about why, exactly, they keep coming back for more with a small market, Canadian team that’s mostly been at the bottom of the league standings.

You’re a writer at Defector now, and before that Deadspin, two sites known for “unconventional” sportswriting. You’re responsible for a lot of the NHL coverage for the site. When you sit down to write, what kind of stories are you looking for? What’s a Defector NHL story?

The shortest answer is that anything I want to tell people about is a story—that’s the neat thing about co-owning a website! But overall, since my purview is the entire league and not just one specific team, I’d say the stories we cover are either the really big things—like the Jack Eichel trade, for example, or the Islanders’ ugly start—or the really small things that we notice but nobody else really writes about, like a particularly goofy fight or the absurdity of the Brendan Lemieux DoPS video. Or any story involving the Ottawa Senators.

For those who aren’t aware, Defector dedicated four full days’ worth of coverage to the Ottawa Senators (and other “Senator”-related entities such as the US Senate) during Senators Week last season. So, OK, we have to ask this: how did Senators Week come about? The intro piece said it was suggested in an editor’s meeting but is there more to it than that? Was it a group effort? Who decided to pull the plug after just four days?

It all started when Artem Zub tripped Morgan Rielly with the Sens down 4-1 to the Leafs on Feb. 15, 2021, setting in motion the events that would create a hilarious comeback and Ottawa’s fourth win of the year. I wrote it up in the morning as a “laughing at the Leafs” kind of blog, thinking that would be the end of it. But then Brady Tkachuk had this gritty game I loved a few days later in a win over the Habs, and then the Sens beat Calgary 6-1, and guys like Claude Julien, Stephane Waite and Geoff Ward kept getting fired immediately after playing them. I think I did something like six increasingly bombastic blogs in a row about this particular Sens hot streak, and my dark inescapable obsession with them became a running gag with my friends and co-workers—I got not one, but two Sens jerseys as gifts this year (Stützle and Tkachuk).

Managing Edtior Samer Kalaf liked the bit enough that he had the idea for us to devote several days of coverage to the Sens and Senator-related topics, and after some convincing and brainstorming we all agreed to go through with it—again, the cool thing about owning your own website is having the freedom to try these projects that nobody else would dare.

The plan was actually to pull the plug sooner, because we didn’t think it could last that long and we wanted to make a joke about how little the US Senate is actually in session. But it turns out, we had a lot of things to say about various Senators, and, although it polarized our readers, I see it as one of the highlights of our year.

In your most recent Sens-related missive, “Canada’s Funniest Team, The Ottawa Senators, are Up to Their Old Tricks”, you wrote that “I just think there’s something inherently really funny about the Ottawa Senators beating the Montreal Canadiens” as part of the explanation for your fascination with the team. We agree! Sorry, that wasn’t actually a question, I’m just wondering who would willingly cheer for the Habs?

They do have one fan who I very much appreciate: Nick Suzuki’s cat, Milo. Although I heard a rumor that he was the one who tossed that jersey on the ice the other night.

Which Tkachuk brother is more entertaining: Brady or Matthew?

Matt being a pain in the ass was great blog fodder back in my Deadspin days, but now I gotta say Brady, in part because I’m still not over the depressing and boring Jacob Markstrom shutout I had to sit through at a game in Detroit earlier this year. (I’m a Red Wings fan at heart, sorry.) It was really neat seeing him introduced at the season opener after signing the new deal! It felt like he’d come a long way in a short time.

One of the real highlights of Senators Week for a lot of us was Barry Petchesky’s Melnyk send up. What is it about teams with miserly owners that makes for such great writing fodder?

Not only is it a universally relatable experience to be frustrated with the guy in charge of things—whatever they are—but rich people tend to have a glorious lack of awareness for how tactless, annoying, or just plain ignorant they sound, because their own petty grievances always take precedence over the inner lives of others. Even if one of those peasants donates a liver to them.

What’s your favourite Sens off-ice controversy?

I can’t pick anything other than when all those Sens trashed the coaching staff in front of a hidden car camera back in 2018. Every writer’s dream is to hear these players say exactly what they’re thinking, and on one glorious night out in Arizona, that’s what we got.

If you had a magic wand that could determine the fate of the Ottawa Senators for the next five years, what would you wish for this team?

No. 1, that they get sold. No. 2, that they continue this long, slow, agonizing climb back into relevancy, with multiple postseason heartbreaks, until finally, finally it all pays off with a run where they beat the Leafs, Penguins, and Rangers en route to a Stanley Cup win over the Jets. (Nothing against Winnipeg, that’s just the matchup that’ll infuriate the league the most.) Melnyk doesn’t deserve it, but these fans sure do.

Lastly, I have to ask: who is your favourite Ottawa Senators Guy to Remember?

Radek Bonk. I love to remember that Guy.

Thanks again to Lauren! You can find her work at Defector, one the very best sports websites out there.

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