Somehow I got emotionally invested in the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators
Why do I keep doing this to myself?
When I think back over my favourite hockey writing of the past 10 years, three articles immediately come to mind. The first is the infamous Dave Nonis vs. a potato article from Pension Plan Puppets, a masterclass in roasting bad decisions without resorting to incoherent, angry yelling. The second is the Welcome To Your Karlsson Years breakdown of the Ottawa Senators’ theme song. It really is the epitome of the way I wish I could write comedy, perfectly balancing a half-dozen tones while also getting nerdy about music and hockey. The third is sadly behind a Washington Post paywall, but the headline paints you a pretty good picture: If You Get Emotionally Invested in a Playoff Hockey Team, You’re a Masochist. It perfectly sums up my feelings about how invested I am in the Sens, and makes me feel even worse when I realize how I’m invested in a hockey team that probably won’t even make the playoffs.
It’s not hard to think of moments that have been devastating as a fan of this team. Mention the names Jeff Friesen or Chris Kunitz, and Sens fans start to twitch. We’ve had a couple of captain leaving kicks-to-the-teeth. I wrote about the devastation of Daniel Alfredsson’s departure in my pre-S7S days, and I even paraphrased that WatPo article’s headline in my opening line analyzing my feelings about the Erik Karlsson trade: “I am an idiot for tying my emotional well-being to a sports franchise.” In addition to those uniquely crushing moments, however, I can think of so many times that a slow start or a blown lead or a bad coaching decision or a bad call or an inopportune bad penalty or a thousand other things have put me in a sour mood for the rest of the night.
I can’t say there’s much reason to it; I have no control over how players perform, or the coach’s decisions. I have no input on the GM’s various trades and transactions. Something I have absolutely no control over shouldn’t have any power over my emotional state. And yet, it does. It absolutely does. It's illogical, but it does.
I’d spent the years since the Karlsson trade expecting this team to be bad. Sure, trading Mark Stone was hard, but I knew that team was bad. I was having fun cheering for the underlying storylines — Thomas Chabot playing 300 minutes a game, Brady Tkachuk managing to piss off everybody — while expecting the team to lose. Fandom is often involuntary — I couldn’t stop cheering for the Sens if I wanted to — but expectations affect my reactions. I could be less emotionally invested in the team while simultaneously loving them.
Which brings me to this season. With the passing of Eugene Melnyk, there were rumours that the Sens were going to loosen up the purse strings a little. And oh boy, did the summer feel great. We all know about the Alex DeBrincat trade, the Claude Giroux signing, the Josh Norris and Tim Stützle extensions. And it wasn’t just us; national outlets were declaring it the Summer of Pierre, and others were saying the Sens had the best offseason of anyone. We were girlbossing our way to success, with new ownership on the horizon. I let myself get swept up in the hype, and had expectations for this team.
We got through the first couple games, and had a great homestand to start the year. Things were looking up in Ottawa. And then... the wheels fell off. This team has had two 6-game losing streaks this season. I feel my blood boil when I see our fourth line out defending another one-goal lead with a minute left. I struggle to cope with another game with Austin Watson, Mark Kastelic, Parker Kelly, and Dylan Gambrell in the lineup while nobody gets called up from Belleville. I roll my eyes so hard they almost fall out when I see Travis Hamonic take another clapper five feet wide with Jake Sanderson and three top-six wingers on the ice who he could’ve passed to. I keep getting my hopes up, keep being disappointed, and I can’t help but feel like I let this happen. I like to joke my motto is under-promise and overdeliver. Why not take this mentality into fandom?
The answer is that the elation that comes with fandom is worth it. It sounds a little silly, but I mean it. Even this season, I don’t know how many times I’ve fist-pumped home alone because the Sens scored a nice goal. I can remember being on a high the whole afternoon and evening after we watched Claude Grioux rip a slapshot on a breakaway. (I even just got pumped again looping that clip for the umpteenth time.) It’s been so much fun this past week watching the Sens torch the Leafs and the Habs in back-to-back-to-back games. Thinking back, it’s easy to remember the dejection of Game 7 against the Penguins in 2017, but that whole run was still so much fun. One crushing moment doesn’t undo all the positive. The Hamburglar run is still a great memory, despite the fizzling out at the end. Game 3 against the Canadiens in 2013 was so much fun, that I found some strangers here on Silver Seven to go watch a game at a bar in downtown Toronto for Game 4 because I didn’t want to experience it alone.
Thinking about other sports, I lived in Ghana for three years when I was younger, and the joy of watching them progress to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup wasn’t undone by Luis Suárez being Luis Suárez (and doing what the rules told him to do). Being a casual part of the Raptors’ improbable 2019 title run was amazing. I can only imagine what it will feel like when a Sens run doesn’t come up just short.
So take heart, Sens fans. This was always going to be a tough year, and the Bruins deciding to play like it’s 1974 hasn’t helped things. Barring a Hamburglar-esque run (the Søgaardian? the Mand-ibular?), Ottawa isn’t making the playoffs this year; they sit at about a 6-9% chance of making the playoffs, and would need to leapfrog four teams. But there still are many positives. How about new acquisitions DeBrincat and Giroux being at 0.82 and 0.96 points per game? Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stützle progressing even better than expected? Jake Sanderson living up to the hype? There will be things to cheer about this season, and there will be more things to cheer about in future seasons. The disappointment will happen, but also many, many great moments will make it worth it. We will get to cheer on cathartic playoff wins in the future.
And in the meantime, when you’re so angry you could chew your lip off? That’s what blog comment sections are for.