Editor's note: Today's piece is a throwback to our old FanPosts at SB Nation. We're pleased to present some writing courtesy of Adam Coplan, one of the hosts of the Zubcast. You can find their work here. Look for more FanPosts as the season goes along - nkb
When the Ottawa Senators last made the playoffs in 2017, I was in the prime of my high school years, playing 1st trombone in the jazz band, and putting up respectable 3rd line house league numbers for the Ottawa Centre Minor Hockey Association. Last week, we flipped the calendar to 2024, and I am 22 years old. I have graduated from high school and university; in that span, the Senators have done virtually nothing but lose.
I consider myself a die-hard fan, and I’m proud of it. I’ve loved the Senators ever since I was sentient, but my time as a fan has been mostly defined by perennial losing, shocking off-ice scandals, and a complete overreliance on blind hope. Like many fellow supporters, I have first hand experience with many on-ice horrors these last almost seven years. I was at the game in Buffalo in November of 2018, where the somehow-not-yet-retired Jason Pomminville led the home team to a 9-2 rout of Erik Burgdoerfer’s Ottawa. The Sens received goals from beloved Senators Max McCormick and Cocy Ceci. Watching an entity in which I pour all of my energy into lose by 7 goals to a team that finished with 33 wins that season was stupefying at best – but I remember a serene acceptance that I felt during the 8 hour drive home. “This is what rebuilds are like,” I said to myself. “When they make the playoffs and win the cup one day, I’ll remember this one.” It meant a lot to me that I could say I was there through the most bottomless of abysses.
Back then, to me, losing had to be accepted. It was part of the deal. If you thought that a team with Mikael Boedker and Chris Tierney in their top 6 was going to deliver anything even remotely close to playoff hockey, you were kidding yourself. That's not to say folks weren't invested in the team; whether it was curious lineup decisions, off-ice incidents, or roster additions via signings or trades that seemed inexplicable, fans still had expectations and weren't wrong to voice their displeasure. But there was also hope. There was always the promise of a better future. There was the shine of a young core that would learn how to play the right way and learn how to get it done. To the fans, the team made it clear that from the desolation of these rebuilding years, there would be glory, and that is why I, like so many other unwavering supporters, stuck around. It had to get better. That was the deal.
The existence of a deal means that there are at least two sides that have to hold up their end of things. The expectation for the fans was to keep supporting the team through some tumultuous and, at times, unwatchable hockey while the players grew stronger and improved to the point of becoming a sustainable playoff team and eventually a Stanley Cup Champion. There is not a doubt in my mind that the fans have held down their end. They've been through hockey fandom Hell and back more than once and yet the support remains strong. They show up to games. They produce and digest content about the team. They haven’t stopped caring. On the other side of the deal, the organization has been given plenty of time to build a winner that would make all the suffering worthwhie. With the 2023-24 season all but over already, less than halfway through, it’s fair to say that the team has not kept up their end of the bargain at all. This will be the seventh consecutive season of losing. This was not part of the deal.
Throughout the rebuild, we often talked about culture. We would hear things along the lines of “this young team needs the right locker room culture to succeed” and “this team should be surrounded by players who will foster an admirable culture.'' Although it's abundantly clear that this team loves playing together and strong friendships between players have been formed, the most notable culture that this team has adopted over the last six seasons has been the culture of losing, and it turns out that it’s not an easy culture to shake off.
This season was the first one since the rebuild started that I demanded playoff hockey from the Senators. I felt like that was fair. There was a new owner, and with that came new hope and excitement from the fanbase. Finally, the losing was over. A new era would begin. But, they didn’t start well (again). There was off-ice controversy (again). The on-ice play was not showing any kind of meaningful progress (again). Then the GM was fired. Shortly there after the coach was shown the door. Despite some off-season additions, the team's record has taken a step back.
Is it a bit early to give up on this young core of players? Absolutely, and that’s certainly not what I'm advocating for. But, it’s certainly not too early to have some real doubts. This team has experienced too much losing. Thanks to the complete organizational incompetence sustained over the rebuild, the team only learned how to lose, and it looks like it might require a herculean effort to teach them how to win.
We should not be here. I’m shocked that we’re at this point. I’ve believed in the core ever since it began to be assembled, and I still believe in them now, but it’s hard not to feel slightly cheated as a fan. Qualifying for the play-offs is not lofty expectations. We aren’t calling for a championship-or-bust season. We aren’t even calling for a series win. All we want is for this team to be in the top half of their conference at the end of the regular season. Is that really too much to ask after all the years of suffering?
Like many Sens fans my age, my touchstone moments are the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals run, the Hamburglar magic in 2015, and the beginnings of “Pageauuuuu! Pageau, Pageau, Pageauuuuuu!” against the Canadiens in 2013. But, most importantly, I grew up with the reality that the Senators were, at the very least, a respectable franchise in terms of performance. It was nice to always have that comfort that even if the Senators missed the playoffs by a point or two or got bounced in the first round, at least we weren’t the Leafs. I remember very vividly, always thinking to myself when I was younger, “I can’t imagine being a Leafs fan.” “Thank god we aren’t that bad,” I’d tell myself. Well, now I can imagine it.
The future of the organization is likely in good hands under Michael Andlauer, Steve Staios, and Dave Poulin, but none of that means anything until they start to win. Something I fear is whether the team's sustained poor showing is hampering their ability to attract new fans. People like myself who witnessed that run to the ECF in 2017 at least have something positive to associate with the Senators. It was an incredible time to be a Sens fan. But as for any young hockey fans currently growing up in Ottawa, why would you cheer for the Senators? Why would you pick them as your team? You’ve never seen them do well, they’re the laughing stock of the NHL every year, and there’s nothing that really strongly suggests that they’ll turn things around incredibly soon. Toronto has a 60 goal scorer and finishes with 90+ points in the standings every regular season and they’re right down the 401. Even Montreal, a team that’s far earlier in their rebuild than Ottawa, is outperforming the Senators, and they’re only a 2 hour drive away.
Starting 0-3 in 2024 while being outscored 13-5 in those games is a microcosm of what this team has given their fans over the last six and a half seasons. This, however, is not going to be treated like another 9-2 loss against Buffalo in 2018. There is no “hope for the future” to bandage a loss anymore because the future is now. They need to rectify the damage; we've all waited long enough. No more excuses, it's winning time.
Go Sens Go.