Senstrology: How the hell do I feel about hockey right now?

Hello, fans of the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club! It’s been a rough year for us: We’ve lost some favourite players, our team is still owned by an evil broke boy who seems to be fueled by spite, and Pageau is out for the season.
Though we told ourselves we wouldn’t buy tickets to spite Melnyk, the first few games have been okay, at least not the shit show everyone expected, and we’re tempted to visit Kanata. Just once. Or does that make us hypocrites?

It’s all very confusing, isn’t it? Kinda stressful? Wasn’t hockey supposed to be an escape from these feelings? Will we ever love hockey again?

Instead of worrying your pretty little head about it, let me take you by the hand and tell you how you feel, thanks to the only thing we can trust in times of trouble: Astrology.

Capricorn
You can’t help yourself, Capricorn. When something is your thing, it’s really your thing. Even if it hurts, even if you told yourself you no longer care, you’ve probably been watching every single game. It’s okay.

Aquarius
You’re always in motion and highly adaptable. Sure, you were upset to lose Karlsson. Sure, you loathe Melnyk. But you’re thrilled to watch Tkachuk, Chabot and Duchene play. It’s not all bad, you’ll be fine.

Pisces
I know you miss Karlsson, I know you still haven’t gotten over Turris…or Alfie for that matter. I know you’re scared to love Chabot because he could leave us too. Hockey is a series of heartaches for you. Please stop crying.

Aries
No one is better at getting angry than you, Aries. You’re going to be angry until Melnyk sells the team and peace is restored. For now, we’re all enjoying your angry rants, it keeps the fire of hockey fandom rage burning.

Taurus
You’re a creature of principle, Taurus. You probably canceled your season tickets and put your jerseys in storage. You have zero tolerance for this kind of bullshit. Your love for hockey can rest for now. Maybe you’ll be back when things settle down, maybe you’ll get really into baseball.

Gemini
Let’s face it, Gemini. Paying less attention to hockey will give you more time to pursue one of your other 500 interests. Maybe you’ll try (and likely fail) to complete one of your many unfinished projects. You’ll still go catch games at the pub of course, no one can keep a Gemini away from a social gathering.

Cancer
You’re loyal to a fault, sweet Cancer. You’re hurt but damn it this is your team and you’ll keep supporting them. You’re basically married to the Senators at this point so prepare yourself to be by their side, on good days and bad.

Leo
Hockey related social gatherings? You’ll be there in your Karlsson jersey. Actually spending money on the Ottawa Senators this year? No way. You deserve better and you know it.

Virgo
Mmmmh don’t you just love a good grudge? Isn’t it so satisfying that pretty much everyone is on your side of the argument? This is almost as good as a decent hockey season.

Libra
Honestly, truly? The social aspect of hockey fandom is your favourite part anyway. As long as you can hang out with others and share the ups and downs, you’ll be fine. Can’t wait to hear you confidently tell some really dorky jokes at the sports bar.

Scorpio
No one should ever anger a Scorpio. This is not good. You’ve probably considered burning down the CTC.
Deep down, we all know it’s because you are hurting. Feeling everything this intensely is exhausting, but it means one day, when things are good, you will feel incredible. Hang in there, Scorpio!

Sagittarius
Sure this sucks but you’re okay. You probably already have a backup team you can enjoy rooting for this year. You probably have a whole backup sport you can enjoy instead of hockey. Ranting about your dumb favourite hockey team is fun but it won’t ruin your day. We’re all jealous of you.

 

Game On…….ish

Erik Karlsson is playing for the San Jose Sharks right now (team high 9:11 TOI through one period) and I just poured myself a glass of Maker’s Mark and now I feel like writing a few things about hockey.

First off, there can be no doubt that these are dark times for the Senators. With Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s injury, the second line centre is now Zack Smith, a player who was placed on waivers a week ago. You know things are really popping for you when the centre of your second (2nd) line is a guy no one wanted for free. Other interesting lineup notes: Ben Harpur and Max McCormick have one way deals and made the team automatically (Harpur will likely be a healthy scratch most of the time, and McCormick is on the 4th line with Tom Pyatt, who will playing on Guy Boucher’s teams long after they’re both dead), and also Brady Tkachuk won’t start the season due to a nagging groin injury (Fun fact: 80% of all groin injuries have been described as “nagging” at some point). Even the kinda good things have a little silver lining of sadness. Remember Colin White? Well he’s on the second line now! Sure he’s on the second line because Chris Tierney (a player we traded Erik Karlsson for) couldn’t out-play him, but still! Colin White, guys! It’s ok to get excited about Colin White again! Max Lajoie is the surprise of the pre-season! He’s only 20! Made the team out of camp! Did his fellow 2016 draftee Logan Brown make the team? Absolutely not, but still! Max Lajoie, folks! He’s another late round gem from the team that brought you Mike Hoffman (traded), Mark Stone (probably going to be traded), and Ryan Dzingel (he’s cool). Craig Anderson is still the starting goalie, and surely not even he can be as bad as Craig Anderson was last year. Can a plucky Senators squad with nothing to lose recapture the magic that only a .925 sv% can provide? Maybe! Hockey is back, and the Senators are a doing a passable imitation thereof!

Let’s circle back to that first thing for a moment: remember when the Senators put Zack Smith on waivers? What in the Panko encrusted hell was that about? Pierre Dorion claimed it was to “send a message” that last year’s play wasn’t acceptable, but this was message immediately undercut by

a) Matt Duchene, who said the move was like “a kick in the balls” whose purpose was “beyond hockey reasons”.
b) Guy Boucher, who said that Zack Smith was going to keep his spot on the second line.

If I were the message sending sort of GM, I would have thought that trading the captain and the team’s most flaky forward would have done the trick, but apparently the guy with the lowest plus-minus on the team last year had to feel the heat, too. Occam’s Razor says that placing Smith on waivers was a desperate attempt to lower payroll, and even if that wasn’t the case, I’m not sure how you don’t consult Guy Boucher first, or at least get him on board with the messaging. Boucher seemed just as perturbed as many of his players that his second line centre was being left out on the curb without so much as a “If it’s cool with you…”. Ultimately, it seems the message that was received in the room was “We will attempt to ship out your friends if it’ll save us money”, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that Matt Duchene is definitely not signing here long term once he finds out that he’s rich enough to afford a private plane that can fly him to Haliburton from anywhere.

Again, not that I blame Pierre Dorion. He’s got a job to do, and he’s doing it. It can’t be easy to get a phone call from your boss and have him insist that you personally have to find a way to keep the lights on past December even though the team has more money on IR than on the entire defense right now. It’s just gross to see that management isn’t even trying any more. Used to be that you could squint at a move like Zibanejad for Brassard and convince yourself that the cash savings were a mere coincidence and really it was basically a hockey move. Not any more. The Sens are taking 2nd liners and stapling “Free to a good home” to their chests. This is some next level shit.

Being a Sens fan right now kinda feels like being a Napoleon fan post Battle of Waterloo, so here are some reasons why I might watch hockey this season:

1. Aesthetic reasons – Not only were the Senators bad last year, but they were also totally unwatchable. The Sens being a team that could conceivably be watched for fun would go a long way towards my willingness to watch them for fun. Hockey, when played well, can be an enjoyable spectator experience. I am not ready to give up on the possibility of enjoying a 2018-19 Senators game yet.

2. Habitual reasons – One of these days it’s gonna be a Thursday night, and I’m gonna need something to do. Could watching Senators hockey be that thing? It’s been a thing in past years. It’s very possible it could be a thing this year, especially if watching the team doesn’t feel like a massive waste of my time and emotional energy. Hockey: It may be the thing I watch on Thursdays.

3. Emotional reasons – I want to like Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot, and Colin White, and Alex Formenton. Hell, I even want to like Cody Ceci. With no 1st round draft pick this season, there’s nothing to be gained by losing so why not be open to the possibility of enjoying the journey of a bunch of sentient lunchboxes who are taught the true meaning of hockey by some enthusiastic rookies? That’s a rhetorical question. Do not answer that.

Ok, so on the one hand, we have a hockey shaped hole in my life that maybe the Senators can fill. On the other side of things, here are some reasons someone might not watch the Ottawa Senators:

1. Extreme displeasure with recent events including, but not limited to, the captain being traded, harassment allegations against the team’s former AGM that were only cursorily dealt with by the team, the failure to sign Mark Stone or Matt Duchene to long term deals, the owner inserting himself into the team’s operations as much as possible, and the general impression that things are going to get much worse before they get better because the team is operating in such a way as to accomplish the bare minimum associated with being a professional sports team while the franchise itself accrues value due to land development rights on behalf of the aforementioned owner who has, at various times, openly mused about relocation, referred to the fans as “finicky”, alienated several of the team’s most beloved players, alienated several of the team’s executives, and generally shown an unwillingness to be agreeable in any way.

Look, it’s a complicated time.

It’s probable that home attendance is going to be a storyline again this season, and many fans are already voting with their dollar and openly boycotting the team until the organization proves they’re worthy of support. The organization? Well, they’re working on it. I’m not going to tell you how to be a fan this year; clearly I haven’t even worked it out for myself yet. Everyone has to live their truth and whatnot. Just…please do me a favour and try to not live a truth that is completely whack, like the sort of truth that says the only way to be a true fan is by going to all the games or by burning jerseys or by picketing in front of the Canadian Tire Centre. This year will be a lot more bearable if one half of the fanbase isn’t openly calling the other half of the fanbase dirty scabs for attending a game or buying a San Jose Karlsson jersey (even if those people are dirty scabs). If anyone can find something to enjoy in hockey at the moment, well then they’re entitled to it. Hopefully soon we all will be entitled to some happiness. I patiently await the day when the Senators give us something everyone can get behind.

You Maniacs! You Blew It Up!!!

Earlier today, Erik Karlsson was traded to the San Jose Sharks for a 6th defenseman, a defensive black hole, and some scratch-off tickets. Some quick thoughts because I don’t know how else to deal right now:

1. We’re not changing the name of the blog. That name is staying up forever.

2. Deep down inside, I could imagine a trade return for Erik Karlsson that didn’t make me want to check out entirely. This………..was not that. How do you not even get a SECOND PAIRING defenseman back? The team says it’s six assets in the return, but I say they’re pissing in my face and telling me it’s raining.

3. Until the unauthorized tell-all book is written by Michael Wolff or whoever, I’ll never understand why or how Pierre Dorion went from telling us “God created Erik Karlsson on the eighth day” to trading Erik Karlsson for pennies on the dollar in less than 500 days. I’ll bet the reasons were incredibly fucking stupid, though.

4. Speaking of Pierre Dorion, spare a thought for your man’s Vichy France ass. He knew what he was signing up for when he signed that three-year extension in February, and he did it anyway. Erik Karlsson was the crown jewel in his personal draft record. Your man had to undo his own legacy, be publicly depantsed by Doug Wilson for the second time in two months, and then talk about how he actually thinks it’s smart. Rough stuff. I’m glad I’m not him. If you’re the guy who drafted Erik Karlsson and then traded Erik Karlsson, it just means you’re the guy who traded Erik Karlsson.

5. One thing that can’t be overstated is how clumsy this all seemed from the get-go. Karlsson was going to be imminently traded for over half a year. Karlsson’s face was removed from promotional materials, the Canadian Tire Centre, etc. Your man got the full Enemy of Stalin treatment. Despite it all, we all still had to sit through the dog and pony show of the town halls and the *puts on Michael Jackson rhinestone gloves to make air quotes* contract extension offer before Karlsson got traded anyway and Pierre Dorion said “Yeah we’ve been talking about this since February”. What a waste of my emotional energy.

6. If you enjoyed doing that dog and pony show with Karlsson, I hope you enjoy doing it with Mark Stone and Matt Duchene this year. Rest assured that if they must be traded, the return will be extremely disappointing.

7. I don’t know how I’m going to engage with hockey this year. I think watching the Ottawa Senators will be tough, both in terms of quality of play and emotionally. Why get attached to Mark Stone if he’ll just gone soon? What if Thomas Chabot is good, but not quite as good as Thomas Chabot and Erik Karlsson together? Maybe I’ll get really into the Belleville Senators. Maybe Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, and Filip Chlapik will make the Senators worth tolerating. I’m not gonna put any pressure on myself to engage, though. Why waste energy trying to understand something that can’t be understood except through the lens of the whims of a disgraced former pharmaceutical magnate? This whole thing is stupid. Everything is stupid.

8. Thing I’m not looking forward to: everyone who knows me trying to talk to me about hockey. Don’t make sports your “personal brand”, kids! It’s a bad idea.

9. Check out Hockey Brunch! (Coming soon!)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

What the Fuck is Going On

There’s a level on which the bizarre 10:05 PM tweet from the Ottawa Senators’ official account undoubtedly represents an unprecedented low point in the modern history of the team or, at the very least, of the Eugene Melnyk era.

There’s another level, however, on which what happened last night was depressingly predictable given the continued underinvestment in what most large businesses take for granted: public relations and media strategy departments, professional writing and rigorous field testing of a message, good old-fashioned managing up and an actual, clear vision of progress. No healthy organization would have allowed this quality of a product in this kind of a toxic environment to see the light of day. This video – this utterly if unintentionally hilarious monstrosity of an attempt to control the damage – is the inevitable outcome of a franchise gone to seed.

Here are a few of the things I was thinking as I watched the ratio under that tweet surpass a thousand replies:

  • There’s a world in which I can understand what Melnyk was trying to do here. It’s the same world in which the New York Ranger’s February 2018 letter to season ticket holders exists. In less than 350 words, the Rangers’ owner and GM stood together as the voice of ownership and management and reminded their fans of their success to date; told them they were going younger and that it might mean saying goodbye to some familiar faces; reassured them that ownership remains committed to success. And finally – and perhaps most importantly – they said, “thank you.” Simple. Honest. Effective. The Rangers’ letter was everything this video is not. This video:
    • Doesn’t involve the GM or even the coach, further muddying the waters about who’s in charge and what the priorities are, let alone a journalist like Ian Mendes who might have lent the whole exercise some credibility.
    • Doesn’t clarify the team’s next steps while simultaneously committing the team to icing 10 young players out of 22 then 16 the year after for no discernable reason.
    • Doesn’t reassure fans that the management team “knows what it’s doing,” if only because NHL teams have 23-man rosters, not 22.
    • Mindbendingly includes something about the Senators having a lot of draft picks, despite not having their 1st – a principal source of anxiety for fans. The only extra picks the Sens have are two 7ths this season and two 3rds and two 6ths next season (they don’t have a 5th), which is basically nothing.
    • Is timed terribly, simultaneously deflating the rare excitement of the recent rookie tournament and depressing interest in the impending season.
    • Dismisses concerns about relocation as “noise” despite the topic having been introduced by Melnyk himself in another disastrously-timed media debacle.
  • Say what you will about Mark Borowiecki and the type of hockey he represents, but here he’s forced into a ridiculous situation that no employee should have to navigate. As a player known for his leadership and character, he’ll be game for whatever wacky thing the owner has in mind. He’s a good company man. But he’s also a professional athlete who makes $1.2 million a year to play hockey and shouldn’t have been put in a position to interview probably the least popular person in the city. I feel bad for him.
  • It’s hard not to read Melnyk’s “it’s not one or two or three players” comments as an indication that the team may lose some or all of their best three players, all of whom are impending unrestricted free agents, and thus this video as an attempt to get out ahead of an upcoming series of trades. The involvement of a player implies that the dressing room is on board with whatever changes are to come, again roping the team into management’s designs and using the players as a human shield against fan angst.

Perhaps weirdest is the owner taking the opportunity to tell the fans that he’s not going anywhere for a long, long time. This, after a summer in which #MelnykOut became the organic, unifying meme this team has never been able to create itself. Maybe Melnyk is out of touch with how his customers feel, or billionaires just have brain worms from years of people sucking up to them, but if he has even the slightest sense of what’s going on then the inclusion of this little tidbit can’t help but feel like a big “fuck you” to those of us who can’t bring ourselves to buy a ticket if it means giving Eugene Melnyk a dollar. He’s saying he’ll outlast us.

And finally, I feel for the veterans in that dressing room on unmoveable contracts: Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson, Marian Gaborik, Mikkel Boedker, and Zack Smith. When they signed those contracts, the team seemed to be trending up. Now they’re trapped between an owner nobody can control, an irate fanbase, their own declining abilities and the complete lack of a future. Craig Anderson, in particular, who’s been a warrior for the team for the better part of eight years and probably the best goalie the Sens have ever had, is about to be on the receiving end of a really bad team’s really bad season. I hope they find a home for him elsewhere and a real chance to end his career competing for a Cup.

In the end, what we’re left with is our own work. Last night’s spontaneous combustion of our favorite team was at least a moment to appreciate the creativity and passion of the fans on twitter. We deserve better than this. At least we’ve got each other.