After having spent the last few years being one of many, many, many voices in a discussion about one particular team in one particular sport, I’ve concluded that there are a few ineluctable truths about this team (spoiler: Ottawa) on which we can each and every one of us agree. That isn’t to say that the details can’t be debated in one form or another, like a squabble of ducks nibbling around the edges of a delicious saltine cracker. But the distilled nougat at the center of each truth (editor’s note: saltine crackers do not contain nougat) should be common knowledge by now, and so, require no further writing.
After this post. In which I write about them.
In acknowledging the truths articulated below, it’s my hope that we, the fans—the collective heart, and perhaps a small part of the brains of this team—might come to some sort of understanding about how to constructively talk about the Ottawa Senators and thereby enjoy watching them play hockey maybe a little bit more.
They are as follows:
- The team owner, Eugenious R. Melnyk III, does not have enough liquid cash on hand to spend to the cap. This fact often inflates a concept we understand and describe through clenched teeth as, “The Infernal Budget.” (See what I did there? Thanks, I went to college for like 9 years.)
- Though 1) exists, it does not mean that the owner doesn’t have enough money to operate the team, which is to say he can keep selling tickets and merchandise and just generally keep the ship floating as the franchise’s underlying value accrues.
- However, also because 1) exists, the team can’t spend the next 4-5 years tanking and not making any money, because Eugenious can’t float the losses.
- It makes absolutely no sense—zero whatsoever—for the owner to sell the team now. The league keeps growing. Revenue sharing is in place. There’s a TV deal kicking in. Expansion is on the way. There’s money to be made on this team over the next decade.
- Though the team might have a couple of clunker contracts on the roster, they don’t have any absolute stinkers, and those that do stink are of a small enough order as to not significantly tie management’s hands. Yes, Colin Greening’s contract didn’t work out. Sure, Bobby Ryan should make like $1M less. Jared Cowen is paid like a defenceman he’s never been. Chris Neil and Chris Phillips are old and ineffective. But none of those deals were made without justification at the time. Some of the guys are well loved and have been with the franchise their whole careers. Some were given Turris-like low risk / high reward contracts that didn’t pan out. Jared Cowen has prestige and punched Ian White in the face that one time. That doesn’t mean that management is inept. Whatever swings for the fences that fell short are more than than made up for by the high value contracts for Karlsson, Turris, Anderson, Stone, Zibanejad, Methot, MacArthur, Hoffman, Chiasson, and Wiercioch.
What does this mean for people who write and read about the team? Well:
- The team can’t spend money that isn’t there, so don’t suggest that they go out and get whomever.
- The owner will not sell the team just so we can have a new owner who has the money to go out and get whomever.
- The team is going to keep trying to sneak into the playoffs where “anything can happen” ™ for the foreseeable future. No five-year rebuild.
- Though we can note when a contract didn’t pan out, and how a team that needs to spend money wisely can’t have too many bad contracts, spilling literally twenty million words every year about what amounts to about 14% of their cap space delivering 7% of its value just isn’t compelling enough a story to convince anyone that ownership and management don’t know what they’re doing.
So, with what does that leave us? How can we possibly write about hockey in Ottawa if we’re not wringing our hands about finances?
Well, for starters, acknowledging that everybody knows the above and closing those discussions for a wee period of time allows us to focus on the individual games being played right there in front of us, every other night, like magic. It allows us to enjoy and to talk about the experience of watching live hockey, and the myriad moments in any given game that contribute to the end result.
Letting go of the bugaboo of ownership dollars and Greening’s contract allows us to give in to the dizzying highs and desultory lows of watching a small-town hockey team, led by the greatest defenceman of his generation and an undrafted goaltender with hamburgers painted on the side of his helmet, as it attempts to snatch divine inspiration from the vain clutches of the media-market gods.
It allows us bloggers, unwashed and uncouth, to write about important topics like fairness, and inclusiveness, and community, and to participate in something larger than any one of us, and to revel in celebrations of Asgardian scope and become deeply and inconsolably depressed when the team blows a lead in the last minute.
It allows us to put aside the petty, daily distractions we are each faced with and to enjoy sport as entertainment. And, when we aren’t enjoying it, to change the channel and watch something else.
And it allows us to identify the many, many other things to write about and talk about that will come to us spontaneously after one too many plastic cups of $9 draft.
What I’m saying is that I’m supremely looking forward to this year, not least of which because we have an exciting young team, but also because it’s possible for us to create the conditions in which to enjoy it. Hockey is a lot of fun. It’s the best sport in the world. Let’s start talking about it that way.
At least until we start talking about the new arena. During the construction of which we will all die.