At the risk of sounding like a twee Etsy throw-pillow, I long ago came to the conclusion that one’s sports fandom should be about the journey not the destination. It’s supposed to be about Winning the Championship, but generally speaking, unless you’re the type of morally-bankrupt person who cheers for the Patriots or Manchester United, you are never going to watch your chosen team Win the Championship. In lieu of this, sports fandom is about Moments, it’s about The Struggle, and it’s about other metaphors for things that are actually meaningful. Sports are fake; you’re cheering for laundry. The way sports make you feel, the way you interact with sports, these are the realest thing about them.
I have grown tired of interacting with the Senators.
It’s not the losing. I have cheered for losing teams before, and it’s a near-certainty that I will continue to do so until I die. This year’s Senators isn’t nearly as bad as they are playing. They’ve had very bad goaltending, and the 3rd pairing collapsed with Chris Wideman’s injury, the team’s play has been lazy (witness the league-leading number of Too Many Men penalties), and the team is clearly just playing out the string, but there’s simply too much talent for “Draft Lottery Threat” to be the team’s true level.
No, I tire of the Senators because there is a spiritual sickness emanating from the top of the organization. Everyone from the team’s President to the organist is infected. Anonymous internet commenters whisper on Reddit and Twitter of an organization that has gone from “Bare bones” to “Potemkin”. Newspaper beat writers speak in understatement and euphemism, couching reports of ill-tidings in phrases like “it’s possible” and “sources say”. Everyone knows the same things, no one is quite willing to say them, but the implications are clear: the Senators, as we know them, are coming to an end. There will be a change; the change will either be on the ice or in the owner’s box, but deep, long-lasting changes are coming.
The Sens have been a lean organization for years now, but the canary in the coal mine for me this year is GM Pierre Dorion’s return to scouting. Granted, Dorion’s background is in scouting (by all accounts, he was a fairly good scout), but General Manager is not supposed to be a part time job. If the top hockey ops exec in the organization has to be moonlighting in Europe as a set of player evaluating eyeballs, things cannot be right.
Everyone sees where the corners are being cut. Scouts have left without being replaced, the analytics “department” is simply “a guy”, free agent acquisitions are players with whom the coach is familiar, popular players are traded rather than negotiated with, and the defensemen who are given new contracts are the ones which will come with the cheapest price tag.
It’s all so cynical. I am tired of the cynicism. I am tired of the lack of sincerity. It lacks sincerity when Melnyk announces “It doesn’t get any better than this” weeks before preparing to tear-down the current roster. It lacks sincerity when Melnyk reads off a script prepared for him by a PR firm. It lacks sincerity when the team announces a Hockey Is For Everyone Ambassador and then and fails to further acknowledge diversity in any way.
I’ll say this for Tom Anselmi: at least he seemed sincere. Anselmi brought us a commitment to the =O= logo, hot dogs, the Missing Chiclets, the outdoor game, a new jersey, and while not all those things were hits, you could at least tell that they came from a place of trying to do right by the fans. Sens fans actually want to like the team; the organization just needs to make itself likable. By God Anselmi tried to do this, but such naive and idealistic motivations could not last long in today’s Senators organization.
Friday’s press release from the organization spoke of “a renewed commitment to scouting, drafting and development”, and “changes to our lineup” and “pain with an endgame in mind: building an organization that wins”, but frankly, the organization hasn’t earned the right to have these words interpreted as anything other than a craven cover for trading away the team’s best, most-expensive players.
The fanbase doesn’t want a rebuild; the fanbase wants investment. The fans want to see investment in scouting, investment in hockey ops, investment in analytics, and most of all, investment in players. The fans want assurances that the team’s 3rd straight captain won’t be lost to another team because of money. The fans want things that we know current ownership can’t give us, and so we are sarcastic, we are unhappy, and we are tired.
I didn’t get into sports for this. I don’t want to have to give a shit about whether the team is burning through Presidents (!!) too quickly. I don’t want to do a Google search of the acting CFO and have the top two results be a harassment lawsuit and a securities commission fine. I don’t want to have to ask “Is this actually about money?” whenever the team does anything. I don’t want to talk about attendance or relocation ever again. I don’t want to have to think about how Daniel Alfredsson’s feud with ownership affects Erik Karlsson’s mindset.
So I won’t.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not quitting yet. The Senators didn’t “lose a fan” yet. I don’t respect myself enough to do anything that drastic, and I’m too much of a sucker for the team to pretend I’m able to stand up for myself. Yet.
But dammit if I’m going to survive Late Period Melnyk Ownership, I’m going to have to make some changes. I implore the Senators and Eugene Melnyk to do the same sooner rather than later.