As far as I can tell as a guy who was 12 when the Senators came back to life, there have been six major phases of Senators fandom:
- 1992 to 1992.5: Isn’t it cool to have a hockey team?
- 1992.5 to 1996: I’ve made a huge mistake.
- 1997 to 2007: Nothing is true, everything is possible.
- 2008-2015: We were wrong not to appreciate what we had, yet are luckier still to have what we do.
- 2016-2017: Erik Karlsson is the greatest hockey player on earth and he’s an Ottawa Senator.
- 2017-2020: We were right to hate ourselves.
Squint and look sideways at that list and you can almost suss out a cosmic cycle, like the rising and setting sun, or the inevitable decay of life in turn feeding saplings. Is it possible that we, Ottawa Senators fans, like Norrin Radd, believed ourselves to be making a sacrifice (becoming herald to the mighty Galactus to save our beloved Zenn-La) only to discover that he himself is servant to the grand ballet of the universe? Should we now embrace our hard-won perspective and know that life is suffering but also ephemeral and transitory? Should we turn away from our grievances and accept that we all have a role to play, and we can play this role with grace and care and thoughtfulness and patience? The answer, of course, is no.
It is the opinion of this humble WTYKY beat writer that we should enter the 2021 season with an unbelievable chip on our shoulders. Hockey is supposed to be fun and every season and game that’s taken place since we watched Erik Karlsson drag this team within a goal of the Stanley Cup Finals has been most definitely Not Fun. We’ve been robbed of the fundamental element of sports, which is Puck Goes Into the Whizz Bang Net, Team Red is Better Than Team Blue simplicity, and it’s been replaced with the stuff of city council meetings and deals with higher cap hits than salaries. We’ve been reminded that our hobby, and our culture, and our community, is the plaything of the billionaire owner who – even worse! – also happens to not have a billion dollars.
I don’t want to dwell on any of this. There have been so many post-mortems for our collective interest, many of them written by my friends and me. Instead, we need to look forward, not with positivity, but with anger.
So your Ottawa Senators traded a marginal pick for a depth forward with term who is a borderline enforcer. How are you supposed to feel about that? If this were the 1992.5-1996 Ottawa Senators, you’d think we were just trying to protect some semblance of our dignity while losing record numbers of games. If this were the 1997-2007 Senators, you’d be riding a ten-year playoff streak but still be traumatized by playoff losses and so would view Austin Watson through the prism of insecurity and overcompensation. If it were 2016-2107, you would think that even these moves around the margin represent missed chances to give Karlsson one more option to get the puck to. But this is the 2021 Ottawa Senators. How should we react to the fact that we traded for Austin Watson? We should react like we’re Austin Watson, which is to say, we should punch a vending machine to death for looking at us the wrong way. Nobody respects us. WE barely respect us! Act accordingly.
We have the deepest prospect pool and the best jerseys in the league. Nobody takes us seriously. There’s only one logical way to deal with this, which is to act like we have the deepest prospect pool and best jerseys in the league and ignore everything else. If there’s anything being alive in 2020 has taught me, it’s that blind confidence will carry even the most mediocre person pretty damn far. Maybe even to the Presidency!
We need to forget about 1992-2017 and take all of the embarrassment and frustration of the last three years and distill it into pure, unapologetic, shit-eating enthusiasm for our terrible hockey team. I’m not talking homerism. When we do something stupid and bad, don’t apologize for it, and don’t try to explain it. Embrace it. “Of COURSE we fucked that up – that’s because we rule. What, are you stupid enough to care about doing this the right way?” There’s enough room for this anger and our usual repugnance for Eugene Melnyk. I’m talking about basically becoming Flyers fans but stopping just short of whipping batteries at Santa Claus.
We don’t need to adopt somebody else’s vision of the Hi Haters mentality, either. I don’t want to pretend I liked that Joker movie, or watch Bill Burr stand up, or own the libs, or do any of the other things that make poor excuses for toxic infantilisms. We can build something special, something entirely our own – a unique brand of anger and spite and utter freedom centered on our Poor Stupid Terrible Awesome Ottawa Senators.
It’s strange that it’s taken me this long to land here; our best player is Brady Tkachuk! He understands the hate. He embodies it. He is also awesome and a good guy, etc. Dude is going to get under the skin of 85 percent of the league before he turns 25 and still be flossing with kids. He’ll be our captain soon enough, and thus be in charge of our Culture Department. What we need to do is be there with him, in The Shit with him. Brady’s gonna put us on his back like the contery itself, and in turn we may need to put him on ours – as well as on an ad on the side of a stalled LTR with the slogan “fuck around and find out.”