The NHL’s Ottawa Senators have been one of the most important things in my life for as long as I can remember.
I – like many of their fans – have followed them through deep playoff runs, through heartbreaking losses and through every star player they’ve ever had leaving, such as Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and most recently, Erik Karlsson.
Some of my closest friends are people I met through blogging about the Senators; when I first moved out of Ottawa, Senators [Sens] fandom was my strongest connection to my hometown. This team has become such an integral part of my identity that I cannot imagine what my life would look like without them.
Unfortunately, this past year has forced me and many of my fellow fans to rethink our investment in this team.
Fresh off an exciting playoff run where they were one overtime goal away from the Stanley Cup Final, the Senators have executed one of the most dramatic collapses in recent sports history. They have plummeted to the bottom of the NHL standings and spent the last year trading away most of their good players.
The team’s sudden decision to enter a rebuild has fans baffled and outraged. It does not make sense for the Senators to start a rebuild because their best players are in their prime, they have a lot of good young players coming up and they have traded away this year’s first-round pick.
Many fans blame owner Eugene Melnyk for the team’s situation. Last December, right before the Senator’s first outdoor game, Melnyk threatened to relocate the team if fans did not start buying more tickets. It was a slap in the face to a fanbase. A GoFundMe to have giant billboards put up around Ottawa displaying the message #MelnykOut raised over $10,000, and the hashtag became a rallying cry for upset Sens fans.
The Senators finished second last in the league last year. Usually, when a team is this bad, fans focus on individual players, because we are still attached to them and want them to succeed. For Sens fans, that’s not even an option. A year ago, my favourite NHL players were Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman and Fredrik Claesson. Today, the only one still on the Senators is Stone, and rumour has it he has no intention of re-signing when his contract expires at the end of this season.
I don’t care about many of the players left, and I’m not sure I want to if they’re all going to leave eventually.
Along with a large portion of the Senators’ fanbase, I’m trapped in a special kind of hell this season. I’m still watching games, but without any of the emotional attachment I once had.
I’m watching only because I’m afraid that if I don’t, I will lose touch with some of my best friends. I’ll be meeting up with Sens twitter friends and trying to translate my pain into comedy online, and waiting it out. Waiting for Melnyk to sell, and waiting for things to change enough that it doesn’t hurt to think about the team whose success used to determine my happiness.
The Ottawa Senators have become impossible to love, and when you’ve built your identity around something, it’s devastating to have it suddenly ripped away from you. This kind of thing stretches way beyond the realm of normal sports-related heartbreak.
So if you know a Sens fan, be nice to them this season. We’re going through a lot right now, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon.