From Maple Leafs to Senators: My Fandom Journey

Imagine my luck.

I spent my entire life a diehard Maple Leafs fan. For the entirety of my teens and 20s, they were horrendous and borderline unwatchable. They brought in incompetent management that made bad trades, overpaid free agents, and couldn’t make a draft pick to save their lives. Then, they got Auston Matthews, the tides turned, and they became one of the top teams in the NHL. It was around this time that I decided I wanted to be a hockey writer, so I started a blog and began looking for work. Now I’m starting my first job with The Hockey Writers. But there’s a catch: they need me to cover the rebuilding OTTAWA SENATORS.

The Leafs’ victory song is true; I really am getting right back to where I started from. Whatever. Loyalty is overrated. Fifty in ’07 baby, go Sens go!

To learn about my new favorite team, I decided to get in touch with a few anonymous lifelong Senators fans to uncover our pain points and what to be optimistic about moving forward.  Let’s start with the pain.

The Arena Location Stinks

“It’s the worst. Seriously. Come to Ottawa to experience how bad it is. The Canadian Tire Centre is in Kanata, but I live downtown, so on game nights, it’s probably a 40-minute drive to the rink with traffic. Sometimes you’re stuck on the exit ramp of the highway near the rink because so many people are heading to the game. When you try to leave after the game, it is chaotic as hell. Everyone’s leaving the parking lot at once. There’s nothing really around the rink to make you stay out there, so everyone just heads back to town. Just a bad experience.”

Canadian Tire Centre
Canadian Tire Centre (Jeff Morris/THW)

I never thought about it until recently, but arena location is an underrated key to fan happiness. Going to an NHL game is meant to be a fun night out. Most fans want to be near a place where they can go out for a nice dinner and crush a couple of pops. No one wants to drive 40 minutes to the middle of nowhere to watch a rebuilding team. Despite many great memories, it’s time for the organization to look out for the fans’ best interest and move the team to a better area. My sources indicate that LeBreton Flats would have been the perfect location. Me and the rest of my Senators’ brethren deserve a new barn. Make it happen, Eugene.

The Owner

“There is a never-ending carousel of executives coming in for short periods of time and leaving. It probably has something to do with Eugene Melnyk. Why is he involved in so many lawsuits? Why does he always seem to be fighting with the Ottawa media? Why would he say he is “all-in” for a “five-year run of unparalleled success” but doesn’t spend close to the cap? What’s this guy’s deal?”

Eugene Melnyk
Eugene Melnyk (THW Archives)

I always knew people were not fond of the owner of the Ottawa Senators; I just never paid much attention to it. But after some research, oh boy, this guy is a total gong show. If he was a professional wrestler, he would be Eugene “The Lawsuit” Melnyk. I feel like he is at A-Rod levels of unlikability in the sense that it’s almost fun for the fans to have someone to dislike with this much passion. But is there a chance he’s just misunderstood? Absolutely not. Here are some highlights:

I think I am going to support him staying on as owner forever for two reasons:

  1. I like to be a contrarian.
  2. Content, baby.

Star Players Leaving

“We draft well and we acquire talent, but then we lose it for nothing. Mika Zibanejad, Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Nick Foligno, Stone, Matt Duchene, and the list goes on. Whenever we have a solid player, there’s this constant fear that we’re going to lose them. I just want us to lock up Norris so I don’t have to go through another Tkachuk holdout situation. That would suck.”

Defenseman Zdeno Chara
Former Ottawa Senator Zdeno Chara (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

Contract holdouts and losing star players will be tough to stomach for any fan. I don’t understand why teams just can’t get the deals done before training camp. In Canada, where the media is a circus, it can be such a distraction, and it creates unneeded negativity. Why can’t they find a Josh Norris comparable and sign him to the contract he deserves? With the Tkachuk contract, it’s hard to understand what the need for a holdout was for when they came to terms on such a reasonable contract. Management needs to get the deals done quicker; the fans have been through enough. And for the love of God, spend up to the cap and give the boys a chance.

It’s time for some optimism.

The Core. The Core. The Core.

“I love our young core of talented players. Captain Tkachuk, Chabot, Batherson, Norris, and Stutzle have shown a ton of growth over the last two years. Also, they seem to really like each other and enjoy playing together. It’s nice to see the team comradery and the chemistry they’re building. If we can keep this core together and bring in a player in free agency, the sky is the limit. Oh, and Murray needs to keep playing well.”

Ottawa Senators Celebrate
Ottawa Senators Celebrate (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It should go without saying that every team wishes they had a Brady Tkachuk. Then you watch Stützle play, and there’s just so much razzle-dazzle to his game; that kid is going to be a stallion. The defense totally needs some renovations, but Chabot, Brannstrom and Zub are all solid back there. But what I’m surprised by during my first week covering the Senators is the strong depth up front. Norris, Brown, Batherson, and Formenton are all guys that make me think this team isn’t that far away. Another little-known fact about the Senators is they have some of the top prospects in the game ready to jump to the NHL within the next two seasons. If even half of these players pan out, watch out for them come 2024.

Final Thoughts on the Senators

We are just a few moves away from becoming the greatest dynasty the NHL has ever known. Go Sens go!

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