On Friday afternoon, the NHL and the Ottawa Senators announced that two games on Jan. 8 in Vancouver and Jan. 15 in Winnipeg have been postponed due to “Canadian attendance restrictions.” These postponements make it an even 12 games that the Senators will have to make up before the end of the season if the NHL still hopes to have them play all 82 games. As the games pile up, the Senators have been given the short end of the stick.
Senators’ COVID-19 Battles
Already this season, the Senators have had their issues with COVID even before Omicron came to the forefront. In November, the NHL postponed three of their games while they worked through an outbreak that saw them missing 10 players. From the fans, there was a sense of understanding even with the frustration of knowing you couldn’t go home to watch your favourite team play, but it seemed like a temporary thing that would be over before you knew it. That hasn’t been the case, especially not in Ontario.
They eventually got through their issues, but omicron has hit the Senators just as hard as it had hit everyone else. Nearly everyone has been in the NHL’s COVID protocol at one time or another and only five players are yet to test positive. Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Adam Gaudette, Artyom Zub, and Erik Brännström are all yet to test positive.
“There’s a lot of key guys on our team who are out right now, which is adversity that we thought we were kind of done with [after] the first wave at the beginning of the year. We thought we had dealt with it,” said Tkachuk.
For as bad as things have been on the COVID front for the Senators, it looked as if things were going to get better in the coming days.
“At some time during this road trip we expect to have everyone back from COVID,” said head coach D.J. Smith.
Fan Attendance Causing Postponments
Games were being postponed originally due to positive cases, but that isn’t so much the case anymore, especially not for teams in Canadian markets. As cases have surged around the country, governments have implemented capacity limits once again. For some including the Vancouver Canucks, these restrictions allow for 50 percent capacity, but for others including the Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens, no fans are allowed in the building at all.
“I wish it was a full crowd for tomorrow’s match. I know the province has put in rules to keep people safe… It sucks,” said Tkachuk shortly before the new year. “I just wish they gave people the choice on the decision to come to games instead of just kind of taking it away.
“For us players, who want to play in front of full crowds, it’s not only for ourselves but it’s great for the people watching to kind of get out of their everyday lives,” he continues. “Whether people have individual struggles, they can come together as a community and rally around a team.
“That’s important today. It’s great for us to have people there to support us, but it sucks. I just wish people had the choice to be able to come. I think everybody realized this year what they were doing and they were happy to come support us and come to the game.”
As frustrating as it is for the players and fans to not be playing at all, even with no one in attendance, it’s not hard to see why Senators owner Eugene Melnyk would have a hard time playing. According to Elliotte Friedman, the Sens bring in $650,000 in revenue each home game, significantly less than any other Canadian team. (from ‘32 Thoughts: Without Olympics, NHL/NHLPA must plan for next World Cup,’ Sportsnet, Dec. 21, 2021)
It doesn’t take a detective to find out that the Senators don’t have the same capital that other Canadian teams have. While the Sens generate $650,000 in revenue per home game, the Maple Leafs generate around $3 million and the Edmonton Oilers and Canadiens bring in around $2.3 million. When the Canadiens were forced to play the Philadelphia Flyers at home without fans, even they were upset with the financial losses.
“That’s $2M of revenue we will never see again,” said one exec.
As the Senators play this season with just over $20 million in cap space, you have to wonder how much they could actually stomach. If there is an option to delay home games until fans are allowed back in the building, it’s worth examining, but there’s no certainty that is coming in the immediate future. Regardless, there’s not a single person who isn’t frustrated by the situation we have found ourselves in.
Where Will the NHL Fit Games In?
So far in the 2021-22 season, the NHL has had to postpone over 100 games thanks to various COVID-related concerns. Evidently, there are a lot of games to make up if the hope continues to be an 82-game schedule for every team even with the Olympic break being used to do so.
Most people we’re hoping to see the NHL’s elite talent at the Olympics in February, but of course, that can no longer happen. It gives the NHL some time to make up some lost games, but it’s hard to imagine them getting to everything in that period, especially not when you consider travel. There will likely need to be some creative solutions, but fans should expect some crowded schedules and potentially a delay to the start of the playoffs.
The end of the season is going to be treacherous for the Senators, much the same for nearly every other club in Canada, but with the time they have spent away from the rink, everyone is just looking forward to being back and playing games.
“This is the longest 28 games ever played with the amount of time off, breaks, sickness and what have you,” Smith said. “We have 54 games to go. I look forward to just getting back and going. So many of our guys have had COVID-19, it’s almost at the point where it’s gotten everyone and when it gets to that point you hope guys’ immunity fend them off from it.
“We hope we can get a good two- or three-month span here where we just play hockey. It’s the world today, and we know that, but as players, coaches, management and ownership, we just want to play hockey.”
What Can You Do About It?
You could pin the blame on the Ontario or Canadian government, you could pin it on the owners, or you could even blame the NHL for all the cancellations, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter who is to blame. As of now, the Senators are scheduled to play in Edmonton on Monday, Jan. 10, so they will need to keep ready to be back on the ice soon no matter how spotty the schedule.
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Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking and writing other sports (primarily Canadian football) on my website 13thmansports.ca!