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Senators Week

The Ottawa Senators Have Even Failed At Truly Sucking

Mike Reilly #5 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on April 7, 2021 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

This week, Defector has chosen to curate a collection of writing inspired by two entities that have had an indelible effect on North America: the upper house of the United States Congress and Eugene Melnyk’s pro hockey team. This is Senators Week.

As sports nicknames go, “Senators” has always been one of those passive-aggressive choices typically attached to passively sub-mediocre teams. Now that being a senator is considered slightly less noble a career than being a narcotics informant or a feral raccoon, only the Ottawa Senators dare use it at all, and that’s because they prefer to remember the 11 Stanley Cups they won between 1903 and 1927 than the way they moved to St. Louis so they could die in peace.

Thus, when Comrade Theisen signed up to be Defector’s chief Ottawa Senators correspondent, she glommed onto the team at its worst moment, which is saying something based on the operation’s history. Even Canadian hockey fans laugh at them, because while Canadians are generally mindful of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-goes-my-favorite-team, Ottawa has set a standard for misery that only a new owner and arena can begin to arrest. They had to trade two of their best players because one of their partners was sending angry messages about the other, which not even the New York Jets have managed. They are, to use the phrase we love to use in headlines at any provocation, ass.

In short, Comrade Theisen chose well. She found the Senators when they were 3-12-1, and they suddenly became not quite awful. She gave us the Senators when they caused then-Flames goalie David Rittich to drive his head into a wall, and she championed them when they won three games that caused their opponents to fire two head coaches and a goalie coach in the space of eight days. Most teams get their own coaches fired; Ottawa saved its own and destroyed others from the prone position.

And now … well, the Senators are just another crummy team, taking their hideous 3-12-1 start and turning it into a near-.500 season (they are 16-15-4 since Valentine’s Day) with an atrocious start. The Buffalo Sabres are demonstrably worse, and so are the New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Senators even passed the COVID-savaged Vancouver Canucks in their own division last Wednesday by beating them handily, although the six games the Canucks still have in hand because of the 25 days they spent in quarantine may make this a less-enduring triumph.

But that’s the problem. When a team becomes awful enough to win our hearts, they do what everyone else who has ever won our hearts has done: They have broken them by rising past persistent failure to intermittent, fleeting success. The Senators did not commit to the bit as we had hoped. They decided instead to be the Philadelphia Flyers, anonymous and fading.

This then is the state of our decaying culture. While good teams can cool with an injury to the wrong person, bad teams are typically bad collectively and stay that way. We wanted this for our brethren and sistren in the better nation’s capital, yet we got what usually happens to devotedly crap things—they lose their sense of devotion. The Ottawa Senators have become 2021 by being better than 2020 but clearly worse than 2019 or most of the years before that. Now they’re just fading into an ecru-and-gray background while others have taken their place at the bottom of the slag pit. They are now Senators by the truest definition: ineffectually beige. Comrade Theisen’s care, attention, and yes, even devotion have made them worse than terrible. They are now easy to ignore, and that won’t do at all.

But should they be abandoned for greater and more recent failures? Should we wish for them to abandon their quest for the sporting equivalent of witness protection? Will we turn on them and all the other proud non-achievers who have pulled themselves up by their undergarments and become not-quite-achievers. Can a sixth-place non-playoff team be loved as much as a seventh-place non-playoff team? Where is the point at which commitment to the bit seems more futile than fertile?

Senators Week is the answer. The newly plucky Sens will not be shunned just because they wanted to stop playing the hits and do a concept album instead. They are ours, not just because we haven’t got enough lye soap to scrub them off but because we resolutely stand with those who have gotten bored and walked away. Well done and fair play to them, whether they wish it or not.