It's spring time in Ottawa. The kids down the block are playing street hockey, the sun is out past 5:00 pm and some of the city's braver residents are walking around in T-shirts.
But something's different this year—something’s missing. The Senators aren't going to make the playoffs. That means no Sens games shown on sunny patios in late April or May. No Sens playoff parties when University students finish their exams. No tacky porch decorations. No "Sens Mile" on Elgin Street. And a serious decline in red face paint sales at party stores across town.
It's the first time in more than 10 years that the team is going to miss the post-season. And 10 years is long enough to get used to something.
But none of this is unexpected, and Ottawa residents have had a long time to prepare themselves—the Senators have sucked for a while now.
But what no one could have expected, what would truly be a nightmare realized, is no Eastern Conference Canadian NHL team being in the playoffs. That might stop spring dead in its tracks. (And bankrupt the CBC)
Ottawa loves its Senators, but it loves the Habs and Leafs too. Go to any sports store in the city and you’ll see as many Leafs jerseys for sale as Sens jerseys. Go to a Habs game in town and you’re as likely to hear a “Go Habs Go” chant as anything else.
In this town, there has always been something to cheer for in May.
If you’re a Leafs fan and your team doesn’t make it—no problem! Cheer for whoever plays the Senators. If you’re a Sens fan and your team is ousted in the first round—no big deal! Cheer for the Habs (I can hear the Sens Fans: “Montreal’s only two hours away and I cheer for the other Canadian teams after Ottawa’s out—just not Toronto, ever!”).
None of the three even making the playoffs? That would be torture. That’s impossible. There are only seven teams in the Eastern Conference that don’t make the playoffs. Could Canadian teams really occupy three of those spots? Could Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal all miss the playoffs? It’s entirely possible.
At the start of the season, everyone knew the Leafs weren't going to make it—Coach Ron Wilson did a good job of lowering the already close to non-existent expectations for the Blue and White in before the season began. The team is rebuilding. That’s fine.
Expectations for the Senators weren’t so low. The team finished poorly last year, but there were hopes in the city and across the country that they could rebound. They had a new coach, the “pizza” line was healthy, they got rid of walking-distraction Ray Emery, and they had enough experience to make a run at the Cup.
Things didn’t turn out that way. Inconsistent goaltending, poor team defence, and lacklustre effort were the themes of the season.
But Montreal? This was their year. Every few weeks there was some Canadiens tribute hyping up the teams 100th anniversary. They hosted the all-star game, they were the toast of the league, and the team was really good.
At the all-star break, they looked like they would have home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. They were certainly supposed to challenge for the Cup, if not win it, as so many experts predicted at the start of the season.
But what happened? The team started to skid, Carey Price didn’t look like Ken Dryden reincarnated anymore, their best player was asked to stay home on a road-trip and they started losing games. Now, head coach Guy Carbonneau has been fired and replaced by GM Bob Gainey.
Right now, Montreal sits in eighth in the Eastern Conference, occupying the last playoff spot. Florida is one point behind them with 10 games left to be played. The team is in disarray, losing 5-2 to a Maple Leafs team last night that is essentially playing for nothing.
So what can we do if there are no Eastern Conference Canadian teams in the playoffs?
I don’t know?
Stay up late and cheer for Sundin, hope for Brodeur to win a fourth cup, or just watch basketball.