Should the rest of Canada join Ottawa Senators bandwagon? (Roundtable)

The Ottawa Senators bandwagon added a high profile fan last week, before their Eastern Conference Final series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We’re all happy to support Ottawa right now, and even Torontonians and Montrealers can agree on this particular one,” said Prime Minster Justin Trudeau. “I think all Canadians will be rooting for the final Canadian team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

Nationalism in the Stanley Cup Playoffs can be a little specious. Like when New York Rangers fans chanted “U-S-A!” in their games against the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators, despite their leading scorer being Norwegian and their star goalie being Swedish. And like the concept of Ottawa as a paragon of Canadian virtue, when their best player is a Swede and their overtime winner in Game 1 came off the stick of a guy from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

But every time a Canadian team makes a deep run in the postseason, someone – in this case an easy-on-the-eyes prime minister – declares that that Canadian fans need to monolithically line up behind it as “Canada’s Team.”

So can the Ottawa Senators be “Canada’s Team” in their quest to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993, ignoring the hundred times it’s been there since 1993 courtesy of Canadian players who won it with American teams?

In this edition of the Puck Daddy Roundtable, we put together a group of experts from those other six Canadian NHL teams to explain whether the Ottawa Senators will ever be embraced as “Canada’s Team.”

Here are Jeff “The Leafs Are Actually Good” Veillette of the Nation Network; Amanda Stein of Montreal’s TSN 690; Jonathan Willis of Oilers Nation and Yahoo Canada; Ryan Pike from Flames Nation; Dave Minuk of Illegal Curve, a Winnipeg Jets site; and from Vancouver both Wyatt Arndt of The Province and Kent Basky from Nucks Misconduct!

Thanks to all who participated, and here … we … go.

Why should or shouldn’t the fans in your city (or for your team of choice) back the Ottawa Senators?

VEILLETTE: There are pros and cons to it, coming out of Toronto at least. For many, the Battle of Ontario will never escape their minds, so if you’re somebody who buys heavily into the concept of rivalry, you shouldn’t cave now just because they’re the only Canadian team standing. The logo on the front hasn’t changed; if you disrespect it for 82 games, you should disrespect it in the post season.

I’m more of a hockey is hockey guy, so even if I don’t buy too much into the Sens being an elite or even great team in the long run, I’ve been enjoying it working out for them in the short term. Clarke MacArthur deserves to go on a monster run after everything he’s gone through while recovering from his concussions, and as a bit of karma for being tossed to the side by the Leafs in the 2013 playoffs.  Leafs fans who aren’t overly spiteful for the last generation should be able to appreciate Dion Phaneuf getting a chance to go on a deep playoff run.

There’s also Erik Karlsson. He might manage to become remembered as the best defenceman of this generation while still being undervalued, and while it’s laughable that he needed to go on this run to get positive attention, it’s not hard to root for the fact that it’s happening for the sake of the sport. Leafs fans should be cheering on the idea of creative, offensively driven hockey getting more and more respect from the old guard; their team appears poised to head all-in on players of that type of mould, so Karlsson finally getting credit is a good push toward acceptance.

Lastly, the fact that a team that has a minus-3 goal differential in regulation in this postseason, after finishing the season minus-4, is seven games away from winning the Stanley Cup should be proof that anything can happen, and if that doesn’t add a degree of optimism for a fanbase that has had no reason to have any, I don’t know what will.

STEIN: Here in Montreal it’s not a matter of should or shouldn’t. It’s too ingrained in the community to be a Montreal Canadiens fan, the love for this team – and I mean *love* runs far too deep for the hardcore fans. I just don’t see that happening at all. I don’t even think its something many fans entertain.

Especially being in Montreal, there is such a heated rivalry between the Canadiens and Sens I can’t see the die-hard fans getting up and cheering for the Sens, it just doesn’t fit into who they are as hockey fans.

In some really twisted way – even though the Canadiens haven’t won a Cup since 1993 that’s the last shred of gloating fans have to hold on to – being the last Canadian team to win the Cup. I hear it all the time, it’s the annoying trivia question you hear that everyone knows the answer to. But the Canadiens are the last Canadian team to win the Cup (Did you know they’ve won it 24 times?!), and it would feel so wrong for Habs fans not to have that anymore, and especially being taken away by the Senators.

WILLIS: Of the various crazy things that we in sports media do, telling fans how to be fans might be the nuttiest, so I’m not going to do that here. I’ve talked to some fans who feel that it’s a major affront that the Cup hasn’t been won by a Canadian team since Montreal did it in 1993. I’ve talked to other fans who can recite the number of Canadian-born players on different teams that have won and shrug off the location of the city they currently play for as trivial. And I’ve talked to lots of fans who have a deep affiliation for the one team they cheer for and can’t imagine cheering for another club. There’s no wrong answer to this; it depends entirely on each individual’s personal feeling.

PIKE: On one hand, fans in Calgary can much more easily get behind cheering for Ottawa than they can teams like Edmonton or Toronto that they hear about ad nauseum during the regular season and playoffs. The market is entirely McDavid and Matthewsed out. Ottawa’s a lot like Calgary; a small Canadian market sometimes stuck in the shadow of its provincial rival who received a draft lottery gift from the hockey gods to speed their rebuild up a bit. The concept itself makes a ton of sense this year.

That said, people love Sidney Crosby in Calgary. It’s really hard to expect Flames fans to cheer against Sidney Crosby in favour of cheering for the Senators, a team who they couldn’t identify many players from.

MINUK: If the worst thing the leader of our country is doing in his tweets is volunteering Canadians’ allegiance to the Senators hockey club from coast to coast, then we are likely not having too bad a day as a nation.

Of course with the passion that Canadians feel about hockey, it could be seen as an act of treason.

When Greg asked me why Winnipeg fans should or shouldn’t back Ottawa, I reflected on this Senators team from our nation’s capital and the relationship with fans here in Manitoba.  On the pro side there really isn’t a hate on between Jets fans and the Senators. Even when Winnipeg played in the Eastern Conference for the first few seasons, there weren’t many battles that caused any carry-over hate. While it would be anathema for someone raised in the Smythe Division days to cheer for an Oilers, Flames or even Canucks (in the early 90s) team, as I said above, there really is no negativity from folks around here directed at the Senators.

When the Jets 1.0 left in 1996, many of the Western Canadian teams received their allegiance (whereas many fans from the older generation already held a dual loyalty to either the Leafs or Canadiens) so when these teams visit you can often see a lot of visiting uniforms in the crowd at MTS Centre. However, the Sens are not one of those teams that fans around here seem to be particularly passionate about, for good or bad.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to one of the last remaining Manitobans playing in the Conference Finals and that is Mark Stone of Winnipeg (Cody McLeod of the Predators from Binscarth, Manitoba being the other). He is the type of player folks around here could support (although they continue to revel in the spectacular hit laid on him by big Dustin Byfuglien back in the 2016 season). Toss in Alexandre Burrows, who spent some time as a member of the Manitoba Moose, and you’ve got the makings of some potential support from fans on the Prairies.

ARNDT: In most cases people in Vancouver would likely be against cheering on another Canadian team based solely on nationalism. The 2011 Stanley Cup run left a very big “us against the world” mark on this city, when it felt like every day there was another article or person talking about how they didn’t want Vancouver to win the Cup. It kind of left a bitter taste in the mouths of Canucks Nation.

That being said, Alex Burrows holds a special spot in the hearts of many Vancouver fans, and Ottawa is pretty much the most harmless Canadian franchise around (nobody can hate Ottawa, they’re like everyone’s little brother), so it’s probably one of the few cases where Vancouver fans would be ok cheering on another Canadian team to a Cup. I don’t think it’s a widespread “LET’S DO THIS OTTAWA, YOU’RE CANADA’S TEAM!!!”, but more of a “Do it for Burrows! Go Senators?” type of deals.

BASKY: For a lot of Canucks fans, cheering for the Ottawa Senators is a pretty easy choice, and it’s for a pretty obvious reason. No, not the bond we developed over the ‘Outdoor’ ‘Classic’ at BC Place aka Tortorella’s Folly. It’s Alex Burrows. I’ll give you all a moment to get your anger/disbelief/riot jokes out of the way. All good? Excellent. Whether you want to accept it or not, Alex Burrows is one of the most important Canucks of the modern era.Three playoff OT goals, two of them series winners. He was the guy that really helped the Sedins become superstars, because unlike every other linemate they’d been given (Trent Klatt? Seriously?) Burrows was the only one who understood how they think. It’s an underrated part of his game, and one of the reasons he is so loved in this market.

What is your opinion of the whole “Canada’s Team” concept that materializes in the playoffs?

VEILLETTE: Complete and total garbage. Worse than useless. Flat out terrible.

Canada’s team is Team Canada. In today’s NHL, the only thing local about the team is the arena they play in. The owners are often outsiders or got their funding from the outside. The players often aren’t local (I remember the big “Canada’s team” push for the Canucks in 2011 while Boston had more Canadian players), and for most of the season, all of the Canadian fan bases are at each other’s throats anyway.

Suddenly throwing all that out the window in the name of patriotism seems dumb. Then again, the whole idea of “the Cup belongs in Canada” is silly as it is. The Cup belongs to the team that wins four best of seven series in a given year, the team that plays good enough hockey to consistently win for six weeks and change. Bandwagon for a team because you like the team. Bandwagon for them because they have players you like. Bandwagon for them because their branded social media account makes you laugh sometimes. Bandwagon for them for chaos. But don’t hop on the bandwagon of a team you usually dislike in the name of national pride; it’s nonsense.

STEIN: It makes sense to me, only because we are a nation that gets behind being supportive of one another. It’s part of our national identity to be supportive, and inclusive. So when one team is left, that part of our identity is really tapped into. It’s almost as if that Sens logo blurs into a Canadian flag. However, I think our ties to our hockey teams can run deeper than our pride of our Nation, and its a real struggle for some.

I get the idea behind ‘Canada’s Team’, and I get why Justin Trudeau had to say it. But I bet if you got him over a couple of Molson’s he’d be telling you how angry he is at the moves Marc Bergevin made, and that PK Subban never should have been traded.

He did his job as Prime Minister to try and unite the country in a very un-unitable task.

WILLIS: My personal feeling is that it’s forced and artificial. The Edmonton Journal and Ottawa Citizen were having op-ed battles about whether the Oilers or Senators were Canada’s team in the second round and the stupidity of it made me want to pull my hair out. There isn’t going to be a consensus among Canadian hockey fans, so any attempt to brand one club as representing the nation as a whole is necessarily manufactured. The appeal of this for federal politicians, corporations and other national figures/entities has always been irresistible (“Yes, it’s me/us, famous person/national company, cheering for the sports team we all cheer for!”) but that doesn’t change the fact that any poll of, say, Toronto fans is going to find a vast number who would rather set their hair on fire rather than cheer for Ottawa. And if there’s any doubt among Sens fans reading this as to the truth of that statement, there’s an easy test that shouldn’t be taken by those currently eating: just imagine the image of Auston Matthews lifting the Stanley Cup on Hockey Night in Canada.

PIKE: The part of it that makes no sense to me is this: Hockey fans are conditioned to value their team, their country and then their sport. Flames fans are very familiar with their own team, the players who routinely represent Canada in things like the Olympics (and even the World Cup), and then the stars on other teams. Because of their representation of Canada in international competition (and the league’s marketing efforts), I’d imagine Canadian fans outside of Ottawa are most likely to root for players like Crosby or P.K. Subban of the teams that are left in the Stanley Cup tournament. And it’s like this every year: when given a choice between cheering for a team on the other side of the same country or rooting for stars that they routinely root for when they don the red maple leaf, it’s incredibly difficult to ask fans to turn off that natural rooting instinct for players they care about.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I am in no way feeling guilty about rooting for a Nashville/Pittsburgh final, Canadian content be damned.

MINUK: My thought is if there had been a Stanley Cup champ from somewhere above the 49th parallel between B.C. and Quebec within the last few years, then this nationalistic fervor wouldn’t likely apply. Especially when you consider that some U.S based teams have more Canadian players than some of the teams in Canada. But since there hasn’t been a team to raise the Cup since those Habs back in 1993, I suspect you are more likely to see folks throwing their support behind a Canadian team despite the fact that the eventual Stanley Cup parade will not be occurring in your city.

As much as we can smugly point to three of the last four Olympic gold medals, there is something different about hockey’s Holy Grail making its way down the streets of Montreal, Edmonton or perhaps even Portage and Main one day that will always resonate for Canadians.  If, at the end of the 2016-17 playoffs, fans in Ottawa are celebrating a Cup parade I think fans in these parts will be happy that a Canadian team finally brought the Cup back “home.”

ARNDT: Look, in Canada, each teams’ fans want to be the one to “bring the Cup home.”

Yes, it’s a bit silly, but there is something romantic about being a Canadian team bringing Lord Stanley back to Canada for the first time since 1993. There is a lot of pride on the line in being able to proclaim to the other cities “We did it, we were the ones who brought the most cherished trophy in Canadian sports back to the motherland.”

Because of this, there is a lot of animosity at times between the fans, and it’s very much like a family fighting with each other. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for “OK, let’s unite behind one Canadian team to be our chosen champion.” I think the whole “Canada’s Team!” thing is just an easy marketing gimmick for people trying to ride a hot Stanley Cup run for various reasons (marketing, pandering to the general masses, bars desperate to keep people coming out to watch games, etc).

BASKY: As one of the many still probably in need of counseling to bring some closure from 2011 (not really joking, if your team has ever lost in a Game 7 you know what I mean), I have some pretty strong feelings about the whole concept.  Not as strong as some, who get downright angry when the topic is brought up, but they’re real.

There was a sense of betrayal on the part of fans out here, who felt like the media turned on them, and thus the country. So while I get the need for it from a media standpoint, and fully acknowledging this nation’s self esteem being tied to the sport, in British Columbia, you won’t get much support for the “Canada’s Team” idea. But with Burrows, Erik Karlsson (who is just such a joy to watch), Craig Anderson and Clark MacArthur, and all of the Sens’ OT insanity, it’s pretty easy to cheer for the Senators.

That and they’re not the Leafs.

(Thanks again to all that contributed. This was fun. Well, more fun than watching a Senators game, at least. But what do I know … I’m American.)

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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