Note: I came up with the idea for this blogpost before the news about a Lebreton deal broke. This doesn’t have anything (directly) to do with that news.
I like hockey enough. I am, nominally, a Senators fan, at least those times I’m paying attention, they’re who I root for. I’ve been to at least three games in my life, maybe a couple more (one back at the Civic Centre). I watched every game of the Cup run a decade ago. I watched most of the games in last year’s playoff run (at least in part). Before having kids, I knew the roster, the players and the usual lines and D-pairings. However, life often gets in the way, and I haven’t followed too closely for the past seven or eight years.
I don’t write this to establish any bona fides, just to let you know where I’m coming from.
So here’s where I am right now: there are times when I sort of want the Senators to fail, to go bankrupt, to move, whatever. There are times that part of me want them gone.
Now, before you sharpen your pitchforks or send out your “energy” line, let me be clear, I don’t actually want that to happen. I’ve derived varying amounts of enjoyment out of the team over the years, and may again in the future. And regardless, other people derive enjoyment (well, not so much this year) from the team, and I’m not looking to rob anyone of that.
But I am worried about the development of Lebreton Flats. I am worried that “we’re” going to completely screw up the whole thing. I’m worried that it’ll be abandoned or the Senators will go belly up and the arena will sit in disrepair. I’m worried that it’s just a stupid plan that’s really only being undertaken to prop up an otherwise-failing team.
I don’t have enough faith in the Senators organization to be able to feel comfortable with Rendez-Vous Lebreton. For me, it would cause much less heartache (and have far fewer negative side effects) to have the team fold quickly than to watch the Lebreton project slowly, continuously fail over and over again for the next two, five, fifteen and fifty years*.
And don’t try to tell me this fear is unfounded.
This is a team that, structurally, can’t consistently field a competitive line up. It’s a team that can’t pay a roster anywhere close to the salary cap (that will only keep rising, no doubt). It’s a team that often has attendance woes (and, yes, part of those woes should be alleviated with a central arena).
And, of course, it’s more than the team. It’s the owner.
It’s an owner who pulls out of community work when he doesn’t get his way. It’s an owner who openly muses about moving the team right before the team’s biggest game of the year (in terms of public interest). It’s an owner who regularly embarrasses himself (and, by extension, the team and the city). It’s an owner who got laughed at by a former star player’s wife about how that player wound up being traded. It’s an owner heading a management group that seemed to be playing head games with a generational talent, probably the greatest player in Senators history.
It is this owner and this team to which we will hitch the prospects of Lebreton Flats.
It cannot be overstated just how important this project is. There aren’t a lot of large parcels of land in the central neighbourhoods just waiting to finally be developed. This is a chance to create something great, something vibrant, something lasting.
I don’t trust Eugene Melnyk to be able to do that. There’s no reason to believe he will spearhead a viable, worthwhile city-building initiative–and even though he’s (hopefully) surrounded himself with smart people who can take the lead, there’s no reason to believe he still won’t cock it all up somehow.
Further, I don’t trust any development based around a sports team to be great, vibrant and lasting. Hell, I don’t trust Eugene Melnyk or the Senators to stick around.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible this whole thing will work out well. There are some very intriguing aspects of the proposal (and some aspects that they probably need to re-think). It is certainly possible to build something great around a sports team (hell, Lansdowne may be failing at that right now, but the possibility is still there).
And, yes, I hope that everything is going to work out. I will be happy for a healthy Senators franchise to move into a thriving central community and stay there for generations to come.
But there are just so many risks, so many problems surrounding this team and this owner, that it’ll be a long time before I’m actually comfortable with this relationship (if I ever am). And if my fears come true and this whole thing goes to hell, it’ll be a long time before I’ll be able to forgive the NCC, Eugene Melnyk or the Senators.
For me, the city’s future isn’t worth a hockey team.
*Who am I kidding, I’m not living another fifty years…so let’s say fourty-nine years.