Sports are a religion with personal seat licenses. One asks for blind faith, sacrifice and a commitment to powerful, mysterious entities only the blessed few will ever encounter, and the other is religion. They have the power to unite and offer comfort in times of sorrow because there's a plan, even if you the follower can't always see it.
It makes no sense to be a sports fan. You pin your hopes on the outcome of games played by strangers for money. Professional athletes that have never once thought about you control your mood for days, weeks or months. But no matter how foolish this endeavor may seem, you know the potential for joy and happiness can be just around the corner.
That is, unless you care about the Ottawa Senators, a team that has its fans trapped in a special hell that threatens to extend for eternity.
It's not even hell—it's purgatory. Are the Senators rebuilding? Tanking? What about their 2018 trade deadline makes you think there's a grand plan? Do they honestly believe they can sign Erik Karlsson to an extension? If so, are the drugs in Ontario better than the drugs anywhere else? Why are they even floating that idea to a fan base that has been wishing for the sweet embrace of death since owner Eugene Melnyk threatened to move the team in December or when Karlsson let the world know there would be no hometown discount?
If you read someone their last rites for long enough the least you can do is let them die.
The Senators are 29th in the league one season after a fluky run to the conference finals, and the franchise's best player wants out. While the New York Rangers read the writing on the wall and gutted their roster by trading their captain and top defenseman for a haul of picks and prospects, the Senators pulled their pants down and slapped their butt cheeks as the deadline came and went. You know you're in hell when a franchise that prints money is more committed to tearing down the roster than the one willing to push your grandmother down a flight of stairs and steal her social security check.
What do you even want from these last two months if you're the Senators? Sliding to last place in the league and maximizing your chances of drafting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall should be all the organization cares about, and parting with Karlsson would have aided that goal. The Senators were at a crossroads, and every sign pointed toward trading an extremely valuable, disgruntled deadline chip for everything you could get, and instead, Melnyk jerked Pierre Dorion's car off the road and into a telephone poll because he thought he saw a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk.
The reason why Senators fans have it worse than every other sports fan is their favorite team not only has a decrepit owner with a compulsive need to save money above all else, but there's no plan. Cash-strapped teams like the Tampa Bay Rays in baseball have found innovative ways to stay competitive despite lacking the money to compete with big market teams. Shallow pockets are an obstacle toward success requiring creative thinking, and signing Alex Burrows to a two-year extension is not that.
What has to be disheartening to fans is that the Senators don't seem to have that blueprint for success in the face of penny pinching. That plan—"make someone take Bobby Ryan's insanely bad contract" isn't a plan—needed to be enacted Monday. The Senators left deadline day with only seven picks in this year's draft and none in rounds two or three. Nine teams have more picks than the Senators, who also traded their own first-round pick to Colorado this season for Matt Duchene, who has to be planning his escape from this prison like he's Andy Dufresne in Shawshank.
The Senators are broke and stupid.
That's not to say the Senators can't recoup a bounty of future assets by trading Karlsson after the season. But along with hurting your ability to tank on the fly, the Senators are needlessly torturing their fans for the next few months. What if Karlsson blows out his ACL in a meaningless April game? You're gambling on getting an extra third-rounder in 2019 in a trade before the draft that you're not getting now?
It seems the Senators as an organization don't consider the psychological toll of their actions, whether it's dicking around a legend like Daniel Alfredsson or forcing an already rightfully miserable fan base to sit through the Karlsson saga until at least the end of this season. This is shit even the Arizona Coyotes don't do. They may be frugal and terrible but at least John Chayka has some semblance of a plan (even if that plan backfired like Elmer Fudd's shotgun this season).
So if you see a Senators fan on the street, don't heckle or mock; hold your arms wide for that person and offer the hug nobody in Melnyk's front office is willing to give. Show you care. "It's not your fault," you will whisper until the pain and tears flow from their poisoned souls. Tell them it will be all right, even if you both know that's not true. Do unto others and all that.
You can always flee the church. You could stand outside the arena and make your story a cautionary tale. "They dressed Chris Neil for 95 playoff games! Don't make the mistakes I did. Don't go in there!" Apathy is a sports team's worst enemy, and the Senators have been sewing it into their fans all season and opted against giving everyone a fresh start with a Karlsson trade.
Of all the things the Senators couldn't afford, it was further aggravating and alienating their dwindling fan base. At least when fans stop attending games this season and beyond, we can all say at least Melnyk paid for something.