Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Baffled of Ontario: Who’s had it worse, the 1980s Maple Leafs or today’s Senators?

It’s​ been a bad two​ years​ for​ the​ Ottawa Senators.​ Ever​ since they​ lost a heartbreaking Game​ 7 showdown with​ the​ Penguins in the​​ 2017 conference final, the franchise has endured a seemingly endless series of setbacks both on and off the ice. The misery has been well-documented – you may have seen this epic Twitter thread – and the worst part is that some days it doesn’t feel like there’s any end in sight.

And, at some point, beaten-down Senators fans have probably wondered: From ownership to coaching to off-ice scandals to the steady stream of star players bolting for the exit, has any fan base ever had it this bad?

At which point Maple Leafs fans of a certain age might hobble over, waving their canes and mumbling ominously: You kids don’t realize just how bad it can get.

You see, some of us had to deal with the Harold Ballard era back in the 1980s. And while we can sympathize with what Senators fans are going through right now, we might object to the suggestion that Ottawa has it any worse than we did. We’ve seen some stuff, man.

So since the playoff version of the Battle of Ontario has been on pause for over a decade and doesn’t seem like it will be resuming anytime soon, let’s take the rivalry in a different direction. Who’s had it worse, modern-day Senators fans or 1980s Maple Leafs fans?

This is going to get depressing. Let’s go through 10 key categories and figure out which of Ontario’s teams can claim the suffering hockey fans’ crown.

Worst season

Let’s start with the basics. When you’re building a solid foundation of misery, you want to start from rock bottom.

Today’s Senators: While it’s still a work in progress, it’s fair to say that this year will go down as the worst in the Senators’ post-expansion history. They’re on pace for a point total in the low 60s and will likely finish last in the league for the first time since the Sparky Allison days.

The 1980s Maple Leafs: Despite finishing under the 60-point mark five times, the Maple Leafs somewhat amazingly only came in dead last once during the ’80s. That was in 1984-85, when they won just 20 games on the way to a pathetic 48-point season. The good news: They at least had their own draft pick, unlike some teams we could mention, and the guy they used it on turned out to be pretty fun.

Who had it worse? Based on points, it’s the Maple Leafs by a fair margin. But their worst season came during an era where horrible teams were commonplace, while the Senators are having theirs in what’s supposed to be the parity era. They’re also finishing last in a league with 10 more teams than the one the 1980s Leafs faced. I think you have to adjust for era here, and when we do this one comes out fairly even.

Best season

The flip side of the last category. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, right?

Today’s Senators: It seems more amazing with every day that goes by, but it’s really true: The Senators really were one goal away from the Stanley Cup final just 21 months ago. Sure, in hindsight their three-round run was powered by some lucky matchups and good bounces, and it probably did more harm than good by convincing the front office that they were legitimate contenders. But it did happen, and it was all sorts of fun for Senators fans in the moment.

The 1980s Maple Leafs: The Leafs made the playoffs six times during the 1980s because they played in the Norris Division and somebody had to go. But they only won two rounds in the decade and never made it out of the division final.

Who had it worse? The Leafs get the edge here.

Franchise player falling outs

Even when things are bad, at least you’ve got a franchise player to cheer for. Right up until you don’t.

Today’s Senators: They watched Daniel Alfredsson walk away as a player in 2013 and then again as an executive in 2017.

Then they went through the same sort of situation with Erik Karlsson with some added off-ice drama, culminating in him being traded last fall. And then it happened yet again with both Matt Duchene and Mark Stone at the 2019 deadline. (And we haven’t even mentioned Jason Spezza or Dany Heatley.)

The 1980s Maple Leafs: The team’s relationship with Darryl Sittler went off the rails in the early ’80s. The front office wanted to move him, but he had no-trade protection, so they dealt his best friend Lanny MacDonald instead to send a message. That led to Sittler infamously cutting the captain’s “C” off his jersey, and he’d eventually walk out on the team citing doctor’s orders. He’d be traded to the Flyers a few weeks later.

Who had it worse? This one’s close. Nothing that’s happened in Ottawa can match the over-the-top ugliness of the Sittler situation. But I feel like you have to give the Senators a slight edge here just based on volume.

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