As longtime readers will be aware, I am a bad person. While my first and greatest joy in hockey is always the Leafs doing well, close behind is the joy of laughing at the failures of others. There were times in the past where this was pretty much the only joy I got out of hockey, so I’m very practiced at it.
While the Leafs are now, at the least, solidly average, this has so far been a really tremendous season for laughing at teams I don’t like. In fact, I would say the four teams in whose failure I was most invested have all failed impressively this year. It’s been great! Let’s take a look.
Why we hate them: The 401 games where for the longest time they seemed to play better than their record against us. That series where Hasek outplayed Joseph and kept us out of the finals. A weird, mean-spirited rivalry that, while perhaps not as meaningful as others, really has a lot of venom in it.
What’s going wrong: Their defence is absolutely goddamn disgusting. General Manager Jack Eichel tried to upgrade by adding Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu, Matt Tennyson, and Victor Antipin, and yet mysteriously tacking on a bunch of sixth defencemen to a group with zero top fours in it didn’t staunch the bleeding. Weird! Super weird.
Guy-who-is-definitely-a-real-1D Rasmus Ristolainen has, also mysteriously, continued to get snowed under in shots against, like all truly elite defencemen do. Robin Lehner is so shell-shocked now he just sits in his net and screams about Hillary Clinton. The only guy who’s overachieving this year is Evander Kane, who continues to be the ultimate example of “sometimes the character issues actually have substance.” They’ll probably trade him at the deadline for a pick, because they’re tanking, again, again, again and forever.
It’s unreal how little the Sabres have improved. Three years ago they tanked for, and failed to get, Connor McDavid, and they finished with 54 points. This year they are on pace for...58. Two wins better! After all that! How are they still this bad? These guys make the Dark Ages Oilers look like a pinnacle of progress.
Jack Eichel, I am convinced, must have been some terrible, murderous warlord in a previous life. He is condemned to be a very good player who is compared to two better ones in McDavid and Matthews, and he’s condemned to never make the playoffs, and also to live in Buffalo while he does it. Be honest, would you rather be a perennial failure in Buffalo or California? But no team in California is like the Sabres, of course, because no team anywhere is. And before someone mentions the Leafs: Toronto has never finished below 68 points in a full season during the last twenty years. Buffalo is on pace to finish under 60 for the third season in the last five. Can’t someone give these guys a dead cat bounce?
Why this could come back to haunt me: Drafting Swedish super-prospect Rasmus Dahlin would help any team, but it would especially help the Sabres, because again, their defence is disgusting. Hey, now they might have an actual top pair D named Rasmus!
The Sabres have a 1C and they’re in our division, so presumably sooner or later we’ll run into them in the playoffs. But Jesus, how are they still this bad? Not that I mind.
Why we hate them: Why do Batman and the Joker hate each other? Why do the Sith and the Jedi hate each other? Taylor Swift and Katy Perry? Because it’s natural law. We are ancient enemies in eternal war, and much like Swift and Perry, one of us has clearly been writing better songs lately.
What’s going wrong?: I already offered my full description of the Habs situation here, which is basically that Marc Bergevin has made
a) Large moves where he gives up the better player
b) Small moves in which he acquires players who are bad
c) Signing choices in which he pays large amounts of money for players who are not quite as good as they were (Carey Price) or who were not actually good previously (Karl Alzner)
Since then, Bergevin has hilariously admitted that the winger he acquired to play centre is, if we’re being honest, actually a winger. That this was obvious to everybody at the time of the trade, that they clearly overvalued Drouin because he’s French, and that they gave up the best defence prospect in hockey to get him are just icing on the cake.
The Habs’ problem is basically the same one it was when Bergevin started, which is that they don’t have a real 1C. In the meantime, they’ve been wasting Carey Price’s prime, they straight up tossed away P.K. Subban’s prime, and now they’re perfectly positioned to bounce between 25th and 10th in the NHL for the next five or six years while paying enormous amounts of money to guys in their mid-30s. I applaud you, Monsieur Bergevin. Long may you reign.
Why this could come back to haunt me: It will if Price goes back to being the best goalie on the planet. Any team with a starter saving 93% of the shots against him is a prima facie contender, even with their other flaws. Good news, though, he’s not doing much to make me afraid of that right now.
Why we hate them: Basically two reasons: they won the McDavid draft after winning a million draft lotteries before that, and Peter Chiarelli deserves to fail and for his failure to be recognized as such. I recognize this is a bit Old Testament of me; I don’t really have that much against the Oilers in general, but a million idiotic Mark Spector takes about why Adam Larsson is actually better than Taylor Hall have made me deranged. The hockey gods are capricious, but let’s pray that they’re just and that they keep screwing up Edmonton.
What’s gone wrong: Everything! I’ll be honest, I didn’t think the Oilers would be this bad, but by God they are and thank God it’s so. The best part is that, like a Greek tragedy, they are being undone by what was clearly their ultimate flaw. They traded two of the best scoring wingers in hockey in consecutive years, and now they have the least productive wing group in the NHL. Hey, maybe you should try moving Matt Barzal to the wing, he seems pretty—oh, you traded the pick that drafted him for a defenceman who cleared waivers this year? Really? What a shame.
Look, the reality is, drafting Connor McDavid should be enough to save any franchise. It’s infuriating that he’s so good he can cover for an enormous number of bad moves and terrible takes, but he probably is. But maybe, just maybe, Chiarelli is going to get himself fired, and Daryl Katz will replace him with another ex-80s Oiler, and it will actually turn out that being aggressively short-sighted and, in the case of the Edmonton MSM, huge dicks about it can actually bite you in the ass. Let it be so.
Why this could come back to haunt me: Remember McDavid? Sigh. Assuming Cam Talbot can fix whatever’s ailing him next season and their defence is semi-functional, they’re going to be a playoff team again next year. Puljujarvi and Yamamoto might go a ways towards helping that wing scoring, and really, there’s still too much talent on this team for Chiarelli to screw up...unless he makes another terrible trade this summer.
Why we hate them: It’s probably closer to contempt. I have to give the Sens fans one thing: they hate us more than we could ever hate them, because we have other things to do, and because we are a source of perpetual torment to them. It’s hilarious.
What’s going wrong: Hahahaha oh my God. Strap in.
On and on last year we had to hear about how The System actually meant that getting outshot nine billion to one was a good thing, because Guy Boucher had scientifically solved Corsi by playing the most boring hockey known to humankind. It only got worse when Ottawa fluked its soul-sucking, tedium-filled playstyle to the Conference Finals, and then the Sens fans who filled 1⁄3 of the arena for playoff games insisted that that basically meant the team was a contender. Sure they were!
Not only are the Sens bad this year, they’re imploding in every conceivable way. They made a trade for Matt Duchene and then lost 38 times in a row. Now they’re down their first-round pick either this year or next, and it looks plausible both picks will be top-eight. Erik Karlsson has strongly hinted he’s actually going to insist on being paid what he’s worth, instead of taking a hometown discount to play for Canada’s least important franchise. They might not be able to keep him, they probably can’t afford to let him go, and a team that can’t countenance a rebuild might fall ass-backwards into one.
Luckily, they had an outdoor game, a prime opportunity to build a more optimistic narrative about the franchise. Isn’t that just grand? National media in town paying attention to the Sens for once, all ready to write laudatory puff pieces about how hospitable Ottawa is and what a great show they put on. What could possibly go wrong?
Whoops, I forgot that the Sens are owned by malevolent capitalist caricature Eugene Melnyk. Melnyk is the kind of man who reads The Lorax and cheers for the Onceler to succeed in annihilating local wildlife. His full quotes basically said that his objective was to spend $0 running his franchise, and that it was fans’ fault because they didn’t come to Kanata to watch the Sens enough. He also insisted he’s not planning to sell the franchise, which makes sense, because he needs it to appreciate in value a little longer before he flips it to Quebecor media so they can bring back the Nordiques. Let’s hope Mark Stone is ready to learn French.
Really, the magic of the Sens is that they don’t have good options. They’re in a spot where many teams would think about tearing it down, except they’re out one of their next two first-rounders and their owner clearly hates the idea. They could try to build back up, then, except Melnyk is too cheap to extend their key players at market value and they’re somehow capped out now.
Why this could come back to haunt me: I mean, they keep beating us in the regular season, but Sens fans ought to have learned years ago that that doesn’t mean much. I guess if Karlsson signs there for eight years at $6M, that’ll help. But they look to me like they might be in a really spectacular Catch-22 that even a good GM wouldn’t be equipped to handle. And I don’t think Pierre Dorion is one. Grab the popcorn.
Which team’s struggles bring the most joy to your dark heart?