The last couple of seasons for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have brought some high highs and some excruciating lows.
The 2019 team was the best this franchise ever had, at least in the regular season. A franchise-best 15-3 record, four award winners (Most Outstanding Player Brandon Banks, Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Chris Van Zeyl, Most Outstanding Special Teams Player Frankie Williams and Coach of the Year Orlondo Steinauer) and a Grey Cup berth that saw them go into the game with the unfamiliar title of the prohibitive favourite.
We all know what happened next.
Before the 2020 season was cancelled, most people pencilled the Ticats in for a return to the Grey Cup and those prognostications didn’t change when the CFL returned for a truncated 14-game season in 2021. Most pundits thought the Black and Gold would pick up where they left off in 2019 but the team struggled with consistency and found themselves looking up at the Toronto Argonauts when the regular season ended.
That didn’t deter the Ticats, as they easily dispatched the Montreal Alouettes in the East Semi-Final and used a second-half barrage to take down the Argos in the East Final to reach their second consecutive championship game.
Awaiting them was the same team that toppled them a year prior, only this time the roles were reversed with the Ticats back in their familiar underdog role.
Despite a valiant effort in front of a partisan Tim Hortons Field crowd, the Ticats once again came up short and dropped their second straight title game clash to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Two big playoff wins and a return to the Grey Cup would be a pretty successful season for almost any other team, but not for the 2021 Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Expectations were for them to win it all on home soil, but that did not happen.
What played out last season wasn’t the worst-case scenario for the Tabbies but it wasn’t the best-case one either.
But what would the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats be in 2022? Would a third trip to the Grey Cup suffice, despite it being more of the same? Is it possible they could miss the playoffs entirely for just the third time in the last 13 years?
Without further ado, here are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the 2022 Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Best case: win the Grey Cup
Winning a championship is the obvious best-case scenario for every team, but for franchises like Edmonton, Ottawa or B.C. just making the playoffs would be considered a successful season after all three missed them a year ago. If any of those teams went on to win the Grey Cup that would be a remarkable story, but their fan bases would more than likely be happy if their teams just made the postseason.
Not so for the Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton has been a playoff mainstay since 2009, missing the playoffs just twice over the last 13 years, in 2012 and 2017. In all but one of those years, they either finished first or second and hosted a playoff game. The outlier was 2011 when they finished third but made it to the East Final after a thrilling East Semi-Final victory over the Montreal Alouettes at Olympic Stadium. The Ticats have also made four Grey Cups during that span, coming away empty-handed each time.
Hamilton has had about as much success as a franchise can have without winning a championship.
The road to getting back to and winning the Grey Cup won’t be easy. The East Division is as treacherous as it has been in some time, with all four teams capable of making a run to the title game.
The Redblacks vastly improved their team after hiring a competent general manager in Shawn Burke. Ottawa has taken a significant leap from where they were at this time last year. They are no longer the free space on the bingo card.
Toronto was the top team in the East a season ago and added a ton of veteran talent to an already good roster. Relying on ageing stars has gotten other teams in trouble in the past, but maybe it works out for the Double Blue this year. Either way, I do not expect the Argos to go back to being a walkover this season.
The Als have seemingly been on the come-up for the last few years but have yet to put it all together. What they have been the last two seasons under head coach Khari Jones is competitive, making the playoffs in both years, with 2019 being their first trip to the postseason since 2014. The Als are a mystery team, as turmoil is engulfing them before the season has really even begun, but if they can manage those troubled waters, I see no reason why they can’t be competing for the division title.
The Ticats probably possess the best quarterback in the division, definitely have the best head coach, and have a roster that is battle-tested from years of playoff failures. They have added a Grey Cup champion in Alden Darby to an already loaded secondary, and have a star-in-the-making in receiver Tim White. They welcomed back a healthy Bralon Addison and will hopefully get a full year from dynamic running back Don Jackson. Their defensive line is stout, they have one of the best linebacking corps in the league, and their offensive line are no slouches led by veteran Chris Van Zeyl. If the Ticats get out of the gauntlet that is the East Division in 2022, they should be ready for whoever awaits them in the title game.
The Ticats have watched as another team has celebrated at their expense the last two seasons but if Hamilton can weather a tough division, it will be the men from Steeltown who finally get to celebrate as the confetti falls.
Worst case: finish .500, lose in East Semi-Final
Barring something catastrophic I do not foresee a scenario where the Tiger-Cats miss the playoffs in 2022. They have too good of a roster and way too good of a coaching staff for this team to completely fall off a cliff and finish on the outside looking in.
But they did lose a lot of veteran leadership over the offseason, with players like Jeremiah Masoli and Brandon Banks trading in their career-long colours for new ones within the same division. Both players will have ample opportunity to exact revenge against their former club with Masoli’s Redblacks playing the Ticats three times and Banks getting four cracks at his old team now that he is with the Argos.
The loss of Grey Cup lucky charm Ja’Gared Davis cannot be understated either. Davis is on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory and watching him leave Hamilton and go to Toronto makes his defection sting even more because it hurts his former team while improving one of their most hated rivals.
Hamilton’s depth isn’t what it was a season ago, especially at the quarterback position. Following Masoli’s departure to Ottawa, any long-term injury to Dane Evans would drastically curtail the team’s championship aspirations.
Even if things don’t go completely off the rails, there is still a chance the other teams in the division have caught up to them. Not making the playoffs is highly unlikely but a third-place, 9-9 finish isn’t entirely implausible.
No East Division team has won the Grey Cup from the three-seed since the Montreal Alouettes did it in 1970. If the Ticats were to stumble to a third-place finish, I do not think they will be the team to snap that streak by winning back-to-back road playoff games. That means 2022 will end the same way all years since 1999 have ended, without a championship.