Lighting the Lamp, With Rick Ackerman
Expectations were high for the Ottawa Senators at the beginning of this season by both the media and fans in Canada's capital, despite the loss of free agent Daniel Alfredsson to Detroit. Captain Alfredsson was Ottawa's heart and soul for 17 seasons, yet management hoped to make up for the loss with the additions of sniper Bobby Ryan from Anaheim and free agent winger Clarke MacArthur. Also helping was the return to good health by center Jason Spezza and defenseman Erik Karlsson. Scoring goals is indeed something the Senators can do, ranked ninth in the league on team offense, led by a trio of talented centers in Spezza, Kyle Turris and sophomore Mika Zibanejad.
Ottawa's biggest problem is keeping the proverbial biscuit out of the basket, as evidenced by the club's ranking of 28th league-wide on team defense. Only the hapless Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders are worse. It is clear that the loss of goaltender Ben Bishop in an ill-fated trade to Tampa Bay has hurt the Senators' chances to qualify for the playoffs a lot more than the departure of Alfredsson as goaltender Craig Anderson is having an extremely poor season with a goals against average over three per game. If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Senators would not qualify.
Ottawa was home to the original Senators, birthed in 1883 as an amateur club and a founding member of the NHL in 1917. Officially the Ottawa Hockey Club, the franchise was also known as the Generals (1890s), the Silver Seven (early 1900s) and the Senators (1908). In total, the Ottawa HC won 11 Stanley Cup championships. However as the Great Depression took its toll, the Senators eventual financial losses and small market forced the franchise to move to St. Louis in 1934. At the time, St. Louis was the seventh largest city in the United States, around eight times bigger than Ottawa. Seeking to curry favor with local hockey fans and attract newcomers, the team was dubbed the Eagles and featured a logo similar to that used by the Anheuser Busch brewery. The Eagles would play at the Arena, forcing the American Hockey Association Flyers to the Wintergarden rink on DeBaliviere. A little known fact is that the Arena management enforced racially segregated seating in 1934, the only venue in the NHL to do so.
St. Louis' first NHL team was doomed to failure. Against all geographic reality, the Eagles were placed in the Canadian Division with Toronto, the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Maroons and New York Americans instead of the American Division with Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York Rangers. This dramatically increased travel costs for road trips to Canada via railroad, as well as making it a lot more difficult for the players. It showed on the ice as the Eagles could not score or keep the puck out of their own net. St. Louis finished last with only 11 wins in 48 games, the worst team in the league. As a result, attendance suffered and by season's end, the owners had lost over $70,000 and the franchise was terminated, the players' contracts bought out by the NHL.
54 years later Ontario real estate developer Bruce Firestone formed a consortium to bring an NHL expansion team to Ottawa. Land suitable for an adequate arena was found in Kanata, just west of the city, and the NHL granted a franchise to Firestone's group, slated to begin play in the 1992-93 season (along with the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning). The first year Senators were terrible, only winning 10 of 84 games that season, tied with San Jose as the worst team in the league with 24 points. The following season Firestone stepped down as owner, and Rod Bryden, CEO of Firestone's Terrace Corporation, took over. Ottawa would continue to finish dead last in the league for three more seasons, allowing them number one overall draft choices in the amateur draft. Unfortunately those picks turned out to include Alexei Yashin (later traded to the Islanders for Zdeno Chara and a draft choice that turned out to be Spezza), Alexandre Daigle (perhaps the biggest bust in draft history), Radek Bonk (traded in 2004 to L.A. for a third round amateur draft pick), Bryan Berard (traded for Wade Redden), Chris Phillips and Marian Hossa (later traded to Atlanta for Dany Heatley). For the next decade the Senators would finish first or second in division play seven times and qualify for the playoffs every single season, gaining respectability if very little else. They were good, yet never quite good enough. Ottawa would finally make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, only to lose to J.S. Giguere and the Anaheim Ducks in five games. Since then, the team has not qualified for the playoffs or advanced past the first round, that is until last season when they defeated Montreal in five before losing the conference semifinal to Pittsburgh in five. Like the Blues, this Ottawa franchise is seeking it's first sip from the bowl of the Stanley Cup.
The outlook for this season's edition of the Senators is not good, unless Anderson somehow picks up his game and overall team defense improves. Ottawa would love to start tonight by repeating the outcome of the previous meeting with the Blues in which Cody Ceci scored his first NHL goal in overtime. The Blues, of course, would rather return the favor and snatch two points as they seek to surpass Chicago in the Central Division standings before the Olympic break.