It’s the WTYKY Podcast’s 25th Podcast Milestone! We’ve bee producing these at a solid 4-5-episodes-a-year clip, and we saved up all of the best stuff for this occasion. This episode includes how we finally forced the team to adopt the logo and jersey we’ve been demanding for literally years and the results of the most important draft in franchise history. Luke Peristy, James, and Varada are here to get you through the pandemic with the Ottawa Senators Podcast three out of 10 physicians agree has a 14 percent chance of enhancing antibodies under very specific conditions.
It’s still hard to wrap one’s head around the fact that the Ottawa Senators actually did something the fans asked them to do. Maybe they did it because the cost and effort of producing an entirely novel logo was prohibitive. Maybe they did it was because they were saving this cash cow until they needed it most. But you know what they say about gift horses and mouths and not looking in them. However we got here, the Ottawa Senators now have the sharpest design in the NHL after having worn the cartoon 3D gladiator for an endless 13 seasons.
When you consider that the new jerseys are streamlined from the baggy-sweatshirt cuts of old, feature the blockier, bolder number fonts and nameplates of their current jerseys, tone down the sparkly gold, and clean up some of the striping, the new 2D jerseys might even be sharper than the old ones.
Predictably, Sens fans are lining up to drop three hundred of their hard earned dollars on pro-quality versions of the new jerseys. However, the question of what player you get on the back is more difficult than it might seem at first blush. First of all, the Sens don’t currently have a TON of great players to choose from, or certainly not players that are evidently franchise cornerstones. Certainly, we don’t have as many as cornerstones as those regular season juggernauts of the mid-2000s. Back then, you could agonize over which player to choose taking only the Pizza Line into consideration. Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, because these are retro jerseys, it makes some sense that you’d be able to choose a player from those deep days, when they also wore the 2D logo. It would be sort of weird to get, say, a Mike Fisher Heritage ‘O’ jersey, given he never wore it. But a Mike Fisher 2020 2D jersey? Is that a faux pas, or fair game?
In order to maximize the value, and fun of spending money on a shirt you can’t really do anything while wearing, I offer here the following codification to help you in your decision-making:
Captain Obvious Wins the Slam Dunk Contest: Tkachuk, Chabot
The Sens have two blue chip burgeoning stars on the current roster. One embodies the attitude of the franchise. The other is an electric, puck-moving defenceman who surely will never be traded away for a collection of depth roster players, mid-level prospects, and draft picks. It’s true that you can’t really go wrong, here, but you have to ask yourself: how will it make you feel, sitting in the CTC with the 2D Sens jersey you purchased, to look at the rows in front of you and see a series of coin-flips between Tkachuk and Chabot staring back at you? If your answer is, “That would make me feel just fine,” well then you have your answer, and this Choose Your Own Adventure game has come to an early close. If the answer is anything else, then read-on, weary traveler.
Money Doesn’t Have the Same Value for Me As It Does for Other People: Stutzle, Sanderson, Batherson, Norris, Formenton, Brannstrom, Bernard-Docker, Thomson
These players represent the top of the prospect pipeline, and in that sense they embody hope for the future. These are players we hope to see in the very 2D jersey you want to buy for years to come. How could they not represent the best possible value for your dollars? They haven’t even really started playing for the team in any meaningful way (unless you count Brannstrom getting stuffed into a locker for a few games last year), so if you get one of these names on the back of your sparkling new, not-yet-soiled-from-a-too-long-OC Transpo-bus-ride-home-from-Kanata 2D jersey, it’s like you’re marrying into a rich family, right? Just sit back and accrue cred for being early.
Not so fast. Let me tell you a story. A tragedy, really.
Many years ago, when I had some money, but not much, I became obsessed with getting a heritage ‘O’ Robin Lehner jersey. It seemed foolproof: the jersey was the best we’d ever had so clearly Ottawa would adopt it soon enough as our primaries. Lehner, meanwhile, had an incredible pedigree, having won a Calder Cup with the B-Sens. He was going to be the goalie of the future. He was Swedish, like Alfredsson and Karlsson. Furthermore, he seemed deeply badass, with the kind of sass not seen since Ray Emery fought the entire Buffalo Sabres’ lineup like an avenging angel. So, what happened?
- The Senators did not adopt the heritage jersey.
- Robin Lehner was traded to the very Sabres Emery once fought like an avenging angel.
- Lehner became a Trump-loving provocateur for a time.
Sure, Lehner has redeemed himself in everyone’s eyes, and he’s legitimaltly awesome again, doing incredible work to reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse, but he still serves as a cautionary tale for any of us considering investing in a jersey we like with the name of a good-seeming prospect on the back: things change, and they change suddenly. I urge you to consider that if any of these players end up on another team, it is your constitutionally-enshrined duty to not like them anymore.
While it’s possible that a Rundblad jersey COULD be cool (we used to call him Mecha-Karlsson), it’s certainly not the sort of treasured artifact you’ll hand down to your children in lieu of a social safety net and ecological stability. Have you ever seen a Matt Puempel jersey in the wild? Matt Puempel might not even own a Matt Puempel jersey anymore.
Mucking With Space Time: Alfredsson, Neil, Fisher, Chara, Redden, Hossa, Havlat, Spezza, Heatley, Vermette, Hasek, Phillips, Volchenkov, Lalime, Schaefer
Man, those were the days, huh? These teams were deep, seriously fun, and could beat you any number of ways. Remember Vermette winning a face-off, Schaefer cycling the puck along the boards, Havlat finishing with pure skill – and that was our second line? Plus, each of these players, at some point or another, wore the 2D Senator. This is a throw-back jersey, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t it be okay to put the name of a player who wore (basically) this jersey on the back of (basically) this jersey while we celebrate our heritage, history, and nothing traumatic ever happening in the playoffs? As SteveOnSens said it above, other teams treat their team like an unbroken lineage, all accessing the same morass of ephemeral hopes, dreams, and blah blah blah. The Senators have for too long treated themselves as an expansion franchise who barely has the right to be here.
How awesome would it be to look into the stands and see not only Tkachuk and Chabot jerseys, but also the occasional Alfredsson, in a 2D jersey, looking back at you? Papa? Is that you, Papa??? You run down the CTC concourse trying to catch up as he weaves in and out of pedestrian traffic, that collection of Hossa and Spezza nameplates bobbing around you – “Papa, come back!” you cry out, following that fire-red flow. The 2D centurion is everywhere you look, winking and whispering: “Alfie, Alfie. Papa, papa.” Am I Hugo? you wonder. When you finally catch up and put your hand on the shoulder of the person wearing that Alfredsson jersey, turning him around, you see that it’s not him, after all. It’s even better. It’s your actual papa.
Alternate Reality Choices: Karlsson, Zibanejad, Stone, MacArthur
Erik Karlsson is the greatest player to ever play for the Senators, and so you probably get a pass for putting his name on anything, and Zibanejad was our last great hope coming out of a rebuild. Stone is a player the Sens plucked from nowhere and turned into one of the best two-way forwards in the game, and MacArthur is a heart-and-soul player whose brilliant career was cut short.
None of them ever played in the 2D, though. If you saw a Karlsson 2D jersey in the wild, it would feel weird, like the Uncanny Valley, where something isn’t quite right but not obviously wrong, either. It might be a jersey foul. If you’re going to mix-and-match good hockey players with your current jersey, why not put Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos on the back of your 2D jersey?
This would come awfully close to being a faux pas, a sort of wishful thinking that also happens to make it look like your Great Aunt walked into a store, picked up a jersey because she knows you like hockey (and she loves you), asked the prick kid behind the counter who the best Ottawa Senators player ever is, and voila.
My point is, I think you can do better than this. You’ve gotta let the past be the past, to allow for growth. If I see you in a 2D Zibanejad jersey, my first reaction will definitely be, “Okay, Zibanejad is the coolest looking name aesthetically and coolest sounding phonetically,” but after that, I’m gonna wish you well, because you’re clearly working through some stuff.
The Make Me Feel Pain Pick: Yashin, Daigle
It feels like the unacknowledged subtext of the 2D jersey debate is that the Sens were really bad during large swathes of the time that they spent wearing that jersey. Though we on Sens Twitter have spent enough time marinating in the notion of a 2D return that we’ve become numbed to the idea of how it might be perceived by the rest of the league, I’ve gotta think that there are some out there who think we’re naively opening a mummy’s sarcophagus that we found out in Kanata. It’s sort of like when people said the heritage ‘O’ looked like a zero. It’s a true that it didn’t matter, because that jersey is rad, but it’s also true that it kind of does look like a zero.
What better way to acknowledge that, like, dude, we know, than to get the name of one of the two players who exemplified the team’s cursed early years? Yashin was actually pretty great when he was with the Senators, but held out for most or all of some seasons asking to have his contract re-negotiated. Daigle was never particularly good, but going into the draft he was hyped beyond belief. The entry-level contract the Senators offered him was so generous, the league actually created new rules that live until this day about how much you’re allowed to offer rookies. The Senators were such a shit-show that the league had to change its rules to prevent other people from ever being that stupid. This, on many levels, is amazing. When you think about it, that might be the most enduring impact the Ottawa Senators have ever had on the NHL.
Enough time has passed for us to own this. Daigle and Yashin both played in the alumni game on Parliament Hill, and looked great in that 2D to boot. Bygones are bygones, and to put Yashin or Daigle on the back of your beautiful new 2D jersey is sort of like saying that pain can no longer touch you, but passes through you. You might get some eye-rolls from those who think you’re being ironic, but you’ll know better. Getting Yashin or Daigle on your 2D is having the grace to accept that which you cannot change while acknowledging that the awesome person you are today was informed by the challenges you lived through in the past.
The Deep Cut: Smolinski, McAmmond, Arvedson
Ottawa was blessed with a number of effective depth players and NHL veterans during those deep years. They were nobody’s favorites, but we couldn’t have been the Ottawa Senators without them. And, they all wore the 2D. You have to offer up some grudging respect if you see these names on a new jersey, although there is sooooooome degree to which it feels a little too cute by half. Take it from me; I call myself Varada on the internet.
The Really Deep Cut: Peter Bondra, Pavol Demitra
Peter Bondra joined the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline in 2003, after a whopping 14 seasons with the Washington Capitals. I remember him scoring in his first game (I think?) and Hossa being absolutely psyched. He had 14 points in 23 games, went pointless in the seven-game loss to Toronto in the first round, played two more seasons in the NHL, then was out for good. While it’s hard to believe that he was ever anyone’s favorite when he was in Ottawa, there’s no denying that 1) Peter Bondra was a pretty rad player, and 2) he wore the 2D:
Pavol Demitra, of course, was drafted by Ottawa in the ninth (!) round, traded for nothing and then turned into a superstar for St. Louis. He wore the 2D. He is also beloved and fondly remembered after his tragic passing at only 36 years old in a plane crash. Wearing a Demitra 2D signals simultaneous appreciations for history, good drafting, bad trades, what could have been, and an all-around pro. It’s a little bit like insisting that Nirvana’s Bleach is their best album: you’re not right, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
Covering Your Bases: White
Hear me out: first of all, do you even know what White I’m talking about? Is it Colin, or Todd? Jerseys don’t have first names. Both wore the 2D. Both will be considered promising young players on squads ultimately much deeper than what they themselves can offer. (Relatable!) Yes, this could apply to “Brown,” too, but Colin and Todd White could both credibly be, even if it’s a bit of a stretch, someone’s favorite player on the team. Todd White had a respectable NHL career, and Colin White was drafted in the first round and will probably play in the NHL, almost invisibly, for years to come. Getting “White” on the back of your 2D jersey is at the same time a deep cut, because they are, of course, not Karlsson or Alfredsson, and an inoffensive, vanilla selection signifying that you are passingly familiar with the entire lineup of your favorite hockey team. You may as well get the word “Hockey” on the back of your 2D jersey – and I mean that in a good way!
Okay, just kidding, get an Alfredsson jersey.
As far as I can tell as a guy who was 12 when the Senators came back to life, there have been six major phases of Senators fandom:
- 1992 to 1992.5: Isn’t it cool to have a hockey team?
- 1992.5 to 1996: I’ve made a huge mistake.
- 1997 to 2007: Nothing is true, everything is possible.
- 2008-2015: We were wrong not to appreciate what we had, yet are luckier still to have what we do.
- 2016-2017: Erik Karlsson is the greatest hockey player on earth and he’s an Ottawa Senator.
- 2017-2020: We were right to hate ourselves.
Squint and look sideways at that list and you can almost suss out a cosmic cycle, like the rising and setting sun, or the inevitable decay of life in turn feeding saplings. Is it possible that we, Ottawa Senators fans, like Norrin Radd, believed ourselves to be making a sacrifice (becoming herald to the mighty Galactus to save our beloved Zenn-La) only to discover that he himself is servant to the grand ballet of the universe? Should we now embrace our hard-won perspective and know that life is suffering but also ephemeral and transitory? Should we turn away from our grievances and accept that we all have a role to play, and we can play this role with grace and care and thoughtfulness and patience? The answer, of course, is no.
It is the opinion of this humble WTYKY beat writer that we should enter the 2021 season with an unbelievable chip on our shoulders. Hockey is supposed to be fun and every season and game that’s taken place since we watched Erik Karlsson drag this team within a goal of the Stanley Cup Finals has been most definitely Not Fun. We’ve been robbed of the fundamental element of sports, which is Puck Goes Into the Whizz Bang Net, Team Red is Better Than Team Blue simplicity, and it’s been replaced with the stuff of city council meetings and deals with higher cap hits than salaries. We’ve been reminded that our hobby, and our culture, and our community, is the plaything of the billionaire owner who – even worse! – also happens to not have a billion dollars.
I don’t want to dwell on any of this. There have been so many post-mortems for our collective interest, many of them written by my friends and me. Instead, we need to look forward, not with positivity, but with anger.
So your Ottawa Senators traded a marginal pick for a depth forward with term who is a borderline enforcer. How are you supposed to feel about that? If this were the 1992.5-1996 Ottawa Senators, you’d think we were just trying to protect some semblance of our dignity while losing record numbers of games. If this were the 1997-2007 Senators, you’d be riding a ten-year playoff streak but still be traumatized by playoff losses and so would view Austin Watson through the prism of insecurity and overcompensation. If it were 2016-2107, you would think that even these moves around the margin represent missed chances to give Karlsson one more option to get the puck to. But this is the 2021 Ottawa Senators. How should we react to the fact that we traded for Austin Watson? We should react like we’re Austin Watson, which is to say, we should punch a vending machine to death for looking at us the wrong way. Nobody respects us. WE barely respect us! Act accordingly.
We have the deepest prospect pool and the best jerseys in the league. Nobody takes us seriously. There’s only one logical way to deal with this, which is to act like we have the deepest prospect pool and best jerseys in the league and ignore everything else. If there’s anything being alive in 2020 has taught me, it’s that blind confidence will carry even the most mediocre person pretty damn far. Maybe even to the Presidency!
We need to forget about 1992-2017 and take all of the embarrassment and frustration of the last three years and distill it into pure, unapologetic, shit-eating enthusiasm for our terrible hockey team. I’m not talking homerism. When we do something stupid and bad, don’t apologize for it, and don’t try to explain it. Embrace it. “Of COURSE we fucked that up – that’s because we rule. What, are you stupid enough to care about doing this the right way?” There’s enough room for this anger and our usual repugnance for Eugene Melnyk. I’m talking about basically becoming Flyers fans but stopping just short of whipping batteries at Santa Claus.
We don’t need to adopt somebody else’s vision of the Hi Haters mentality, either. I don’t want to pretend I liked that Joker movie, or watch Bill Burr stand up, or own the libs, or do any of the other things that make poor excuses for toxic infantilisms. We can build something special, something entirely our own – a unique brand of anger and spite and utter freedom centered on our Poor Stupid Terrible Awesome Ottawa Senators.
It’s strange that it’s taken me this long to land here; our best player is Brady Tkachuk! He understands the hate. He embodies it. He is also awesome and a good guy, etc. Dude is going to get under the skin of 85 percent of the league before he turns 25 and still be flossing with kids. He’ll be our captain soon enough, and thus be in charge of our Culture Department. What we need to do is be there with him, in The Shit with him. Brady’s gonna put us on his back like the contery itself, and in turn we may need to put him on ours – as well as on an ad on the side of a stalled LTR with the slogan “fuck around and find out.”
On October 8th, the Ottawa Senators traded a fifth round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson, having been drafted third overall by the Florida Panthers a decade ago, will be joining his fifth team, and despite being Pretty Big, is also Not Very Good.
It’s hardly the kind of deal to get worked up over. A fifth round pick isn’t worth very much, and a team who was almost $20 million below the salary floor at the time added a Not Very Good NHL veteran with only a year left on his deal to a team expected to be also Not Very Good next season. Gudbranson will probably be on his sixth team in 2022, and Ottawa picking in the top five. While a bit of a head-scratcher, the trade is the definition of inconsequential.
Then, on the same day, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Ryan Murray, drafted second overall in 2012 and Actually Pretty Good (though not Pretty Big and also Oft Injured) for also a fifth round pick. Ottawa Senators Twitter was alight with condemnation; how could this team, having just traded away nothing for nothing, decline to instead trade nothing for something? It’s a fair question. Asking it slams us up against the opaque old boy’s club of NHL hockey relationships, leading us to conclude, by dint of our lack of information, that the team making the inferior deal must naturally be an inferior assessor of talent. There’s another question worth asking, though, which is: how do the conversations leading up to NHL trades even work? Did Dorion even know Murray was available?
A few days later, the Colorado Avalanche made a lopsided trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, sending bona fide top-six forward Brandon Saad to the Colorado Avalanche for odds and ends. These deals beg the question: is there anything resembling an open market in the NHL? Anecdotally, I’ve heard mentioned on various podcasts, like 31 Thoughts, that there’s a closely-guarded listserv of some kind where NHL general managers share information about the players they’re trying to move, and what it would take to obtain them. But I’ve never encountered anywhere information about a market, in any kind of formalized sense, where players are objectively quantified and understood in terms relative to one another and to draft picks. Anyone who’s dicked around on Yahoo fantasy hockey has seen it: the trade boards, where one designates what they’re looking for, and what they’re willing to give up. Is it naïve of me to wonder if an equivalent doesn’t exist for NHL GMs?
It’s easier said than done, of course. Quantifying value is loaded, and the subtext of it is why there are so many people writing about and trying to get into hockey. But there are so many examples of teams making deals that seem fine in the moment only to find that these deals are sub-optimal relative to another deal that happens soon after that one has to wonder whether NHL GMs even communicate with one another. Is the GM community simply cliques within cliques?
Another puzzling rumor is that the NHL is eager to bring former Edmonton and Boston GM Peter Chiarelli back into the fold, perhaps in a role with the Arizona Coyotes. Chiarelli, though a veteran in NHL circles at this point, has been lambasted for a series of brutal trades and signings during his time in Edmonton. Why would he have not just currency in the NHL, but powerful actors within the bureaucracy of the league itself advocating on his behalf? It’s possible that he’s a good soldier, upholding the values of the league and conducting himself with consummate professionalism. It’s also possible that navigating the waters of NHL general management requires an understanding of the idiosyncratic gatekeeping that keeps any ol’ schmo from simply consulting the best practices and going about their business. Chiarelli has a membership in the Old Boys Club, and while that might seem like a self-legitimizing reason to grant him readmittance to said club, the health of the league is dependent on GMs that actually talk to and do business with one another.
This all goes back to that fateful day over four years ago when a series of bananas trades took place within hours of one another, all of the NHL media having been caught sleeping on the fact that any of them were even in gestation.
How could Edmonton trade Taylor Hall, a former first overall pick in the prime of his career, for a decent but unremarkable top four defenseman? How could Montreal trade the younger and cheaper PK Subban for Shea Weber? It’s not that these trades are not defensible if you squint and look sideways at them, but the experience is a familiar one for most hockey fans: “How could my team not have beaten that offer?” The answer, it seems to me, is that maybe they weren’t even aware that a market for that player existed. What we should wonder, as nerds on the internet, is how that can possibly be so.
If the league keeps with recent tradition, then shortly after playoff seeding is determined for the 2020 NHL season, it will hold the draft lottery determining where non-playoff teams will pick in the 2020 draft. Every one of the 15 teams to miss the playoffs will have a chance at the first overall pick. The odds for the remaining teams will then be adjusted proportionally for the second drawing, for the second overall pick, and then again for the third drawing, for the third overall pick. The remaining teams will then receive the remaining picks in the inverse order of the standings.
This statistical exercise in the likelihood of ping-pong balls with certain numbers to fall out of the machine first, which amounts to an exercise in controlled randomness, may be the most consequential event in the 28-year history of the modern incarnation of the Ottawa Senators. Not a playoff series, or even a particular play in a significant game, but an utterly random event that doesn’t even resemble hockey.
That’s because of four things we know, or at least suspect, to be true:
1) For a team to be a true contender, it needs at least one true ‘needle-moving’ player, a blue-chip, franchise guy who can drive play by himself if need be
2) Needle-movers have traditionally been found in the top few picks of a draft, and even then, not every year.
3) The 2020 draft is a deep one, with multiple sources reporting a higher likelihood than usual of real needle-movers being available in those top few picks.
4) As of this writing, Ottawa has two picks in the top ten. Their own is likely to be bottom five. San Jose’s, which they received in the Erik Karlsson trade, could realistically be anywhere among those 15 non-playoff teams, as the Sharks’ playoff chances currently sit at about 2.5 percent.
In the Spring of 2020, Ottawa could learn that it will select not one, but two franchise players. This has the potential not just to improve Ottawa’s chances of a Stanley Cup, but to drastically alter the competitive landscape of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference for the next decade. What happens because of those ping-pong balls could alter other franchises’ decisions about whether or not to rebuild.
…or, Ottawa could end up with two middle-round 1st, a place in the draft known to produce decent NHL players perhaps, but not of the franchise-player caliber. In this latter scenario, the Senators draft two Jared Cowens, remain a playoff bubble team for the next ten years, and hope to build by coalition a team that can sneak into the playoffs where anything can happen. (Some Sens fans are having paroxysms of agony at the sight of the words “anything can happen.”)
Maybe it’s better this way. Where we might still litigate Lalime’s 2004 playoff performance against the Leafs and just how soft those two Joe Nieuwendyk goals were, the fall of ping-pong balls is out of the control of any of the players, coaches, or managers of the Ottawa Senators. No matter what happens next, it will be neither fault nor glory of anyone in the Ottawa Senators’ organization, or of the referees, the fans, or even of the league. It is, in the space of a few minutes, an elegant testament to the chaos and indifference of a universe that doesn’t just not care about hockey – it doesn’t care if you live or die! 🤗
This got me thinking: is there anything in the Senators’ history more consequential than this upcoming draft lottery? Anything that could be said to have more meaningfully affected the likelihood of the Ottawa Senators winning a Stanley Cup?
I came up with a few contenders.
Breaking Ground in Kanata
The Senators’ arena seems oddly isolated, its location chosen seemingly arbitrarily in the suburban west end of the city, as if designed to limit accessibility and growth. It’s true that it’s only a 25-minute drive from downtown…on a good day. Add rush hour traffic, some snow, or if you’re coming through downtown from the east end, and it’s not unusual to spend closer to an hour. Anyone who’s spent that hour on a bus trying desperately to hold a game’s worth of beer in their bladder knows what I’m talking about.
This might sound like whining to someone like me, who navigates the United States’ busted infrastructure on ultra-long commutes to overcrowded cities, but in Ottawa, where people consistently have no idea how good they have it, that kind of drive to see something you could watch in your neighborhood bar seems insane. As a result, a hockey mad city that didn’t have much competition until CFL football was revived once again in 2010 has at times faced attendance issues and trouble growing the game beyond the most hardcore of fans.
As Bruce Firestone recalled in an illuminating 2017 article, the original Senators ownership group wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with quality choices. Ottawa is laced with federal lands and a National Capital Commission loath to negotiate it away to corporate interests. (Which, don’t get it twisted, kicks ass.) While it’s true that a downtown arena could have been a game-changer in terms of making the Senators a have, rather than a have-not franchise, it doesn’t seem as if there was an actual, consequential choice at the time…unless the Senators wanted to keep playing at the 9,500 capacity Lansdown arena, home of the OHL Ottawa 67s. (Which, again, would kick ass.)
All the same, the location of the Senators’ arena has been hugely consequential in terms of their ability to raise revenue and compete, and remains a defining aspect of the franchise.
Drafting Alexandre Daigle
If you don’t think drafting Daigle was considered consequential, consider that the deal Ottawa offered to Daigle was so generous that it resulted in the introduction of a whole new class of contracts into the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the player’s association. That’s how big the hype was for the phenom: it permanently altered the legal apparatus upon which all league business is predicated.
Had Daigle turned out to be a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid, and been added to a lineup that already had Alexei Yashin and Daniel Alfredsson, then the early years of the Senators franchise might have been quite different. Imagine if Daigle, like Crosby, turned into a lifelong franchise player, multiple trophy winner and Olympic medalist. Imagine Crosby in his prime playing with Alfredsson, also in his prime. Had Daigle brought a Cup to Ottawa, the team could have attracted free agents for generations. Everything would have changed.
Daigle, of course, would become a perfectly mediocre player even after given multiple chances and oodles of ice time, would bounce around the NHL and then finally play in Switzerland, only to be heard from along with Patrick Stefan every year when someone writes up a Biggest Busts article.
Trading Alexei Yashin to the Islanders
God bless Mad Mike, but I almost think that he gets a bad rap here. Sure, in retrospect, trading a hall-of-fame defenceman and the 2nd overall pick, which would turn into Jason Spezza, for Alexei Yashin doesn’t look great. (It wasn’t helped by the 10-year deal the Islanders handed Yashin, then subsequently bought him out of.) But in a pre-salary cap league, without the same understanding of the value of RFAs, Mike Milbury brought in a 27-year old with recent 88- and 94-point seasons, who had scored at close to a point-per-game clip for his entire career, in exchange for a defenceman who, at that point, was being used as an enforcer, and a pick that could turn out to be anything.
Imagine if, in the 2001 draft, the Senators had selected Alex Svitov, also a center, who went third overall to Tampa and scored all of 37 points in 178 NHL games. Or even Stephen Weiss, who went fourth overall and had a perfectly decent career but scored only 423 points in 732 games and retired after the 2014-2015 season.
Chara and Spezza would go on to help make the Senators a regular-season behemoth, and, after losing Chara to free agency, Spezza would center the famed Pizza Line alongside Heatley and Alfredsson and bring the Senators to the 2007 Finals, losing only three games along the way. Spezza would become captain of the team for a short time, and is even now still in the NHL, albeit playing for some fly-by-night contractors called the Leafs. Chara, of course, would become the Wolverine, complete with healing factor, captain the Bruins, win the Norris, and bring a Cup to Boston.
Daniel Alfredsson’s Best Contract in the League
Imagine that you draft a natural leader with an excellent two-way game and a goalscoring touch in the sixth round. Now imagine that he loves playing for your small-market, low-budget team, even if at one point it’s come close to bankruptcy and they reportedly had trouble cutting pay checks. Now imagine that he signs a team-friendly, five-year deal.
Now imagine that, as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players union agrees to roll back all existing contracts by 24 percent.
While the Senators would go on to buy out Aldredsson in 2009-2010 purely so that they could re-sign him to a fair deal and make him whole, they basically got one of the best all-around players in the entire league for less than $5M per season for years on end. This allowed them, among other things, to pay Heatley and Spezza after the Finals run, and keep intact a deep team throughout numerous regular season runs. Had Alfredsson held out in the early aughts for the kind of $7M+ contract he could get elsewhere, Ottawa might have found themselves without their captain, and never had had a shot at the Cup at all.
Dominic Hasek Goes to the Olympics
Sometimes we forget just how good that 2005-2006 Ottawa Senators team was. The Pizza Line. Spezza-Fisher-Smolinski-Vermette down the middle. Redden, Chara, Phillips, Volchenkov, all in their prime. Heatley, who had one of his 50-goal seasons, and Havlat on the wings as scoring threats. Quality depth all over the lineup, including Chris Neil, Patrick Eaves, and Chris Kelly. Then add Dominic Hasek, whose GAA and save percentage at the Olympic break would be the second-best in the league.
Hasek’s equipment was left behind in Ottawa, causing Hasek to miss vital practices in Turin, and he would injure himself in under 10 minutes in the opening game. He never returned to play for the Senators, who were eliminated in the second round after starting the promising but inexperienced Ray Emery, who managed only a .900 save percentage in those playoffs. Worse, the “will he-won’t he” quality of Hasek’s return kept the Senators from getting an experienced netminder at the deadline.
It’s possible that the Senators should have played better in front of Emery, or that a team that deep should have been able to defeat the Sabres, or at least take them further than five games. (Buffalo would lose in seven to eventual champion Carolina in the Conference Finals.) It’s possible that they should have brought Hasek back the next season, considering his strong play in Ottawa and willingness to play for a base salary so long as it was for a contender. But the fact that players were permitted to engage in long-shot Olympic bids, risking injury, and that the Senators would never be quite so deep again is why the Olympics remain so contentious in negotiations between the league and the players’ union today.
Hossa for Heatley
Imagine that you draft and develop a star player, and that player leads you to seven games in the Conference Final in the last year of his contract. It’s the first time your team has gone so far, having spent the better part of a decade as the punchline of the league after navigating uncharitable expansion rules and incompetent management. Your team then signs said star to a three-year deal without a no-trade clause…and on the same day he’s traded.
It’s wild to imagine now. This would be roughly the equivalent of the Senators trading Karlsson the same day as they signed him. But while Hossa would go on to have a 100+ point season with the Atlanta Thrashers, the Senators brought back Dany Heatley and had their greatest run of sustained success in franchise history. While Heatley had back-to-back 50 goal seasons in Ottawa, he would infamously demand a trade for which Ottawa could not receive fair value and quickly go into decline. Hossa’s career outlasted Heatley’s, and, despite missing out on back-to-back Cups with Pittsburgh and Detroit, he would win multiple Cups in Chicago.
It’s not clear why Ottawa traded Hossa, let alone why they traded him in a way that would erode trust in management so publicly. It might have been that they were not confident they could extend him beyond the three years he’d just signed after what had already been a long negotiation. But given Hossa’s longevity and the sour manner in which the Heatley relationship ended, it’s possible that Hossa takes Ottawa even further or extends their success.
Choosing Redden Over Chara
This has been litigated to death, especially with Chara still in the league at 42 and Redden having retired almost a decade ago. I maintain that with Phillips and Volchenkov in the fold, Ottawa leaned more heavily on Redden’s passing than they did on Chara’s shutdown skill and were reasonable to choose as they did. It was only after Chara left for Boston that he blossomed into the complete, all-around player with multiple 50+ point campaigns. In any case, Ottawa elected not to even offer Chara a contract, and signed Redden instead, but only to a two-year deal.
Ottawa would make the Finals without Chara, but would be dummied once they got there by the physical Anaheim Ducks, and it’s the perpetual game of Mirror, Mirror to debate what would have happened if they’d had a fully armed and operational Zdeno Chara over Redden’s 10 points in 20 games.
Perhaps more consequential than choosing two years of Redden over Chara was that first Chara, and then Redden, would walk from the franchise without Ottawa recouping so much as a draft pick. Ottawa once had two franchise-quality defencemen and got so much in their own heads about choosing one over the other that they lost both for nothing. Ottawa hasn’t made a Cup Final since, and wouldn’t even come close until…
Drafting Erik Karlsson
Here it is, the closest you might come to the randomness of ping-pong balls: drafting a 150-pound puck moving defenceman at 15th and seeing him turn into the best skater and defenceman in the league since Niklas Lidstrom. Winner of two Norris Trophies, robbed of two more. Single-handedly dragged a thoroughly mediocre team to the Conference Finals on a surgically reconstructed ankle. Fifth in league scoring…as a defenceman.
Ottawa has never had a player like him and perhaps never will again. Ironically, even with the potential for two picks in the top five in a very deep draft, Ottawa is unlikely to draft a player as good as Erik Karlsson was when he was in Ottawa. It’s too bad that his time in Ottawa coincided with an ownership who could not surround him with talent, and with a relatively barren prospect pool.
There were a number of pretty good NHL defencemen in the 2008 draft, even after 15th: Jake Gardiner at 17th, Michael Del Zotto at 20th, and this year’s likely Norris winner John Carlson at 27th. This makes it even more interesting and unlikely that Ottawa would not just take a chance on Karlsson, but trade up for him. He’s only surpassed by Alfredsson in terms of influence on the direction of the franchise.
In this episode, James, Varada and extra special guest Chet Sellers discuss:
- The Ottawa Senators suck the life energy from the San Jose Sharks, Emperor Palpatine style!
- The Sens have many players of varying quality on expiring contracts and we share the latest on where we think they might land based on what we’re hearing from our extensive network of well-connected insiders!
- Some much-needed Borowiecki love after having spent hours on previous podcasts using him as an example of why the Senators are stupid!
- The 2020 NHL draft: the most consequential moment in modern franchise history!
In this episode:
– Anthony Duclair: He keeps kicking ass, so we gotta keep talking about him.
– Colin White: Kause 5 Koncern?
– Belleville Senators: They’re good now!
– The World Juniors: We just hope both teams have fun.
In this episode: Luke and James discuss having hope again, ask what’s going on with Bobby Ryan, decide whether they could trade Jean-Gabriel Pageau for the good of the rebuild, congratulate Nick Paul on finally finishing his development, consider the plight of Erik Brannstrom, check in on the Sharks’ first round pick, and read some journalism about how Mike Babcock should be fired.
Look, I’m not going to rehash all of the ways in which last season truly stank. You know them, I know them…and yet here we are. As I mentioned on the most recent edition of our podcast, Senators fans have proven that truly nothing can keep us away from watching our favorite hockey team. Even a practical guarantee of last place combined with the Assistant GM sexually assaulting a young boy isn’t enough for us to ask, “Books…where are they now?” Just like a broken marriage, Senators fans and Eugene Melnyk are staying together for the kids.
So! What can we expect from our 2019-2020 Ottawa Senators? Let’s just take a look at some of the predictOOOOOH DEAR LORD GOD NO. AW MY GOD.
Well, holy shit, the Senators are going to be bad according to pretty much everyone.
There’s a long string of mediocrity running from about the Oilers to the Blues where the aggregated predictions see about a ten point difference – thanks, parity! – then you have a precipitous drop to the Wings and Kings, and then, below that…you have the Sens. USA Today’s model might have left out an entire stat category by accident, given their prediction for the Senators’ season. (Is that what a team that just doesn’t score a powerplay goal all season long looks like?)
Obviously this is hockey, and these simulations, taken together, represent a huge spread. I guess it’s possible that, say, Moneypuck’s predictions for the Sens come true while, say, Sean Tierny’s predictions of the Kings come true and somehow the Senators find themselves an incredibly inspiring fifth last in the league. Either way, I’m pretty sure that under no circumstances will the Senators be in the playoffs in 2020.
Which is fine! Because they are, at best, in year two of a five year rebuild. Having already laid a foundation of could-be-anything prospects coupled with some really great, toolsy players like Tkachuk, Brannstrom, and Batherson, this is the year for the Senators to add that foundational player in the draft. They have the picks, they have the expiring UFAs, and they have the suck. All they have to do is reach out and take back their destiny by well and truly phoning this season in.
Rookie coach D.J. Smith has his hands full keeping the love of hockey and general will to live going among these youngsters, who will spend the next seven months being ritualistically humiliated and literally beaten half to death by an entire league of older, bigger, more skilled grown men. Here’s hoping he doesn’t pile on by making them bag skate after yet another tough loss in the dog days of February when they’re on a seven game road trip through a section of America on the verge of civil war.
What is there to watch for, then? Here are five things that will keep me interested during what will otherwise be a grueling exercise in self-punishment:
Beat the Leafs
That’s not just going for the applause line. The Leaf’s avail themselves of every loophole the league has yet to close via CBA negotiations, from enormous salary bonuses, to massive analytics departments, to buried salaries and IR lists, to endless, fawning coverage, and now, this year, their window of contention is thoroughly open and all that whining and spending comes down to this.
What better way to salve the wounds of having the worst team in the league than to remind our division rivals every time they play us that they have to scratch and claw for every point against a broke team in the early throes of a rebuild? What better way to remind Leafs fans that they will definitely, definitely lose against the Bruins again than to show them that they can’t even beat the Sens? If we have our way it’ll be yet another year of Leafs fans yearning for their father’s love while he plays with his trains in the basement.
Hail the Duke
The Sens aren’t going to get a lot of respect this season, and in that way they share something with Anthony Duclair, on his fifth franchise at age 23 and only now being re-signed by a team because they like what he brings to the table. The Duke showed some of that good old fashioned spite in the back half of last season, and has already impressed in the pre-season with a gorgeous goal while on the penalty kill (!). Seeing him reach 20 goals again (he did so in his sophomore season in Arizona) would be a treat, as would seeing him prove wrong anyone who’s ever said “I don’t think he knows how to play.” He’s got the talent. Hopefully now he has the chip on his shoulder, too. The Senators just might have found themselves a diamond in the rough or, if not that, someone who embodies the spirit of this rough-and-tumble rebuild.
Reuniting Brown and Batherson
Logan Brown and Drake Batherson kicked the living shit out of the AHL last season. Batherson had 62 points in 59 games, and Brown had 42 points in 56 while generally acting like a bowling ball on skates. Batherson is sticking around through training camp, but Brown was sent back to Belleville to start the season. I don’t fault that decision – Brown didn’t exactly dominate – but bringing him back up when the team hits its first slump or when they inevitably encounter injury, and then pairing him with Batherson, might boost their production while giving us a preview of a pairing for years to come. Brown, at his best, looks like a terrifying power forward. Batherson looks like a Midwesterner on a church group singing tour, but he can score. It’s a match made in heaven.
Does Signing Scott Sabourin Stunt the Development of Another More Worthy Prospect Whose NHL Ice Time Might Contribute To
Just kidding. Nobody cares.
Is Erik Brannstrom the Tea?
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but last year, Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion traded Mark Stone, a player Ottawa drafted in the sixth round and developed into a top 10 player in the entire league, for Erik Brannstrom, a rookie without an NHL game under his belt, pretty much straight up, and then said it was one of his proudest moments. No disrespect to Oscar Lindberg, who the Sens already let walk for nothing, or the second round pick, but in that moment Dorion staked his reputation as a GM on the development of this adorable little Swede. The only thing standing between that trade being listed every single year on clickbait “worst trades of all time!” lists right alongside us getting Chara and Spezza for Yashin is for Brannstrom to work out. NO PRESSURE, MY MAN, JUST GO OUT THERE AND HAVE FUN.
He’s like 180 pounds and starts the season paired with consummate veteran but otherwise human pylon Ron Hainsey in a redux of “trading for Phaneuf will be good for Ceci’s development.” My prediction? Look, the kid is going to finish like a -47 no matter what, so may as well have some fun with it. Put him on the first unit power play. Make stretch passes that have like a two percent chance of working out. Break in those skates! Don’t lose your humanity.
I understand it’s ill-advised to put too much stock in these things, and that this entire post has basically been an exercise in preempting getting hurt by expecting the worst, but wouldn’t it be fucking great if Brannstrom ended up as good as Chabot? Dare to dream, children.
Brady Tkachuk is a very likeable young man. Thomas Chabot has the potential to be one of the best players the Sens have ever had. Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about that deal the Sharks gave Karlsson. Mark Stone is the perfect hockey player. Alex Formenton is fast? Maybe we’ll get a new jersey next season. Anyway, here’s “Wonderwall.”
In which @Luke_H_Peristy and Varada confirm that hockey is a hobby that they share and the Senators are the team they watch most often. They also confirm via analysis that re-signing Chabot was good because he, as a player, is good. We also re-litigate the Zibanejad trade (preview: who cares?) and agree that when the Ottawa Senators went to the conference finals slapped.