(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here's Graeme Nichols and the crew from The 6th Sens giving us the Essentials for the Ottawa Senators. Thanks to Tim, @Wham_City and @steffeG, and Graham Creech for their help.)
By The 6th Sens
Player: Daniel Alfredsson
With a franchise leading 416 goals, 666 assists, and 1082 points in 1131 games played, Daniel Alfredsson owns every important modern Senators record that exists. He scored the overtime winner that sent the Sens into their only Stanley Cup Final appearance and he even shares the Senators' unofficial playoff record for stopping the same number of Joe Nieuwendyk shots taken from the top of the left circle with Patrick Lalime.
The captain with the various hairstyles and quick wit (see: moment number two) is affectionately known by Sens fans as Alfie. Here in Ottawa, he is: a legend; an icon; an All-Star; an Olympic gold medalist; an ambassador to the game; and the man who reduced Darcy Tucker to a puddle on the ice.
Having just committed to returning for a 17th season, the lifelong Senator will continue to pad his totals (he's currently third on the NHL's active list for career points) and improve his Hockey Hall of Fame candidacy.
His on ice impact is matched by his significant contributions off the ice. He's a valuable community fixture who devotes countless hours to charitable endeavors like the Ottawa Senators Foundation, Ringside For Youth and the Royal Ottawa Hospital's You Know Who I Am mental health campaign.
And he hasn't just given back to the community; he also has given back to the organization as well. From the team friendly contracts to him deferring a portion of his salary to help ease the team's financial burden during its bankruptcy scare in 2003, his actions have been selfless. Even when the Sens struggled to regroup following their deep run in 2007, he could have gone the Ray Bourque route and requested a trade to a Stanley Cup contender. We wouldn't have blamed if he had, but for some reason, he never did.
That's just Alfie.
Simply put, Daniel Alfredsson is the most important person to ever don a Senators jersey. (Apologies to Snoop Dogg, KISS, Carrie Underwood, Alice Cooper, The Dog Whisperer, Jerry Seinfeld, Shania Twain, Big L, Biggie, and Anna Kournikova.)
Considering that the Senators have never won the Stanley Cup and reached hockey's pinnacle in their modern existence, opinions of what was Ottawa's greatest team are inevitably going to vary.
Some may point to the 2006/07 team as the best because it represented the deepest that the organization had ever gone in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Detractors would argue that the Senators had already peaked as a team; we just didn't know it at the time.
Others may allude to the 2005/06 offensive juggernaut as the organization's greatest team. The first line trio of Dany Heatley (50 goals, 103 points), Jason Spezza (19 goals, 90 points) and Daniel Alfredsson (43 goals, 103 points) paced the Senators to a whopping 314 goals for. To put this in perspective, in the past 15 NHL seasons, only the 2009/10 Washington Capitals scored more goals (318) than 2005/06 Senators.
Had Dominik Hasek never gotten hurt at the Olympic Games in Turin and taught us what an adductor injury is, I might agree that this was the best Sens team. Instead we rue injuries to Hasek's adductor muscle and Zdeno Chara's broken hand as contributing factors that led to their departures and the team's eventual fall from grace.
Personally, I'm inclined to believe that the 2002/03 Presidents' Trophy winning team that fell one goal short and ultimately lost to New Jersey in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals was the greatest Senators team ever. The roster reads like a who's-who of important players that have played in Ottawa. It had depth on the wings (Hossa, Havlat, Alfredsson, Arvedson, Neil, Varada, Smolinski and Schaefer), two 50-plus point centers (Bonk and White), a physical third line center (Fisher) and a hot shot rookie center (Spezza). A defence anchored by Chara, Redden (before he became a salary cap liability), Phillips, Volchenkov, Leschyshyn, and Pothier, meant that Patrick Lalime was well insulated enough to post the best regular season numbers of his career: 39-20-7 record with 8 shutouts, a 2.16 GAA and a 0.911 save percentage.
Game: April 20, 2004
Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Having already lost three consecutive series in their short modern history to their hated divisional rivals, the fourth installment in the Battle of Ontario represented an opportunity for the Sens to put their playoff demons to bed and hopefully move on to bigger and better things. At the very least, a series clinching win could have stifled the amount of verbal sparring that we endured in the nation's capital from our insufferable Leafs-supporting co-workers, friends and family members who grew up cheering for Toronto before Ottawa was ever awarded a NHL franchise.
Coming off of a double-overtime victory in Game 6 of the series, the Senators looked poised to carry that momentum into the Game 7. One Chad Kilger goal just over six minutes into the game helped dampen our spirits but less than a minute and a half later, Joe Nieuwendyk scored on a shot that even Clint Benedict could have saved and he's been dead since 1976.
Had Ottawa escaped that period with a 2-0 deficit, they may have had a chance to come back. But with only 29 seconds left in the first, Nieuwendyk scored again on an eerily similar shot from an eerily similar location. At that precise moment, Sens fans knew that Toronto would go on to win that game. For us, the season was over.
We knew it because the Sens been burned too many times by the Leafs before. From Ricard Persson boarding Tie Domi (with the Senators up two goals in game six of 2002) to Alyn McCauley doing his best Mats Sundin impression during the 2002 playoffs, we were conditioned to always expect the worst whenever the Sens played Toronto.
When the final buzzer put an end to the Senators 2003/04 season, we knew that sweeping changes were afoot. The team had simply failed to live up to expectations for too many consecutive years.
The most successful head coach and goaltender that this franchise had seen were shown the door — Jacques Martin was fired 48 hours after Game 7 and on June 27th, Patrick Lalime was dealt to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional fourth round pick.
By the time the Senators suited up for their next regular season game, familiar names like Radek Bonk, Todd White and Marian Hossa had joined Martin and Lalime in being cast away.
Goal: April 12, 1997
The Senators have been blessed to have some pretty highly skilled offensive players come through the ranks and score some beautiful goals. Between-the-legs? Check. Embarrassing Marty Turco before it ever became the norm? Check. Undressing Montreal defenders before going shelf? Check and check.
But, I'm not here to talk about the biggest highlight reel goal that the Senators have ever scored. I'm supposed to discuss the one that most defines the organization. Unquestionably, there have been some influential goals. Off the top of my head, Neil Brady's (the first ever in franchise history), Chris Phillips' OT game winner versus the Devils in game six of the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals and Alfie's series clinching OT winner in game five versus Buffalo in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals immediately come to mind.
In terms of defining goals however, none have eclipsed Steve Duchesne's game winning goal on April 12, 1997:
Needing a win in their final regular season game of the 1996/97 season, the Senators peppered Dominik Hasek and the Sabres with shots (outshot them 34 to 17), until Duchesne broke a 0-0 tie with 4:01 left in the third period to secure the franchise's first ever playoff berth. In many ways, Duchesne's goal was emblematic of putting an end to the mediocre expansion phase of the franchise's existence. His goal led the team to the first of their eleven consecutive playoff appearances.
And perhaps to one of the greatest Senators goal GIF celebrations ever:
Trade: The Yashin Trade
On paper, Ottawa's June 23, 2001 trade that sent Alexei Yashin to the Islanders for Bill Muckalt, Zdeno Chara and the second overall draft selection was a franchise defining moment for the Senators.
But in the spirit of the Olympics, maybe it's about time that we start critiquing NHL trades in the same way that an Olympic diving judge evaluates a dive. Instead of looking at clear cut winners, we should also weight our impression of the trade against its degree of difficulty.
Senators GM Marshall Johnston took his counterpart, Mike Milbury, to the cleaners. Unfortunately for Islanders fans, the list of GMs who hustled Mad Mike is long. In a twist of irony, the Isles signed Yashin to a heinous 10-year, $87.5 million contract that even he couldn't hold out on. Eventually however, the Isles bought Yashin out in 2007 and in effect, paid him to stay away from the team.
If we're looking at an impactful trade that involved some credible counterpart, I'd recommend Bryan Murray's trade with the three-time NHL GM of the Year Award nominee, David Poile.
With the stage set at the 2008 NHL Draft here in Ottawa, Murray moved the 18th overall selection and a 2009 third rounder to the Nashville Predators for the 15th overall selection — setting the table for them to take the 2012 Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson.
Not bad, considering 18th selection, Chet Pickard, just recently signed a contract with the Swedish Elite League's Djurgardens' team and Taylor Beck, the third round selection from 2009, has yet to make his mark in the NHL.
Unsung Hero: Marshall Johnston
Living in a city that celebrates the team's grinders, pugilists and role players as much as often as its scorers, it is difficult to attach an unsung hero label to any one particular player. Instead, I'll give that distinction to former GM Marshall Johnston.
Hired by then GM Pierre Gauthier in July of 1996, Marshall Johnston was brought on to be the team's Director of Player Personnel — a position that he held until June of 1999. As a small market team that relied heavily upon the cultivation and development of its prospects to succeed, Johnston and his staff of scouts were faced with a difficult task. In light of an improving team, Ottawa's draft position proportionately waned. That didn't stop Marshall's staff from finding high value players from the middle of the first round to the latter stages of the draft.
By the time that Johnston had made the ascent up the company ladder to the position of GM, his staff was responsible for drafting the following key cogs:
- 1997: Marian Hossa (1st round, 12th overall); Magnus Arvedsson (5th round, 119th overall); the late Karel Rachunek (9th round, 229th overall).
- 1998: Mike Fisher (2th round, 44th overall); and Chris Neil (6th round, 161st overall).
- 1999: Martin Havlat (1st round, 26th overall); Chris Kelly (3th round, 94th overall)
Eventually Johnston resigned as GM citing that he wanted to spend more time with his family, but not before his staff architected the Alexei Yashin trade and added Anton Volchenkov, Antoine Vermette, Greg Zanon, Jason Spezza, Tim Gleason, Ray Emery, Christoph Schubert and Brooks Laich to the prospect pool.
While many laud former GM John Muckler for being at the helm of the 2006/07 Cup Finalist team, if it were not for the work of Marshall Johnston and his scouts, Muckler's team never would have gotten that far.
For what it's worth, I'd be remiss if I didn't use this opportunity to mention the contributions of the men who were responsible for bringing NHL hockey back to Ottawa after a 58 year absence. Inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame this past April, the Ottawa Senators founding fathers — Bruce Firestone, Cyril Leeder, Rod Bryden and Randy Sexton — ensured that future generations of Ottawa area hockey fans won't have to cheer for the bleu, blanc et rouge or the Leafs.
Franchise Villain: Yashin and Gandler
Like any NHL franchise, there are a number of candidates who could be classified as the defining villain.
Dany Heatley might have been an appropriate choice had his trade request actually been a burden on the organization. Even before his trade request became public knowledge, it made sense for the organization to rid itself of him. Although his movement clause limited Ottawa's return, it's tough to remain angry with a player who ultimately did the organization a favor. In retrospect, what he did wasn't any worse than Bryan Berard refusing to sign a contract with the Senators after being drafted 1st overall in 1995.
The Toronto Maple Leafs would have a stronger case if they had been relevant since 2004.
That leaves Alexei Yashin and his puppet master agent, Mark Gandler.
On three separate occasions, Yashin held out or threatened to hold while under contract to the Senators. The first came at the conclusion of the 1993/94 season when Gandler claimed that management reneged on their promise to renegotiate his client's contract. While a work stoppage cancelled the first half of the 1994/95 season, Yashin eventually came to an agreement with the Senators before the start of camp.
That agreement didn't last long. At a contractual impasse, Yashin left for Russia at the beginning of the 1995/96 season and played in a handful of games for the Moscow Dynamo before the IIHF banned him from competing because of his pre-existing contract with Ottawa. Approximately 20 games into the NHL season, GM Randy Sexton was fired and replaced by Pierre Gauthier; who acted quickly and inked Yashin to a new five-year, $13 million contract.
After the fourth year in his new contract, Gandler went to a familiar well and indicated that Yashin would refuse to report to the 1999/2000 season's training camp unless management would renegotiate a contract on his terms. With management refusing to budge, Yashin held out the entire season. In his mind, by holding out the entire year, he had fulfilled the five-year commitment to the Senators. Eventually the case was heard by an independent arbitrator who set an important precedent by ruling that Yashin had not fulfilled his contractual agreement and owed the Senators another year on his deal.
Fight: McGrattan vs. Domi
From line brawls versus the Kings and Philadelphia to handicap matches pitting Ray Emery against Marty Biron and Andrew Peters to Alfie putting Toronto's beloved Doug Gilmour on his ass, to the sheer spectacle of watching Zdeno Chara throw Bryan McCabe around like a ragdoll (which also served the rest of the league notice that it's a poor decision to jab the Big Z in the nuts with a stick), there have been some excellent tilts to choose from.
The one that I ultimately decided upon was the one from October 29th, 2005 that pitted Brian McGrattan versus Tie Domi.
Thanks to the NHL's lockout that erased the 2004-05 season, Senators fans had more than a year to brood over their game seven quarter-finals loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For years Senators fans have been reminded by their Leaf-supporting co-workers, friends and family members that Toronto's physical dominance over the Senators had been the difference. That Ottawa was too soft. Played too much on the perimeter or that the coaches couldn't make the necessary in-game adjustments to make up the difference.
Not surprisingly, playoff disappointment necessitated sweeping changes. Jacques Martin and Patrick Lalime were shown the door; replaced respectively by Bryan Murray and Dominik Hasek. Not even fan favourites were precluded from GM John Muckler's wrath. In what probably was the team's last blockbuster trade, Marian Hossa was dealt for the talented but troubled Dany Heatley.
Eventually when the lockout came to an end, Senators fans were left with a new team and new attitude. Perhaps no one personified this movement more than rookie pugilist Brian McGrattan — a player who provided me with one of my favorite moments in Senators history.
On October 29th, 2005 at the Air Canada Centre, the third meeting of the 05-06 season between the Senators and Maple Leafs took place. In their previous two games that ended in two shootout victories for the Senators, the scores were too close for there to be much on-ice acrimony between the two clubs. Albeit, with Ottawa staked to a 4-0 lead in the early stages of the second period, an aging Tie Domi challenged the up-and-coming McGrattan to fight.
One right hand and Gene Simmons-like tongue protrusion later, McGrattan single-handedly let everyone know there was a changing of the guard in the Battle of Ontario. After those years of bullying, it was like a weight had been lifted. With that one McGrattan haymaker, all of Ottawa had channelled their animosity through that punch into one moment of pure cathartic bliss.
Coach: Jacques Martin
With a career mark of 341-235-96, of the Senators coaches who coached in over 100 games, only Bryan Murray (.643) has a greater winning percentage as a Senators coach than Jacques Martin (.577).
Fortunately for Jacques, he holds the unofficial Senators record for using the answer, "No doubt" to seemingly every one of the Gord Wilson's interview questions during Jacques Talk — a regular pregame segment that was featured as part of the Team 1200's radio coverage.
He didn't have a robust moustache and his laconic and vacant stylings did not exactly inspire passion in the city. But for better or worse Martin's reign from 96-04 defined the franchise. Since expanding into the league the Senators had failed to hit the 20 win mark during their first four seasons. After hiring Jacques, his Senators reeled off a string of eight straight playoff appearances and averaged 97 points in the days before three point games.
Unfortunately for him, despite being at the helm of some brilliantly talented teams that did great things in the regular season, success in hockey is always measured by what happens in the playoffs. It's for this reason that his paltry playoff record of 31-38 (.449) and his inability to beat the Leafs in just one of their four playoff series are equally as renowned here in Ottawa.
While he was widely recognized as a brilliant tactician who emphasized the x's and o's and could prepare his teams to play, Martin will always be remembered as the coach who couldn't put them over the top. Stubbornness was his fatal flaw: he trusted that his system would get the job done without having to make necessary in-game adjustments.
Still, for all of his faults, he brought a great deal of stability and credibility to a franchise that had none prior to his arrival.
Broadcaster: Dave "The Voice" Schreiber.
This was a painfully difficult choice between Dean Brown and Dave "The Voice" Schreiber. But, for whatever reason, whenever I think about big game goals or moments in Senators history, I remember Schreiber's radio calls more.
The brainchild of Hfboards.com user Marty9 - who suggested that at the 11:11 mark of each period, the crowd should countdown the seconds to 11:00, before chanting "Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!" in homage to the captain. The idea quickly circulated around the Internet and culminated with this:
In Ottawa's playoff series versus the Rangers, the chant grew some notoriety. During the games at MSG, Rangers fans reciprocated with their own countdown to the 11:00 mark, before mockingly chanting "Alfie Sucks! Alfie Sucks! Alfie Sucks!" in homage to the Senators captain.
Considering that Beavertails haven't been sold at the ScotiaBank Place in years, I'll have to pick the Golden Palace eggrolls.
As a third-generation family owned business, Golden Palace has been around since 1960 and is the oldest Chinese restaurant in Ottawa. Despite its old roots, the restaurant was savvy enough to forge a partnership with the Sens last season that allowed them to sell the 'official eggroll of the Ottawa Senators' eggrolls at four locations — sections 107, 113, 206 and 224 — in the arena.
Apparently, Alfie really enjoys the eggrolls, so who am I to argue with that?
Up until the unveiling of last season's 'heritage' jersey, Senators fans haven't been able to be proud of a jersey since the organization started phasing out their original 2-D logo in favor of the 3-D monstrosities that have evolved into what we see today.
Sadly, it's becoming increasingly rare to see the jerseys from the formative years; especially the black away jerseys. So if you have either of those jerseys or the promotional parliament jerseys that were part of the 'Bring Back the Senators' campaign, bless you.