Sadness has befallen the Ottawa Senators’ fan base again, as the Belleville Senators failed to make the AHL playoffs in the last regular season game. Now, almost all of the Senators players, signed and unsigned, are done for the summer.
However, I don’t know about you, but I’m not done with hockey yet.
During the last week, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have blown wide open. This is perfect for Senators fans, as you now can pick whoever you want to cheer for, granted that you are looking for someone to support. However, not every team should be equal in your eyes. Thankfully, I’ve compiled a handy guide to help you make an educated decision.
Maple Leafs & Avalanche – Automatic Rejection
You’ve experienced too much pain this season. You lost your lottery pick which you didn’t know was a lottery pick, then your star, then several other top players. You played 17 rookies and compiled the fewest points since 1996. Your owner is arguably crazy, and it now looks like you’re in for a long rebuild, despite making it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. This season can’t get much worse and yet, if the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Cup, it will be.
Remember the Battle of Ontario? That was a fun few seasons in the 2000s. It feels much longer than 10 years, especially after the Leafs soared to their second 100-point finish in as many seasons. It doesn’t even matter that the Sens beat their rivals several times this season. There’s hardly a rivalry now, and the Senators are once again the small, forgotten team in Eastern Canada. Heck, they’d be forgotten already if management hadn’t made so many news headlines. A Leafs championship would make everything ten times worse, and I don’t think Ottawa could handle it.
Then there’s the Colorado Avalanche. The wild-card team has taken a 3-1 series lead against the favoured Calgary Flames, and watching the emergence of Cale Makar has been inspiring. But, they also are the owners of your lottery pick, Ottawa. Even though it was bumped out of the top three spots, the Avs still get to pick fourth. The Duchene trade was a mess, and you need someone to blame. Unless you really want to see former Senator Derrick Brassard have some success, don’t cheer for the Avalanche.
Sharks and Golden Knights – Expansion Rivalry
In 1992, the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning became the NHL’s 23rd and 24th teams. The year before, the San Jose Sharks joined the league, and a year later, the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were added. Twenty-seven years later, two of those teams have won a Stanley Cup, while the other has become a perennial contender.
Thankfully, the Lightning have already been eliminated, so you don’t have to resent them any more (this season).
However, the Sharks present a dilemma. In just one more season in the NHL, the Sharks have accomplished about as much as the Senators. But, should they finally shake the monkey off their backs and win the Stanley Cup, that will leave only the Senators and Panthers as the sole Cup-less teams from that era of expansion.
However, the Sharks also have Erik Karlsson – one of the greatest Senators in franchise history, who was traded at the beginning of this season. Several picks were also included in that deal, with several conditions, including that the Sharks making the playoffs this season gives the Sens the Sharks’ first pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Another condition is if the Sharks make the Stanley Cup Final, the Sens receive a second first-round pick in 2021. If the Sharks don’t go that far, the pick becomes a second-rounder. Therefore, as a Sens fan, the Sharks are an excellent team to get behind.
However, there’s a problem. Another expansion team has the Sharks on the ropes. The Vegas Golden Knights lead the series 3-1, and could end the Sharks’ (and Sens) hopes of a Cup Final appearance on Thursday. And yet, it’s not really a loss for the Sens. Instead of watching Karlsson boost a draft pick for his old team, you get to watch Mark Stone play on one of the most surprising and entertaining franchises in history. No other expansion team has ever had so much success in their first two seasons than the Golden Knights. If Sens fans can forget the brutal start they had, then cheer on those Knights!
Predators, Blue Jackets & Jets – Expansion Jealousy
The Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Bluejackets and Atlanta Thrashers joined the NHL in the late 1990s as Gary Bettman’s first foray into expansion as commissioner. While none of them have won a Cup, they seem a lot closer than the Senators have ever been, and that just doesn’t feel right.
The Predators have emerged as one of the best teams in the West and Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis the most fearsome defenses in the NHL. Pekka Rinne has been one of the best goalies over the past five seasons. The franchise is being run smartly and efficiently, and it’s paying off.
That’s got to eat at Senators fans.
Where are the mistakes? The bungles? It seems like there’s only success in Nashville. At least Kyle Turris seems happy there.
Then there’s the Columbus Blue Jackets. There’s something satisfying about watching a team who’s never even been to the second round sweep the league’s best team. And they did it with two of your former teammates! Matt Duchene may still bring back some bitter memories, but Ryan Dzingel is a home-grown kid who is getting a shot at playoff hockey. Then there’s another Duchene problem; in the trade that sent him away, the Senators received the Blue Jackets’ first pick in 2019. But the further the team goes, the lower the pick becomes. Matt, why did you have to make everything so complicated?
Atlanta Thrashers Winnipeg Jets. There’s a lot of shared history here: an old franchise revived in a new era; a history of struggles (and little success); and a supportive Canadian fan base. Beyond that, there’s little common ground, and a Jets Cup win would only worsen the divide between the two. The Jets can win a Cup after the Senators get theirs. I mean, it’s only fair.
The Rest – Pick Your Favourite Former Senator
Several former Senators dot the rosters of the playoff teams, and most of them still have never held hockey’s greatest prize, so there’s lots of choice for a disgruntled Sens fan. The easiest answer is the Boston Bruins, who have Zdeno Chara – a Senator from 2001 to 2006 – as their captain.
Better yet, they’re playing against the Leafs. But, Chara already has a Cup, which he won in 2011, and he also plays with one of the most hated players in the league in Brad Marchand. The St. Louis Blues are a more palatable team, and they’ve also never won a Cup. However, they don’t have any former Sens to root for; the closest is rookie MacKenzie MacEachern, which reminds me of Shawn McEachern. Sadly, they aren’t related.
The New York Islanders and Dallas Stars are much better options for Senators fans. In Long Island, Robin Lehner has been the feel-good story of the year, after battling his demons to find his game. Better yet, he started his career in Ottawa, which should make Sens fans feel warm inside. Jason Spezza is another former Sen who deserves some love. At the tail-end of his career, he’s begun to slow down but he’s still relied on heavily in Dallas and could turn the Stars’ fortunes around this postseason against the Predators.
Between the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, there really isn’t a loser from the Sens’ perspective. Should the Capitals get back to the Final, you’ll be able to see Ovechkinin top form as one of the best players of his generation. But if the Hurricanes upset the Caps and make it all the way to the Cup, you get to see Ottawa native and Canes head coach Rod Brind’Amour bring the trophy back home (probably).
And the Winner Is…
There’s a lot of good options listed above, Sens fans, but there’s only one correct answer, and that’s the Calgary Flames.
First, they’re Canadian, and the Cup should go to a Canadian team. It’s been 26 years – nearly as long as the Senators have existed – since a Canadian team won the Cup. The Flames haven’t won since 1989, which is one of the longer droughts in the NHL and they’re also in another conference, which removes the rivalry and competition aspect.
Then, there are the actual players. Team MVP Johnny Gaudreau was a former fourth-round pick, and is now one the NHL’s best players. Mark Giordano, at 35, has had a Norris-calibre season, and still has never been in a Stanley Cup Final. Then there’s Matthew Tkachuk. While generally regarded as a nasty player, he’s not seen as such by his younger brother, Brady, who made his NHL debut this year for the Senators. The Sens-Flames match-ups made for some heart-warming stories. Michael Stone, brother of Mark, also plays for the Flames, although Mark being in Vegas hurts that connection somewhat.
There’s really only one option. If you need to cheer for a playoff hockey team, cheer for the Flames. They’re one of the most exciting teams in hockey right now, and with the Avalanche bearing down on them, they need all the help they can get.