There’s no secret that the NHL wouldn’t be the league it is without the influx of great American and European players. The Ottawa Senators’ history involves some incredible Swedes, a famed Russian, and a dashing Slovakian with wonderful hair. But in honour of another Canada Day rolling around, it makes sense to look back at some of the most iconic Canadian players to play in the nation’s capital.
Before anyone gets upset, please remember it’s about being iconic, not necessarily the greatest. J-G Pageau’s time with the Senators undoubtedly made him an icon during his tenure. A fourth-round draft pick who cracked the roster, he became a fan favourite during some exciting playoff runs. As an Ottawa local, he was treated to a chant of his last name matched to the timing of the Montreal Canadiens’ famous “Ole” chants. Surely a treat for a French-speaking kid who grew up straddling the provincial border.
Easily the biggest moment of his time with the Senators was Pageau’s four-goal playoff game. Against the New York Rangers in Round 2, he cemented himself a position in the lore of the team, as he scored a hat trick, which included the game-tying goal and overtime winner. With each goal, the chants grew louder, as “Pageau, Pageau, Pageau” rang out throughout the Canadian Tire Center. While he may not have the staying power of some of the others on the list, his time with the team will be fondly remembered.
When it comes to talking about icons in the world of the Senators, it’s impossible to overlook the “CASH” line. Dany Heatley played a large role in the scoring pace of that line, as he set, and still holds, the franchise records for goals in a season and points in a season. 18 years later, no other Senator has hit 50 goals in a season or hit the century mark in points. Heatley was arguably one of the most effective scorers the team has ever seen.
While it’s true that his time with the team came to an end in a rather tumultuous way, there’s still truth to the fact that Heatley is a Senators icon. Bad trade requests aside, he played a key role in pushing them to the Eastern Conference Final, a place they’ve yet to return. The biggest seasons for the team involved him, and that really makes his case for this list. Beyond the playoffs, he represented the team at the All-Star Game and represented Canada in international play.
Ottawa is a city that’s often overshadowed by its neighbours, Toronto and Montreal, but that makes it no less a wonderful place in its own right. Chris Phillips is the Ottawa of defenceman. The “Big Rig” was stable and steady, as he patrolled the blue line with the ever-present threat of monster hits. While he was rarely talked about in the same circles as other defenders at the time, he was a big deal for the Senators. From his relationship with Curtis Lazar to being the first player to score a Stanley Cup-winning goal for the other team, Phillips is truly an icon.
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There are some who view a jersey retirement as the real mark of a franchise player. With Phillips retiring after playing a team-high 1179 games, the Senators decided that no one else should wear number four. There have been numerous big-hitting defenders in the NHL, but not a single one embodied truly being an Ottawa Senator while exuding true “dad” energy as he did. By now, most fans can overlook the big-time mistake of an own goal against the Anaheim Ducks.
From his first NHL game to the day he retired, Chris Neil only ever played for the Senators. But to simply say he played would be an understatement, as he took every single game as a battle. The people around him were not teammates, they were family, and he fought tooth and nail to defend them from any type of unfair play laid upon them by the opposing team. He was the definition of a wrecking ball, a tour de force ready to jump into any and all scraps regardless of injury or size differential. He was simply there to protect his team.
Refusing to back down from a fight, he carried the burden of being the team enforcer. However, when Brian McGrattan made the team, Neil was given the opportunity to showcase that he can indeed play hockey. Potting 16 goals in the 2005-06 season, he would even find himself getting some power play time. But when the time came to shift to his old role, he headed back to fighting, carrying that same toothless grin. There are few players who gave more of themselves to the Senators, and his jersey deserves to have long been retired.
Obviously, he was going to be number one. Jason Spezza is easily one of the most beloved Senators players, so it makes sense that he’s number one on the list of Canadians. The third member of the CASH line has carved out an incredible career. Following his illustrious playing career, he appears destined for a long career in hockey operations. Between his strong play on the ice and his work in the community, he truly is an icon.
While he wound up visiting a few other teams towards the end, Spezza played a massive role in making hockey exciting and bringing in more fans for the Senators. Sure, his playing career ended with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but his biggest impacts were in Ottawa. Fans across the country will never forget his charm, the “Spezza Deke”, or the goofiest laugh in the league.
This is a short list, so it can’t contain all of the great Canadian players that hit the ice for the Senators. It’s worth mentioning some of the other greats like Wade Redden who suited up for over 800 games for the team and picked up some international hardware along the way. Mark Stone was poised to be the team’s best player in recent years but was shipped out before he could have those big moments. Give it a few more years and Thomas Chabot should join this list if his career keeps up the current trajectory. Icons aren’t as easy to define as players who are simply “the best” on the ice, so this is certainly a topic up for debate. Feel free to add some more mentions in the comments down below!