Someone once said, “expecting disappointment is the only form of hope with which I’m familiar”. So it must seem for fans of the Ottawa Senators, who face a fifth consecutive spring without their team in the playoffs.
Some Senators fans deal with their discontent by living in the past, wondering what could have, would have, and should have been in 2003 and 2017 when their team had its best shots at bringing Lord Stanley’s hardware back to its birthplace. Yet there is a better way for Senators fans to make it through the playoffs this year. They can cheer for Cup contenders who have ex-Senators skating for them.
True, it may hurt to see great players the Senators traded away pursuing playoff glory with other teams. Even worse, some of them are playing for clubs that might be considered an affront to any self-respecting fan in the nation’s capital. Even so, for fans who can get past all of this, the playoffs can be fun to watch.
Let’s take a look at teams to cheer for who employ ex-Senators.
Toronto Maple Leafs
I can hear Ottawa fans demanding to know how this suggestion got past the editors of this venerable publication. Such is the abomination that the Maple Leafs are for many Ottawa fans.
Still, in their younger days, many Senators fans were aficionados of the Maple Leafs. In moments of youthful indiscretion, they donned Maple Leafs sweaters and were captured in what are now cringe-worthy photos stuffed away in Ottawa attics. It is those fans who may be open to jumping on the Maple Leafs’ bandwagon dreaming of reliving the glories of 1967.
One of the things that make the Maple Leafs a compelling team to follow in the playoffs is former Senators captain Jason Spezza pursuing his dream of delivering a Stanley Cup to long-suffering Toronto fans. The big centreman played 11 seasons in Ottawa notching over 30 goals in four of them and over 90 points in two.
He left the nation’s capital after the 2013-14 season in a storm of controversy arising from failed contract talks and his refusal to accept a trade to the lowly Nashville Predators after publicly asking to be moved. Still, bitter memories fade and Ottawa fans might consider immersing themselves in the drama of an old warrior pursuing his Stanley Cup dreams after almost 20 years in the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts are likely to meet up with the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. That means Senators fans who just can’t bring themselves to cheer for Toronto will be able to root for ex-Senator Nick Paul who ended up in the sunshine state skating for the Lightning in a trade at the deadline last month.
Since arriving in Tampa, Paul has put up two goals and five assists playing alongside Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on the team’s top line. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound left-winger will have an opportunity in the playoffs to demonstrate why he’s worth more than the reported $2.5 million average annual salary Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion was reportedly willing to pay him.
Everybody loves a Cinderella story, and Paul’s move from the bottom-dwelling Senators to a Stanley Cup champion vying for a third consecutive Cup is the stuff of a gripping playoff fairytale.
Senators fans wishing to take a walk down memory lane need look no farther than the Preds when choosing a playoff team to root for. Three ex-Senators including Ottawa native-son Mark Borowiecki, who laced up for the Senators in nine campaigns, are skating for Nashville.
“Borocop” as he’s affectionately known in Ottawa is 32-years old and still pursuing his dream of Stanley Cup glory. If his team can get past an expected first-round matchup with the Calgary Flames, he has a fighting chance of realizing that dream given Nashville’s record this year.
If Borowiecki weren’t drama enough for Senators fans this post-season, then Matt Duchene’s quest for Lord Stanley’s chalice should be. He spent parts of two disappointing seasons in Ottawa in 2017 and 2018 after coming to town in search of Cup glory playing with the Senators – then considered a legitimate contender. At 31 years old, time is slipping away for him.
Still, the idea of cheering for Duchene in the playoffs may be galling for some Ottawa fans. Acquiring him cost the Senators Kyle Turris and when he left town after just 68 games, Ottawa settled for prospects and picks.
Ben Harpur, who played 98-games in Ottawa in parts of four seasons and who was traded to Toronto at the end of the 2018-19 season is also skating in Nashville.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights have 50/50 odds of making the playoffs. If they do, Senators fans will have the chance to cheer for three ex-Senators skating with them.
Perhaps the best-loved of the three is Mark Stone. He broke hearts in Ottawa when he left town at the 2019 trade deadline after failing to come to terms on a new contract with the Senators.
Other former Senators wearing the Golden Knights’ gaudy helmets include Evgeny Dadonov and starting goaltender Robin Lehner. Ottawa fans may look longingly at the big Swedish netminder given their team’s struggles between the pipes this season.
The Flames promise to be a captivating storyline in this year’s playoffs with their head coach Darryl Sutter pursuing his third Stanley Cup ring. He is determined to settle “unfinished business” from 2004 when he coached the Flames to within one win of bringing a second championship to Cowtown. What is remarkable is that Sutter has taken lunch bucket players the likes of former Ottawa Senator Erik Gudbranson to the top of the Pacific Division and second place in the Western Conference overall after missing the postseason last year.
Gudbranson grew up in Gloucester on the outskirts of Ottawa and played 36 games in a Senators sweater last year. In Calgary, he has resurrected his career and will be patrolling the Flames’ blue line in pursuit of his second Stanley Cup ring.
Other Former Senators Pursuing Stanley Cup Glory
Watching the New York Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad skate in the playoffs will be bitter for some Ottawa fans. The Senators gave him up in a 2016 trade for the Rangers’ Derick Brassard who lasted barely more than 18 months in Ottawa before being shipped off to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the Rangers, Zibanejad blossomed into a 75 points-per-year player. What might have been had he stayed in Ottawa will be the lament heard from Senators fans watching him perform in this year’s playoffs.
Ottawa fans still pining for Brassard can watch him in post-season action skating with the Edmonton Oilers. As a bonus they’ll be able to watch Ottawa native-son, former Ottawa-67 and Senator, Cody Ceci skating alongside him.
If that’s not enough for fans hungry to see former Senators in playoff action, they can watch Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly pursue the Cup with the Boston Bruins assuming they make the post-season. Finally, former Senator Anthony Duclair will suit up on the Florida Panthers’ top line in that team’s championship hunt this spring.
This postseason there’s no reason for gloom in the nation’s capital. Senators of old will be providing plenty of entertainment – just with other teams!
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney