As decades go, the first 10 years of the new Millennium were a tough act to follow for the Ottawa Senators.
A franchise re-born in 1992, the Senators came of age by 2000, posting 100 points or more five different times in the decade from 2001-2010 and missing the playoffs just once (2009). To this day, fans will argue which was the best Senators team of all time, the 2002-03 squad that lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final, the 2006-07 team that reached the Stanley Cup Final, or the 2005-06 edition that might have reached glory if not for an injury to goaltender Dominik Hasek.
Sadly, we are not discussing that decade, but the one that followed, a decade that featured two major roster rebuilds for a franchise that missed the post-season five times and is expected to make it six by the spring of 2020.
Still, amid a general downtrend in on-ice performance, there were celebrated players and special moments. Here are three that stand out:
1. Daniel Alfredsson retires as a Senator
Fans in Ottawa were disheartened to see their beloved captain leave the franchise in 2013 to finish out his playing career with the Detroit Red Wings.
So there was joy in the Capital when the man known as “Alfie” returned on Dec. 4, 2014 to be a “Senator for a day,” signing a one-day contract in order to officially retire from the NHL as a member of the Senators. Under the guidance of general manager Bryan Murray, the Senators had fun with this moment, having Alfredsson suit up for the pre-game warmup with a dramatic on-ice entry through a receiving line of Ottawa teammates.
While No. 11 skated as though a member of the active roster again, fans chanted, “Alfie!! Alfie!! and the Alfredsson goal song, U2’s Beautiful Day, resounded through a packed arena. Alfie played it up to the hilt, participating in warmup drills and stretching off to one side with his leadership pals, Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson and Chris Neil, as was his habit.
He took one final lap, under a spotlight and skated over to centre ice where his family was waiting for him, wife Bibbi and their four sons, Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William. At that moment, Alfie held the entire building in the palm of his hand.
“Thank you for all the great times and all the beautiful memories,” Alfredsson told the crowd. “They will connect us to all of you, forever.”
As a partnership moment to Alfredsson’s retirement, on Dec. 29, 2016, Alfredsson’s No. 11 was officially retired during an emotional ceremony at the Canadian Tire Centre.
2. Playoff run 2017
File this one under the Pleasant Surprise category. Not much was expected of a 2016-17 Senators team that had finished out of the playoffs with 85 points the previous year.
But a lot of things went right for Ottawa, including one of the finest seasons in the career of goaltender Craig Anderson, who posted a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage during the regular season before back-stopping the Senators stunning playoff run to the Eastern Conference Final.
In series wins over the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, a host of players took turns as playoff heroes, including Bobby Ryan, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Dion Phaneuf.
Phaneuf, Ryan, Turris and Pageau all delivered overtime winners that spring and Pageau had a four-goal game in Game 2 versus the Rangers, including the clincher in extra time.
No one could have imagined the Senators extending the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference final, but they did — to double overtime in Game 7.
That goal, a soaring, distant, seeing-eye shot by Chris Kunitz, will go down in infamy in Ottawa along with the Game 7 conference final goal by Jeff Friesen of the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
“I think that we did everything we could in our power and at the end of the day it could’ve gone either way, but they did it for a little bit longer than we did and a little bit better,” Karlsson said after the Kunitz goal. “We played the best team in the league and we gave them a good match. As of right now, obviously, we’re very disappointed in the loss and getting so close, but still being so far away.”
Though the run was fun, there are those who wonder if the club would have been better off starting its rebuild sooner. In the fall of 2017, the Senators were still adding high-priced talent like Matt Duchene, only to reverse field and declare a sell-off in 2018, after missing the playoffs.
Between the spring of 2018 and the trade deadline of 2019, the Senators had parted with such elite talent as Karlsson, Hoffman, Mark Stone and Matt Duchene. By now, fans were looking to a future of bright new faces in the lineup.
3. NHL 100 Classic at TD Place
Ottawa’s outdoor game on Dec. 16, 2017 could not have had greater significance, sitting as it was at the junction of Canada’s 150th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the first NHL game played — between Ottawa and Montreal.
The anniversary game, Ottawa’s first as a modern outdoor host, didn’t disappoint. Some early Arctic weather – temperatures dipped into the low minus-20s with the wind chill – provided a classic Canadian hockey scene before 33,959 fans at TD Place, home to Ottawa’s CFL team. Balaclavas were popular and Mike Hoffman’s beard was frosty.
Despite a few numb fingers and toes, Bobby Ryan, Jean-Gabriel Pageau (a notorious Habs-killer) and Nate Thompson, into an empty net, scored for Ottawa in the 3-0 win.
“I think that’s the coldest I’ve ever been,” Ryan said. “The fans came out and made it a heck of a night by being loud and being engaged and when the home team gets two points and the city can rally around it for a great event it makes it all the better.
“It was worth every second of it. We had a blast.”
Ryan was right, the game was a testament to hockey fans in Ottawa. They not only braved the cold and the cost of tickets as high as $400, fans also endured ill-timed comments from franchise owner Eugene Melnyk. To the annoyance of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in town for the occasion, Melnyk hinted at moving the franchise and that a planned move to LeBreton Flats near Parliament Hill was not a done deal. That part turned out to be prophetic as the proposed RendezVous LeBreton project was officially scrapped in 2019.
The outdoor game itself will live on as one of the franchise’s iconic moments.