The “Best Teams Ever” NHL Saturday miniseries continues today to look at the most-recent incarnation of the Ottawa Senators (1992-present). Of course, this is the second NHL franchise to carry that name; the other one went defunct in 1935. In 29 full seasons, the modern-day Sens have made the Stanley Cup playoffs 16 times—losing in the Cup Finals once (2007). Alas, that team did not make the cut below … go figure. It’s not the first time that’s been the case, of course.
No. 5: 1998-99 Ottawa Senators
A 44-23-15 record was good enough for 103 points and first place in the Northeast Division. This team was No. 5 in goals scored, No. 3 in goals allowed, and No. 2 in the overall SRS. That’s heady stuff. But the Senators had to face the Buffalo Sabres and Vezina-winning goaltender Dominik Hasek in the first round. The Sabres swept Ottawa out of the postseason quickly and made it all the way to a memorable Cup Finals matchup against the Dallas Stars.
Ten skaters posted at least 30 points, although only one of them—center Alexei Yashin (44G, 50A, 54 PIMs)—was dominant. Veteran goaltenders Damian Rhodes (22-13-7) and Ron Tugnutt (22-10-8) split time in net, combining for a 2.12 GAA, a .915 S%, and 6 shutouts. They also split starts in the postseason, but when Hasek held the Ottawa skaters to just 6 goals in 4 games, the writing was on the boards for the Senators. The Dominator earned his nickname for a reason.
No. 4: 2000-01 Ottawa Senators
Another first-place finish in the Northeast was built upon a 48-21-13 record and 109 points. Despite a No. 3 rating in the overall SRS, these Sens met the same fate as the team above: a first-round sweep, this time courtesy of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The No. 3 goal-scoring offense and the No. 9 goals-allowed defense were not enough to avoid this kind of disaster, as Ottawa lost twice in overtime and scored just 3 goals total in the 4-game series.
This team was loaded with scorers: Yashin (40G, 48A), right wing Marián Hossa (32G, 43A, 44 PIMs), left wing Shawn McEachern (32G, 40A, 62 PIMs), and Daniel Alfredsson (24G, 46A). This time, though, it was Patrick Lalime (36-19-5, 7 SOs) as the No. 1 goalie, appearing in 60 games. He gave up just 10 goals in the Maple Leafs series, but when your skaters net just 3 goals themselves, it’s impossible to win, obviously. This era of Senators teams was earning a bad reputation.
No. 3: 2002-03 Ottawa Senators
The Northeast Division crown once again went to Ottawa: a 52-21-9 and 113 points did the trick. With a No. 2 finish in the SRS, this was another great Sens squad, featuring the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. And this year, Ottawa made it out of the first round! The Senators dropped the New York Islanders in 5 games and the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games before falling to the eventual champion New Jersey Devils in 7 games upon arrival in the Eastern Conference Finals.
RWs Marián Hossa (45G, 35A, 34 PIMs) and Alfredsson (27G, 51A, 42 PIMs) were the leading scorers, as 10 skaters posted at least 32 points on the season. Lalime appeared in a whopping 67 games this season, posting a 39-20-7 record with a 2.16 GAA and a whopping 8 SOs. Overall, in the postseason, he gave up just 1.87 goals per game, too—against the Devils, though, Ottawa played in 4 one-goal games, and it was New Jersey winning Game 7 on the road … by one goal.
No. 2: 2003-04 Ottawa Senators
Strangely, this squad finished just third in the Northeast Division with a 43-23-16 record for 102 points. But the Senators fielded the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 8 scoring defense, combining for a No. 1 SRS rating overall. Whether the team knew it or not, this Ottawa team should have been destined for great things. But the Maple Leafs beat the Sens in a 7-game opening-round playoff series that featured only a single one-goal game (Game 6, won by Ottawa in double OT).
Nine skaters posted 39 points or more, led by Hossa (36G, 46A, 46 PIMs), Alfredsson (32G, 48A), and RW Martin Havlát (31G, 37A, 46 PIMs). Lalime (25-23-7, 5 SOs) was barely average this time around, but his backups (18-6-3) were pretty good. But the veteran got all the playoff starts, posting a .906 S% and allowing just 13 goals in 7 games. But with his own teammates scoring just 11 times, it was a tough assignment for any goaltender. Credit the Toronto defensive schemes.
No. 1: 2005-06 Ottawa Senators
This is a rare situation where the Top 5 teams are all in sequential order (with minor gaps), culminating with the best team being the most recent on the list. The Senators returned to the top of the Northeast Division with a 52-21-9 record and 113 points. After a 5-game series win against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning to open the postseason, the Sens fell to the Sabres in the second round in 5 games—once again facing a brilliant goalie (Ryan Miller this time).
The scoring on this roster was top heavy: LW Dany Heatley (50G, 53A, 86 PIMs), Alfredsson (43G, 60A, 50 PIMs), and C Jason Spezza (19G, 71A, 33 PIMs) all reached the 90-point threshold. Ironically, the Sens now had Hašek (28-10-4, 5 SOs) in net, and he split time with youngster Ray Emery (23-11-4, 3 SOs). But Hašek was hurt during the 2006 Olympics, and he missed the postseason. Emery coughed up 16 goals in the 5-game series against Buffalo, and that was that. Ouch!