The Ottawa Senators have suffered through a painful decline in recent years

Martin Weaver

On June 6, 2007, the Ottawa Senators were getting ready to play Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Anaheim Ducks. Down 3-1 in the series, this was one of the franchise’s biggest games in their short history. There was a feeling in Ottawa that the team could win this game and force a Game 6. With just three wins away from the big prize, this was the peak of Sens-Nation.

Of course they went on to lose that game after a disappointing 6-2 performance in Game 5.

This seemed to be the pinnacle moment of Ottawa’s downfall, to where they stand at the 2011 all-star break: 27th place with just 17 wins and a total of 42 points, just seven ahead of the league’s worst New Jersey Devils. What could have possibly happened in just four short seasons for the Senators to have slid so far down the standings?

Following the loss to Anaheim, Ottawa parted ways with general manager John Muckler, who was a key reason why the team did so well. Sens fans weren’t particularly upset with this move seeing as Bryan Murray was going to take over the GM job. Many felt that he had a good track record in Anaheim and that kind of success could easily be replicated. Murray’s contract expires at the end of the 2010-2011 season, and it’s almost safe to say that there’s already a job posting for his position.

The anger many fans feel towards Murray has a lot to do with some of the moves he made. First off, he took a lot of slack for the Dany Heatley trade after the 08-09 season. Ottawa sent over Heatley and a fifth-round draft pick in exchange for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and a second-round draft pick (which eventually got traded away). In all fairness to Murray, Heatley is the one who wanted to get traded, but this deal was so one-sided that it makes you wonder why it was necessary to even send a fifth-round draft pick to San Jose on top of that. Other key players the Senators have let go through free agency are Mike Comrie, Wade Redden, and Anton Volchenko. They also traded away young defenceman Andrej Meszaros to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s not fair to pin all of Ottawa’s struggles on the GM. The Senators are a team that has been known for sub-par goaltending, and this year it’s more evident than ever. They have a goalie that’s making almost $5 million this year, who is always injured, and their current number one is ranked 57th overall in save percentage. On a good night, he lets in less than five goals. Besides the goalies, everyone on the team seems to be having an off year.

All of this mediocre play can only negatively affect the attendance and the future of the club. It has happened before. The Ottawa Lynx, a triple-A baseball club, used to get over 10,000 fans a game in the mid-1990s, their heyday. Fast forward to 2007 and you could count the number of people in the stands, and still have eight more grueling innings of baseball to watch afterwards. When it comes to maintaining a CFL franchise, the nation’s capital has had no luck.

While Ottawa sports fans may be known to stop following losing teams, this case should hopefully be different. Ottawa may not be a sports city, but it’s definitely a place where hockey thrives. The Senators’ attendance numbers are better than last year’s and the Ottawa 67’s attendance is always among the best in the CHL. As football has an impact on Saskatchewan, hockey does in Ottawa. Many kids plays hockey and people will keep showing up to NHL games.

Still, looking forward, things don’t seem to be getting better for the Senators. Long-time team captain Daniel Alfredsson is approaching his 40s and likely won’t play for much longer. The Senators will have to work a miracle if they want to find someone that can fill his shoes.

There are still positives if one chooses to look hard enough. The Senators are a team with a billionaire owner, Eugene Melnyk, who has a passion for hockey. There’s nothing Melnyk would like to see more than a Stanley Cup in Ottawa and he’s not ready to settle for less. They already have great young players like Erik Karlesson, Peter Regin, and Jason Spezza, who will be key players in the team’s new era. Ottawa has 19-year-old prospects like Jared Cowen and Robin Lehner, who the Sens look to hopefully. All these players should be the faces of their next good team. Also, with the way the season has been going, the Senators will most likely be getting a top-three pick in the draft this year.

In a few short years, Ottawa will re-establish themselves as a winning team and Sens-Nation will once again have something to cheer for.

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