This year marks the 20th anniversary of the rebirth of the Ottawa Senators franchise (19th season thanks to the lockout). Is there another team that has ever had such a rich history to honor in a "20-year" celebration? Methinks not.
That's because the Sens aren't celebrating just the last 20 years. No, they are also basking in the glow of the original Senators, the team that played from 1883 to 1954 and racked up 11 Stanley Cups stretching through the Silver Seven era to the official adoption of the Senators nickname. Clearly they are taking some liberties here, but that's OK.
After all, it's a rich history indeed. And it hasn't been too bad since the team was reborn in 1992-93 either. Take into consideration that right now the Sens are in the clichéd rebuilding mode. This is the first time they have truly had to "rebuild." The only other time the franchise went through this tough a stretch was when it was just starting out. An awful, awful stretch. But that was just the building phase. Now they rebuild.
It isn't something they are used to in Ottawa, suffering through growing pains. That's what makes this celebration season so perfect for timing. It's going to help (only very slightly) ease the pain of a struggling team. How can videos like this not help?
The buzz word is heritage. The team will wear retro jerseys (not historic, just retro ... this sweater was never worn) for select games this season (seen at the top) and everything will likely culminate in the All-Star Game, hosted by Ottawa.
While that's all well and good, all of the celebration, it's not what the big fans will truly be looking for. They want to see the future of hockey in the city, not the past. The future that seems pretty bright.
Last season's Calder Cup champions, the Binghamton Senators, are a large source of the inspiration. You can expect to see a few of those players being slated into the big Senators lineup this season like Zack Smith and Erik Condra. Then you have prospects like Mark Stone, who was turning heads at Canada's junior national team tryouts, and Mika Zibanejad, who I personally love as a prospect and who is a candidate to jump right to the NHL.
Count Sens veteran Jason Spezza among the excited.
"It doesn't matter if a lot of people don't know who these guys are. They have lots of time to make names for themselves," Spezza told OttawaSenators.com. "We can be a good team and compete with some of the best teams. And then for them to go and win [the Calder Cup] ... the chemistry that they'll get there, hopefully it'll carry over to our room and we can make it a really cohesive team. I think that'll be the biggest thing, just the camaraderie and the chemistry. They've won together and [they've shown] they know how to win together."
So the future is exciting. There is something to wait for in Ottawa. But for now, the team will still be led by the veterans like Spezza and career Senator Daniel Alfredsson, who is past his prime at this point but still effective when healthy. Those two helped give the modern-day Senators their best season in 2006-07 when they anchored the top line with Dany Heatley and took Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals.
But it's somewhat astonishing the Senators had the playoff run they did with all the troubles the franchise had. They made the playoffs 11 seasons in a row and 12 of 13, but all the while they went through trade demands (Heatley), miserable contracts (Alex Daigle) and terrible slips (letting Zdeno Chara go). Not to mention a bankruptcy filing. That all came after the franchise's first season with a 10-70-4 record.
While they embark on a season honoring the heritage of Ottawa hockey, the birthplace of the Cup as they say, the Senators usher in a new era. Welcome rookie head coach Paul MacLean, who comes over from Detroit to replace the fired Cory Clouston (Alexei Kovalev's BFF).
"If I can come in and have a good, strong camp, it'll set the tone for a lot of guys and show that we can compete for a playoff spot," Spezza said. "And once you get into the playoffs, you never know what can happen. So I'm looking forward to the challenge of having a young team and having to be good every night."
Which the Senators likely won't be. That makes the timing of this celebration seem so perfect. It gives the Senators some positive pub (but not all fans like it) while they grow.