The Big “What If”: Pronger over Daigle

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June 26th, 1993

QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC

As an expansion team, the Ottawa Senators were bound to suck in their first season of NHL hockey. It was commonplace for teams to struggle in their maiden year, and almost invariably, those teams would figure it out after a few years, eventually becoming a post-season contender. A big part of the rise would be the inevitable high picks in the 1st Round, giving the younger, struggling clubs a shot at a potential cornerstone player. With a few top picks under their belt, a team could quickly rise up the standings, and set the stage for multiple years of Cup contention; Ottawa already had one of those in their ranks in the form of Alexei Yashin, selected 2nd Overall in the Sens’ first-ever draft in 1992.

Having already picked one top-tier talent in the draft, the Senators were about to get another one in Alexandre Daigle. Daigle was a special prospect, having put up 137 points in only 53 games in the 1992-93 QMJHL season, leading all draft-eligible players; had he played the full 70 games, he would have recorded 181 points, putting him over 30 points ahead of that year’s leader, Ian Laperriere. So promising a player was Daigle that the Senators were even suspected of tanking to secure the 1st Overall Pick, thus giving them first dibs on drafting the potential superstar.

As expected, Daigle was selected 1st Overall by Ottawa. The rewards were immediate for the former Victoriaville star, as he was given a five-year, $12.25M contract, the largest ever deal given to a rookie at the time. He clearly had the confidence to match his hype, stating that he was glad to be taken first, because “no one remembers number two”. In his first year of play in 1993-94, he would play all 84 games for the Sens, putting up 51 points, and in the lockout-shortened 94-95 campaign, he would register 37 points in 47 games – which would have been good for 64 games in a full year.

Unfortunately for Daigle, not only was he not even the best rookie on his team (that would be Yashin), but the progress he had shown in his first two years would come to a screeching halt. He would put up only 17 points in 50 games in 95-96, and despite a resurgence the next year, he would eventually falter again in 97-98, eventually getting traded to Philadelphia mid-season. He would spend the next few years bouncing around the NHL, unable to earn a regular playing spot anywhere. Though he would impress for a year with Minnesota, even that didn’t last, and by the 2006-07 season, he would be out of the league entirely. As if things weren’t going poorly enough for Alex, the 2nd Pick in 1993 – the one that Daigle said nobody would remember – would be Chris Pronger, who went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career, winning a Stanley Cup, two Olympic Gold Medals, and a Hart Trophy.

There was no doubt that Daigle’s skills were tantalizing to every NHL scout there was, but what if the scouts in Ottawa’s front office had second thoughts? What if they had sniffed out something that would give them a sign that maybe he wouldn’t live up to the hype? Could the Sens have become a powerhouse with Pronger in their line-up? Could the Whalers still have a shot at the Cup in 2002 following their move to North Carolina? And could Alexandre Daigle have found his game in the NHL with less pressure on him?

WHAT IF THE OTTAWA SENATORS SELECTED CHRIS PRONGER INSTEAD OF ALEXANDRE DAIGLE?

WHAT MUST BE CONSIDERED, AND WHAT MUST CHANGE: When faced with the prospects of drafting someone with the talent level of Alexandre Daigle, a General Manager has to be very careful. Hype is often justified (see: Crosby, Sidney), but once in a while, there are underlying factors that may lead to a player never living up to their potential. In Daigle’s case, he would suffer from depression following a 50-goal season in midget hockey; he had scaled the summit at that level, and from that point on, hockey became boring to him. (Note: Article is in French.)

If there is any point in time where this could become apparent to the Ottawa scouting staff, it would be during pre-draft interviews, when scouts would have a chance to evaluate Daigle on a personal level. The 1993 Draft was the first one in which a Draft Combine was held, which included the interviews that have become commonplace today. If Ottawa had been able to figure out that Daigle had found professional hockey unappealing to him, there would be a chance that they might pass on an unpassable prospect, and take another highly-rated player instead.


As the 1993 Entry Draft approaches, the excitement over young prospect Alexandre Daigle has spread across the hockey world. After an expectedly poor first season in the league, Ottawa is now rewarded with the chance to draft that young man that had finished third in the QMJHL with 137 points in the previous year. Daigle had all the technical tools to be a star in the NHL, and would be expected to be one of the team’s offensive talismans alongside fellow youngster Alexei Yashin. As Ottawa GM Randy Sexton and the Sens’ scouting staff take the stage at the Quebec Coliseum, they are greeted with some cheers, as they prepare to draft the province’s most exciting prospect since Mario Lemieux.

“With the 1st Overall Pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, the Ottawa Senators select… from the Peterborough Petes, defenseman Chris Pronger!”

Out of everybody in the Coliseum at that moment, it seems as if Pronger, his family, and the Ottawa front office staff are the only ones not booing. The crowd at the arena is enraged after seeing the Sens pass up on Daigle, and virtually every hockey reporter covering the event is left shocked. TSN reporter Bob McKenzie gives context to the Sens’ decision:

“This is the first year that a Draft Combine has been held, which includes physical tests, as well as one-on-one interviews. If the Senators were going to pass on Daigle, they must have discovered something in the testing or the interviews to suggest that maybe he isn’t the best prospect in this Draft.”

As Pronger does the rounds following his selection, the Hartford Whalers are mentally jumping for joy. The Senators just missed on a can’t-miss pick, leaving Daigle available for the taking. GM Brian Burke takes the stage at the Coliseum, and picks the Victoriaville playmaker to massive applause from the partisan crowd. Even then, questions are being raised across the league as to why the Sens would have gone for Chris Pronger instead, but the most important question remains: “what did Ottawa discover that made them pass on Alexandre Daigle?”


FROM OTTAWA’S PERSPECTIVE

1993-94: The Senators are about to start their second year of play, but already, doubts are beginning to creep up as to whether the team is really committed to getting better. They passed up on a potential star player in Alexandre Daigle; though Chris Pronger is a solid talent, not even he can compare to the promise of the former Victoriaville talisman. Nonetheless, Pronger arrives to training camp looking to secure an immediate roster spot. Of course, given the talent level of the Sens at this point, a roster spot for the former Peterborough blue-liner is pretty much a guarantee.

Not only does Chris make it on the NHL team, but he goes straight to the first pairing alongside Gord Dineen. Pronger does pretty well to convince Ottawa fans that he has what it takes to be a future star, ending up with 30 points to lead all defensemen. He isn’t the only rookie making waves, either, as Alexei Yashin marks his first year of NHL play with an astounding 79 points; not only does this lead all Ottawa players, but his total is 36 points ahead of his closest challenger, Dave McLlwain. Of course, Pronger and Yashin are not just in top positions because of their play, but also because of necessity, as the rest of the team is so devoid of hockey ability that the two youngsters have become the team leaders by default.

That lack of talent (especially in the crease) means that the Sens are still stuck in the league basement. They finish with 40 points, well behind the second-last Winnipeg Jets. Because of the arrival of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Florida Panthers this past year, the Sens have the 3rd Overall Pick in 1994, using it on Czech centreman Radek Bonk.

1994-95: There is a slight sense of frustration in Ottawa as the 1994 off-season goes on. After two years, the Sens have finished dead last in the league twice, having already been passed in the standings by the first-year teams in Anaheim and Florida. GM Randy Sexton pleads for patience from Sens fans, stressing that while they may not get results now, they are set up to become a serious contender down the line with all of their young players. Of course, Ottawa fans have no other choice but to be patient at the moment, as the league is mired in a lockout. After a few months of collective bargaining, a deal is struck between the league and the NHLPA, and play is set to resume in January of 1995, albeit with a shortened schedule.

The 1995 Sens are considerably younger, including three regular players under the age of 21: Chris Pronger, Stanislav Neckar, and Radek Bonk. Both Bonk (11 points in 42 games) and Neckar (4p in 48g, and a -20 rating) struggle in their first year of play, while Pronger regressed, only managing 14 points. Alexei Yashin was still on top of the team point standings, but this year, his totals were even more noticeable; though he did well enough with 44 points in 47 games of work, he was the only player on the team to have more than 20 points in the shortened season.

Ottawa was once again at the bottom of the standings. For a third straight year, they had finished last in the NHL, collecting only 22 points. They would have the 1st Overall Pick once more, using their selection on American blue-liner Bryan Berard. While the addition to the defensive core would be welcomed, it wasn’t enough for owner Rod Bryden, who was demanding improvement. In the summer of 1995, Ottawa would make a blockbuster deal, sending Chris Pronger to the St. Louis Blues for Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan was expected to be an immediate key player, as he would likely line up alongside Yashin to give the team some extra scoring punch.

1995-96: The acquisition of Brendan Shanahan represented a big step forward for an Ottawa team that badly needed the help up front. In his last two full-length seasons with St. Louis, Shanahan had scored 103 goals, breaking the 50-goal mark on both occasions. He would be expected to match those numbers alongside the young playmaker Yashin, who had already become the offensive star of the team after just two seasons of play in the NHL. Brendan wasn’t the only big name who would join the Sens that year, as the team would also acquire veteran blue-liner Steve Duchesne from the Blues in exchange for a 1996 2nd-Round Pick.

Despite the arrival of two very good players, the Sens, as a team, were still woeful. Whether it was their porous defending, their downright atrocious goaltending (which only got better with the acquisition of Damian Rhodes), or their anemic offense (with the exception of Shanahan and break-out rookie Daniel Alfredsson), Ottawa was still one of the worst teams in the league. Their continued poor play led to not one, but two coaches being fired; Dave Allison would replace Rick Bowness early on in the campaign, only to get sacked himself after a 3-21-1 record in his tenure. GM Randy Sexton was also dismissed, with Pierre Gauthier coming in to take his place. Gauthier would make a quick impact, as in his deal to get Damian Rhodes (and blue-line prospect Wade Redden), he traded away former #1 Pick Bryan Berard, as well as Don Beaupre and Martin Straka.

While the Sens weren’t about to be confused with a playoff team at this point, they did manage to get out of last place in the NHL, finishing with 50 points to put them ahead of the San Jose Sharks. Ottawa would get the 2nd Overall Pick in the 1996 Draft, using it on Russian defender Andrei Zyuzin.

1996-97: At the very least, the Senators were out of the basement, if only for a little while. They had a new coach in Jacques Martin, a better goaltender in Damian Rhodes, and of course, they still had both Alexei Yashin and Daniel Alfredsson. One player they wouldn’t have for long, however, was Brendan Shanahan, who wasn’t impressed with the direction of the team, and asked for a trade. Only two games into the 96-97 season, Brendan, along with fringe defenseman Phil Von Stefenelli, would be traded to Detroit in exchange for Paul Coffey, Keith Primeau, and a 1st Round Pick in 1997. The Sens no longer had their top scorer from the previous year, but were hopeful that the additions of Coffey and Primeau would keep them trending in the right direction.

Coffey wouldn’t last, either. After 20 games in the Canadian capital, he would be traded to Philadelphia in a package deal that brought back Kevin Haller. Primeau, however, stuck around, and immediately became an impressive #2 centre option behind Yashin, picking up 26 goals and 51 points in his first season with the Sens. His arrival now meant that the Sens had more depth up front, with two quality centres to rely on. Haller, meanwhile, joined an improving defensive core that included the still-effective Steve Duchesne and the emergent Wade Redden, who put up 30 points in 82 games in his rookie season.

For once, Ottawa was no longer a league punching bag. They were now a playoff team, picking up 81 points to finish 7th in the Eastern Conference. They would be drawn against the Buffalo Sabres, who, despite finishing 2nd in the Conference, were in the midst of an off-ice conflict. Dominik Hasek and Ted Nolan were feuding in the Buffalo locker room, and in Game Three of the series against the Sens, Hasek would be pulled with a sprained MCL, which turned out to be his last game of the year. Even without the arguable best goalie in the league to overcome, though, the Sens just didn’t have enough to win the series, falling in seven games.

Finally, Ottawa had reached the post-season. Jacques Martin looked like a coach that could truly lead the team to long playoff runs, and the addition of Keith Primeau meant that the team would have more than one dangerous forward line. The Senators also had the benefit of three 1st-Round Picks in 1997. Their natural pick at #14 would be used on Swiss forward Michel Riesen, while the 22nd Pick, acquired from Detroit, would be used on American blue-liner Nikos Tselios. They would not use the 23rd pick, instead trading it to San Jose for two lower-round selections. (San Jose would use the #23 pick to select defender Scott Hannan.)

1997-98: Jacques Martin was a man with a plan. He may not have had a team that could score in bunches, but at the very least, he could make sure that they prevented goals from being scored on them. The team was clearly focused on playing tight, defensive hockey, and the addition of Keith Primeau last year as crucial in their evolution from expansion doormat to playoff contender. Primeau would continue the good work in 97-98, even getting consideration for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as best defensive forward. The goaltending clearly improved, too, with Ron Tugnutt and Damian Rhodes combining for a respectable .906 SV% and 9 shutouts.

The Sens were now a team to watch out for in the East. They wouldn’t dominate a game, but at the same time, they were never out of a contest thanks to their stifling defense. They would finish 5th in the Conference with 91 points, setting up a clash with the surprising Washington Capitals. Though Washington had a plethora of offensive threats (Joe Juneau, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra, and Adam Oates among them), they also had a break-out goalie in Olaf Kolzig, who was in his first season as a starter. Kolzig would be the difference in the series against Ottawa, shutting down everybody he faced; only Daniel Alfredsson had any kind of answer for him, scoring 4 goals over the course of the series. The duo of Tugnutt and Rhodes simply couldn’t compare to Kolzig, and the Caps would eliminate the Sens in five games.

Ottawa would have the 19th Pick in the 1998 Entry Draft, selecting Robyn Regehr, a blue-liner playing for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers.

1998-99: On the ice, everything seemed hunky-dory. The Sens were still looking for a playoff series win, but the way they were playing, that seemed to be on the way sooner rather than later. They had a strong defensive team, a tandem of good goalies, and a pair of centre threats in Alexei Yashin and Keith Primeau. Despite the advantages Ottawa had, however, there were problems beginning to surface off the ice, all revolving around Yashin; the new captain had pledged $1 million to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, but the deal was nixed when the NAC learned that one of the conditions of this deal was that they pay Yashin’s family around $425,000 for “consulting fees”. The charity flap was yet another controversy surrounding money for Yashin, who had already held out for a better payday in the 1995-96 season.

Once again, though, everything on the ice was hunky-dory. While Alexei may have been demanding a lot of money, his play in the 98-99 season certainly justified it, as he would finish with the team lead in both goals (44) and points (94), carrying the offensive load all by himself. And once again, the Sens’ goaltending tandem did their job, with Ron Tugnutt, in particular, having a scintillating season; in 43 games of work, he would put up a .925 SV%, good for 3rd in the NHL, as well as a league-leading 1.79 goals against average.

The off-ice issues took a back seat to the Sens’ fantastic play, as for the first time in their history, they would clinch 1st place in their Division, winning the Northeast with 103 points. This put them in the 2nd seed, pitting them against the Buffalo Sabres once more. Unlike two years ago, however, the Sabres had a coach that Dominik Hasek could trust in Lindy Ruff, and there were no off-ice conflicts to be seen. This was key, as Hasek would play the entire series, looking unbeatable in the process, while the duo of Tugnutt and Rhodes were once again hopelessly outmatched. Buffalo would take the first-round series in a sweep, leaving the Sens behind once again.

Ottawa would have the 26th Pick in the 1999 Entry Draft, selecting forward Martin Havlat from Trinec in the Czech Republic.

1999-00: The off-ice problems that were looming in the previous season would finally bubble over in 1999. Both Alexei Yashin and Keith Primeau would hold out, feeling that they were worth more than what they were being paid up to that point. There was a difference, though, as while Primeau was a restricted free agent, Yashin still had a year left on his deal. The season would arrive with neither player in an Ottawa uniform, and it would take until the later part of the campaign before either of the holdouts were settled, as Primeau would be traded to Philadelphia in a package deal that saw Rod Brind’Amour come to the Sens.

The holdouts of Yashin and Primeau took their toll on a Senators team that wasn’t very deep offensively. On the plus side, it allows Radek Bonk to finally get the ice time worthy of his 3rd Overall selection back in 1994, and he makes the most of it, putting up 60 points in 80 games. Right behind him in the point standings is Daniel Alfredsson with 59, but he achieved his total in only 57 games. Rod Brind’Amour would go straight to the first line upon his arrival, but he would take time to settle in, only scoring 14 points in 33 games with the Sens.

The off-ice turmoil was a killer blow to the Senators’ hopes of being a post-season threat, and knocked them out of the playoffs outright. Ottawa would finish 10th in the Eastern Conference with 79 points, ending a run of three straight years of post-season qualification. Jacques Martin was not sacked, but warned that if they finished this bad again next year, he would be. Ottawa would go into the 2000 Entry Draft with the 11th Overall Pick, using their selection on Lokomotiv Yaroslavl winger Pavel Vorobiev.

2000-01: After a season-long holdout, Alexei Yashin assumed that his contract had expired, and he was now a free agent. An arbitrator for the NHL rules otherwise, saying that because he had skipped a whole season, he now owed the Sens one more year. It meant that the ongoing saga surrounding the Russian playmaker was to go on for another year, but even in a worst-case scenario, Ottawa still had Rod Brind’Amour to rely on. Brind’Amour would now have the benefit of a full season to adapt to Jacques Martin’s coaching style, and provided a great two-way presence, much like the Senators previously had with Keith Primeau.

The two centres were as advertised. Yashin, despite a year-long absence, would lead the team once again with 88 points, while Brind’Amour would tack on 56. Shawn McEachern, given first-line minutes, would manage 72 points, a career-high for someone who was normally between 40 and 60 points in his career. With both Damian Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt gone, former Pittsburgh goalkeeper Patrick Lalime was brought in the previous year to become a starter, and this year, he proved very reliable in goal, recording a .914 SV% in 60 games of work. His back-up, Mike Fountain, was much less reliable, with a wretched .880 SV% in 23 games.

Full seasons of Yashin and Brind’Amour were just what the doctor ordered for Ottawa. They would reclaim their place on top of the Northeast with 106 points, setting up a big-ticket series with their provincial rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto has been a constant playoff team since the arrival of coach Pat Quinn and goalie Curtis Joseph, but they have not been able to make the final breakthrough. To make matters worse, they had lost every single regular season game against the Sens that year, not earning a single point in five games. The playoffs, however, seemed to change things; while there were no stand-out performances from any Toronto skaters, Joseph was virtually unbeatable, not giving up a single goal until Game Three. In the end, the Leafs would claim a four-game sweep, stunning the favoured Senators.

Though the team had improved from the previous year, there were still off-ice issues to be solved, not the least of which was the impending free agency of Alexei Yashin. Due to be an RFA, Yashin required a qualifying offer, but had not been present at the post-season team meeting. It seemed, for all intents and purposes, like he was done in Ottawa, and GM Marshall Johnston agreed. On Draft Day, Johnston would trade Yashin’s rights to the New York Islanders, who promptly signed him to a massive ten-year contract. Going the other way in the deal would be depth forward Bill Muckalt, promising 6’9” blue-liner Zdeno Chara, and the 2nd Overall Pick in the 2001 Draft, which would be used on centreman Jason Spezza.

In addition to the Spezza pick, Ottawa traded up to get the 23rd Overall Pick from Philadelphia, using it on Windsor Spitfires defenseman Tim Gleason.

2001-2002: The circus that was Alexei Yashin’s tenure with Ottawa was finally done. He was no longer their problem, as hew would now take the ice in a New York Islanders sweater. The Senators had received a massive haul from New York in return, both figuratively, and in the case of Zdeno Chara, literally. With two real prospects in Chara and Jason Spezza in tow, Ottawa could now look to build quickly, and still looked to be at least a playoff club, even without a star like Yashin.

Spezza, unfortunately, wouldn’t make the team out of training camp, but the underappreciated Radek Bonk stepped up to take the #1 centre role, and put up a career-high 70 points alongside captain Daniel Alfredsson, who would lead the team with 77. Brind’Amour was once again a key part of the team, adding 55 points and contributing heavily on the penalty kill. Zdeno Chara proved a welcome addition to the team, proving very effective as a shut-down blue-liner in his first year with the Sens. Once again, however, Ottawa’s Achilles heel was their back-up goaltending, as rookie Martin Prusek looked overmatched at the NHL level, putting up a .880 SV% in 26 games of work.

Ottawa was no longer a Division winner, but at the very least, they hung on to a playoff spot, finishing 7th in the Eastern Conference with 90 points. This would set up a clash with the Philadelphia Flyers, the team that the Sens had trade Keith Primeau to a couple of years ago. Primeau was heavily booed throughout the series, and it was clear that he would have little effect on the series, especially when matched up against Brind’Amour. Patrick Lalime, meanwhile, had learned from last year’s series against Toronto, and put up a goaltending performance that would compare to CuJo’s the year before. Lalime’s .985 SV% would be the key to the Senators winning the series in five games, delivering a shock to the hockey world.

The good news was that the Senators had finally won their first playoff series ever. The bad news, however, was that they were set to face the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had just overcome Alexei Yashin’s New York Islanders in the previous series. After a beating last year, Ottawa was looking to prove that they could hang with the Leafs, and there would be no better time to prove their worth than this year, with Toronto captain Mats Sundin out for the series. Though the Sens were certainly a match for Toronto, a two-goal performance by free agent signing Alexander Mogilny in Game Seven would be the difference as the Leafs claimed the “Battle of Ontario” for the second-straight year.

Ottawa would be left with the 13th Pick in the 2002 Entry Draft, using it on Russian winger Alexander Semin.

2002-2003: There was definite progress on the ice for Ottawa, and with a good mix of young talent and skilled veterans to rely on, it looked as if the Senators could be a force to be reckoned with for the next few years. But for all the success on the ice, the team was on the verge of disaster off it; in 2003, the Sens would be placed in bankruptcy protection, with owner Rod Bryden unable to pay his players at points during the season. The Sens’ future was now less certain than ever, with Bryden himself conceding that there was a chance the team could be moved elsewhere with a new owner.

The off-ice news served as a rallying point for an Ottawa team that was beginning to taste playoff success, and knew they wanted more. Patrick Lalime was his usual strong self, recording a .911 SV% in 67 games of work, while back-up Martin Prusek would match that in 16 games, finally getting his bearings in the big league. Daniel Alfredsson continued to be the on-ice leader he was expected to be, grabbing 78 points to top all Ottawa skaters. Though Rod Brind’Amour would be sidelined for parts of the season, he had help from both Radek Bonk and Todd White, the latter of whom would set a new career high with 60 points in 80 games.

The Sens were running on pure force of will, and would reclaim top spot in the Northeast Division with 103 points. This put them 2nd in the East, and on a collision course with a division rival in Boston. The Bruins were riding high on the strength of their top line, with Joe Thornton breaking 100 points for the first time in his career. That combination would get them through a few games in the first round, but the Senators were just too deep, and would eventually come away with a victory in seven games. Next up were Ottawa’s expansion cousins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had just won their first playoff series by beating Washington; they, too, would fall at Ottawa’s hand, as the Sens would go through in six.

For the first time in their history, the Senators were off to the Eastern Conference Final, but now, they had a daunting task in front of them in overcoming the New Jersey Devils. The Devils had become the defining team of the past decade thanks to their trapping style, which minimized goals and shots allowed. Though the Sens had four talented and healthy centremen by this point, it just wasn’t enough to take any advantage of what was an incredibly deep New Jersey side. The Sens’ Cinderella run was over at the third hurdle, as they would lose to the Devils in a four-game sweep.

The Sens were this close. After two big series wins, they just couldn’t muster the strength to take down the mighty Devils, but momentum only seemed to be growing for the team. And if the on-ice feats weren’t enough, word was spreading that locally-based businessman Eugene Melnyk was set to buy the team and rescue them from the threat of re-location. There were multiple reason to be excited for Ottawa fans; not only was the team performing very well in spite of everything they were facing, but the team itself now looked to be staying in Canada’s capital.

The Sens would have the 23rd Overall Pick in the 2003 Entry Draft; wanting a future replacement for Rod Brind’Amour, they would take Ryan Kesler from Ohio State University.


THE SENATORS AFTER TEN YEARS: The Senators started this stretch as a team that was looking for anything positive after coming off a terrible expansion season. By this point, they are on the cusp of a Stanley Cup berth, having reached the Eastern Conference Final the previous year. Despite being at their highest of highs, the Sens’ existence has been marked by noticeable growing pains. Whether it was the awful first few seasons, the contract squabbles with Keith Primeau and Alexei Yashin, or the stretch of time in 2003 when the players weren’t getting paid at all, Ottawa fans have endured some tough stretches, but don’t seem to be wavering in their support of the team at all.

Looking back on the decision to draft Pronger over Daigle, the Sens can only feel that they made the right call. Looking at Daigle’s career at this point is to read a tale of a man built up to be a superstar before he had even reached the NHL, only to leave everyone disappointed. Daigle has bounced from team to team, and is now looking to find his way with the Minnesota Wild, hoping that he could at least stick with the big club. Though they didn’t bite on Daigle, however, the Sens may have made a mistake in trading Chris Pronger; the former Peterborough defender has come into his own on the St. Louis Blues, and even won the Hart Trophy in 2000.

Of course, it isn’t like Ottawa came away empty-handed in the Pronger deal, either. In the original trade, the Sens got Brendan Shanahan back, and got a good season out of him before trading him on to Detroit. From the Wings, Ottawa got Keith Primeau and Paul Coffey, who added some much-needed talent to a squad that was still well out of playoff contention. And despite Primeau’s holdout, he would eventually be traded for Rod Brind’Amour, who may not be the same point producer he was with Philadelphia, but still has a place in the NHL. His presence is also helpful in mentoring Jason Spezza, who is now ready to head into his first full season of NHL hockey, as well as recent draftee Ryan Kesler, who may be in line to take Brind’Amour’s spot a couple of years from now.

On Opening Night in 2003, Ottawa’s roster looks as follows:

Martin Havlat – Radek Bonk – Daniel Alfredsson

Alexander Semin – Jason Spezza – Bryan Smolinski

Shaun van Allen – Rod Brind’AmourErik Cole

Zdeno Chara – Robyn Regehr

Peter Schaefer – Todd White – Chris Neil

Karel Rachunek – Wade Redden

Curtis Leschyshyn – Brian Pothier

Patrick Lalime

Martin Prusek

Offensively, the first thing one would notice from Ottawa is the fact that Todd White, who just finished the previous year with 60 points, is on the fourth line. Though he will certainly get minutes on the power play, the Sens want to at least see how Spezza deals with top-six minutes at the NHL level before any changes are made. Bonk isn’t getting moved from that first line yet, and Brind’Amour is still a steady shut-down presence. While Ottawa has lacked true top-six wingers outside of Daniel Alfredsson for a while, they seem to have found a good one in Martin Havlat, who came close to breaking the 60-point plateau last year. They may well have another one in Alexander Semin, the 2002 draft pick who has come over to North America, and is looking to prove he can hang as a teenager.

The Senators’ top two defensive pairings stack up well against pretty much any other NHL team. The top unit of Chara and Regehr is virtually unpassable (especially due to Chara’s insane reach), and the duo of Rachunek and Redden combine defensive effectiveness with some blue-line playmaking ability. As long as they don’t have to put Leschyshyn and Pothier on the ice for long periods of time, Ottawa looks dangerous at the back. They look good in goal too, with Patrick Lalime expected to eat up the bulk of the schedule, and Martin Prusek able to step in for around 20 games of work.

Of the bolded players, two came via trade, and the other two came through the draft. Semin (2002) and Regehr (1998) are both 1st-Round Picks by the Sens in this timeline, replacing Mathieu Chouinard and Jakub Klepis. This is easily a win for Ottawa, as neither of the players they originally drafted amounted to anything much. Brind’Amour comes to the team from the Primeau deal, and so does Cole, in a way; the 1st-Round Pick that Ottawa acquired in that deal would be dealt to San Jose in exchange for a lower 1st-Rounder and the 3rd-Round Pick that would be used on Cole. In addition to those four players, the Sens have Pavel Vorobiev and Ryan Kesler vying for ice time at the NHL level this year, but neither is expected to find a full-time spot yet.


Next week is Part II of Pronger over Daigle, where I examine the Whalers’ fate with Daigle in tow, as well as the greater effects on the hockey world.

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