All right, hold on. I know you're anxious to find the poll so you can vote for Alexandre Daigle as hard as you can. But do you even remember Jakub Klepiš? In the last 20 years, the Senators have made some really awful picks in the first round. It doesn't matter which general manager you might think is best--Mel Bridgeman, Randy Sexton, Pierre Gauthier, Rick Dudley, Marshal Johnston, John Muckler, or Bryan Murray--they've all bungled at least one year. Okay, not Dudley, but that's only because he never got to make a pick.
There are twenty years of draft picks to discuss and that's too many for one article, so instead we're going to take a look at the five worst first-round picks today and the five best tomorrow. We won't be including any players from drafts after 2008 on this list simply because it's too soon to make any kind of judgement on their impacts yet.
So before you latch your caboose to the Daigle hypemobile, take a journey with me through some of the team's biggest trainwrecks of the past two decades. It's not going to be pretty, but don't get upset--building a hockey team is hard, and there's more good choices to pick from than bad. But the bad are so, so bad.
In no particular order...
Hey, did you know that when the Senators drafted 9th overall in 2005, they could have selected Stanley Cup Champion Anze Kopitar? Or that they could have drafted shutdown ace Marc Staal? That's right: Easily the most tired complaint of 21st century Senators history is that Brian Lee is not different human being. Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but if the fallacious nature of that argument doesn't hit you in the gut so hard you want to puke, you're stupid. I don't generally insult people to make my arguments, but I can't think of any other word to use here. Making an assumption--based solely on hindsight--that a player would turn out exactly the same despite playing hundreds of games with different teammates, coaches, training staff (literally millions of different variables when added up) is like... well, it's like this story, excerpted from Real Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book by Robert Hamburger:
Ninja for two weeks
My parents are divorced and Mom cooks brownies all the time to make up for it. But one night, she cooked a big batch because Dad came over earlier when she wasn't home and took two lamps that were actually hers. Mom set the brownies on top of the oven and said I couldn't eat ANY for at least ten minutes. They were hot enough to burn an adult, she said. But as soon as she left, I grabbed one and stuffed it in my face. But my tongue didn't burn! That's when I knew I had the power to eat super-hot food. Later that night, I went to bed without any argument and I couldn't stop kicking my feet and snorting, thinking about all the ways I could use this badass power.
I'm not going to lie--I judge people based on their statements about Brian Lee. Bring up Kopitar or Staal even once, and I'm going to ignore the rest of what you say, probably forever. You don't hear Wild, Canucks, Blackhawks, or Blue Jackets fans lamenting their picks in that draft. It's a complaint formed of ignorance built on a foundation of nonsense.
As for the player himself, Lee represents missed opportunity. Despite finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference in 2003-04 with 102 points, the Senators found themselves selecting ninth thanks to an outstanding lottery win as a consequence of the lockout (damn you, Bettman). This was just their second chance to pick in the top ten since 1997, and their first one since 2001. In no uncertain terms, it was an opportunity for a young, talented team to load up with another talented player.
Instead, they took Lee.
That's not to say Lee is not a talented player--he is. Lee was widely regarded as a good prospect with great upside. Lee was a rare player who represented the United States in the World Junior Championships while in high school (beating out defenseman Jack Johnson, who would be drafted six spots ahead of him), and loaded up on just about every trophy a junior player could win in the state of Minnesota. Lee's hockey sense was lauded, and he was projected as an extremely efficient offensive defenseman--a good ace to have up the team's sleeve should Wade Redden depart in the near future. Even if analysts felt ninth was too high for Lee, he was expected by everyone to blossom as he developed.
That is not what happened. Lee's career with the Senators yo-yoed, following moments of excellence (such as his 2007-08 playoff performance) with moments of ineptitude (such as his inability to make the team the following season). Lee did not begin to distinguish himself until he literally said, "Fuck it." Unfortunately, by then it was too late--Lee was no longer in the team's plans. Here's a hint for future GMs: Your draft pick may be on the wrong career trajectory if they feel so helpless they don't care what you tell them and just do what they think is best.
Ultimately, Lee was traded this year for Matt Gilroy, a defenseman who won't be returning to the team, which leaves the net results of Lee's time with the club at zero.
Legacy: Failure to even slighlty meet extremely high expectations left the club trying to fill gaps for the next five seasons.
In the years before Craig Anderson, what the Senators needed most was a goalie. We could list every goalie who's ever started a game for the team, but I don't know what would make you sadder doing that: finding so many names you don't know, or the mental trauma associated with the ones you do know. It's been ugly. It's been ugly for almost 20 years.
Chouinard was supposed to change that. Selected 15th overall in 1998, he was the first major investment the team had made at the position through the draft. He was a large goalie for the time and was a highly-regarded prospect.
And he never played a game for the team.
Despite the selection Chouinard and the Senators couldn't agree on a contract (He alleges there was no negotiation and he got just one offer the week before the deadline) and he re-entered the draft in 2000, where he was selected by... the Ottawa Senators. The team had been awarded a second-round choice, 45th overall, as compensation for not being able to sign Chouinard. Knowing they had their own selection coming up at 55 (Antoine Vermette), they wasted the pick as an F-you to a player they had an acrimonious relationship with. He muddled through the organization on the second go-around, playing in four games with Binghamton in 2002-03 before walking away as a free agent.
Legacy: In addition to being an easy trivia question, in 2001, the Senators' starting goalie was Patrick Lalime. On May 14th, 2002, the Senators lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs in game seven of the second round, 3-0. Remember that? That begot Dominik Hasek, which begot Ray Emery, which begot Martin Gerber, which begot Alex Auld and Brian Elliott, which begot Pascal Leclaire, which begot Brian Elliott. Chain reaction... 1, 2, 3.
Before he suffered a major eye injury at the hands of Marian Hossa's errant stick, he was the first overall pick of the 1995 NHL draft--and the team that owned that pick, yet again, was the Ottawa Senators. They were really bad back then, and Berard didn't want to play for them. Just watch.
The Senators knew they were going to pick him first overall and he knew he had no intention of playing for them. What a mess. The team was able to salvage the situation by trading Berard to the Islanders and getting Wade Redden, Don Beaupre, and Damian Rhodes back. Redden provided many great years of service for the team, while Berard would go on to win the Calder Trophy that year.
Legacy: Helped continue Ottawa's reputation as bungling bunch (the video above more politely describes them as "struggling to find an identity"), and leaves one wondering why the team didn't avoid the whole mess and trade down, drafting Redden second and using the pick they gained on another quality player in the draft, like... Marc Savard, Miikka Kiprusoff, or.. Filip Kuba?!
Does anyone not know the story here? Daigle was hyped as a can't-miss, superstar-in-waiting prospect. The circumstances leading the Senators to draft him resulted in the institution of the draft lottery. He made the famous "no one remembers number two" comment. (It was, of course, Chris Pronger.) He was signed to a massive contract that helped create the rookie salary cap. The Senators threw the world at the guy because they expected the world in return.
Then he went out and didn't do much. His numbers (214 points in 371 games) weren't terrible, but the team was looking for a superstar. And he was not a superstar. Hell, he was overrated on my NHL '96 team. Welcome to the second line, DAY-GULL!
By the time the team gave up on him and dumped him on the Flyers for a few of their castoffs, the damage had been done. Daigle's name remains a stain on the organization both for the unfulfilled expectations he represents and the shameless desperation the team demonstrated towards him.
Legacy: Lets Senators fans name-check just about anyone when talking about draft busts. Also, the undeserved fawning of team management over him while fellow first round pick Alexei Yashin was actually putting up the points led to a festering and caustic relationship which shaped the future of the team we watch today.
People who criticize Daigle always seem to forget about the slowest skater in the history of the Ottawa Senators, Radek Bonk.
When the final Central Scouting rankings came out in 1994, Bonk was the top-ranked skater, on the strength of a 42G, 45A season with the IHL's Las Vegas Thunder. It should be mentioned this season was his first in North America, and he was barely seventeen when he accomplished it--and he had already reached a height of 6'3" and weight of 200lbs. He absolutely screamed "power forward" and was labeled by everyone as a "can't-miss" prospect. Unfortunately for Sens fans, that should sound familiar.
The Florida Panthers had the first pick in that year's draft, and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had the second pick--both teams were coming off of their inaugural expansion seasons. The Panthers took Ed Jovanovski out of a need for a franchise defenseman, and the Mighty Ducks selected Oleg Tverdovsky because, implied the LA Times, they didn't want to deal with Bonk's agent. So, the best player available had fallen into Ottawa's lap.
... and held out. Bonk reportedly "turned down a three-year contract from the Senators that would have netted him a little more than $1 million a season." Not long after, there was a lockout (damn you, Bettman), and the Senators were prevented from further contact with their player. Bonk would eventually sign for less.
Despite his size, Bonk was never a physical player, which severely limited his effectiveness as a power forward, and he would not have won a race against Francis Lessard even if Lessard had been skating backwards. In spite of these drawbacks, Bonk had a decent amount of success with the team, accumulating 399 points in 689 games with the team. That's about 0.58 points per game--almost the exact same percentage as Daigle produced.
Yet Bonk didn't recieve the same deluge of hype, almost certainly because it was still being heaped on Daigle when Bonk was drafted.
As the situation with Yashin deteriorated, Bonk had an opportunity to step in as the team's top center, and in that role he put up four consecutive 20+ goal seasons. But with a level of physicality that made Filip Kuba look like Chris Neil, Bonk wasn't what the organization was looking for, and he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a 3rd round pick in 2004 (Shawn Weller). He did not last a day on the Kings, as they flipped him to Montreal.
It's quite interesting that Bonk was fit with many of the same labels as Daigle, had a similar career trajectory, and yet dodged most of the disappointment that followed Daigle around. Perhaps it's because Bonk was not a loudmouthed moron; he kept his head down and tried his best. Too bad his best couldn't match his pre-draft hype.
Legacy: Much like his play against opponents, Bonk left no discernible impact on the Ottawa Senators whatsoever. But it's okay--the team drafted Daniel Alfredsson that same year.
Honorable Mentions: Jakub Klepiš, Patrick Eaves - But let's not pretend you remembered them, okay?
So, there you have it. Five first-round selections who really didn't live up to their end of the bargain. The next time you casually throw out Daigle's name as the worst pick in franchise history, take a second to think about some of the other names on this list and ask yourself what hurts the team more: hype or failure?
Who was the worst first-round pick in the Senators' history?
Brian Lee (45 votes)
Mathieu Chouinard (165 votes)
Bryan Berard (15 votes)
Alexandre Daigle (143 votes)
Radek Bonk (8 votes)
376 total votes