I am a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan.
For those of you who don’t follow the NFL, I essentially cheer for one of the most inept, dysfunctional, disappointing, painfully mediocre franchises in all of professional sports. Since they entered the league in 1976, they’ve won the Super Bowl once, in the Year of the Water Horse 2002. They have not made the playoffs since 2007, and have never had a truly great quarterback.
Welcome to Tampa Bay, @TomBrady. pic.twitter.com/VJooGYwwiA— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) March 20, 2020
Yup. My team signed the GOAT. And yes, I’m gloating. You can’t stop me.
Putting that aside, however, this is a hockey website. This little tidbit of news inspired me to think about the other one of my favourite teams that causes me nothing but pain and suffering. I got to thinking; what are the Senators’ greatest free agent signings?
While none even come close to the gravity of signing Tom Brady, there are some interesting trips down memory lane to be found in this list. I hope you enjoy, and if you don’t, I don’t care. I have Tom Brady.
Before we begin, the criteria I had in mind here was the best combination of tenure, mixed with production, and memorable moments. So don’t be surprised if you see some damn good players who are lower on the list, as it’s likely due to them not being a Senator for very long.
Here are the Top 10 Free Agent signings in Ottawa Senators history.
Honourable Mention: RW Alexei Kovalev (2009-2011)
There’s no denying that Alexei Kovalev is one of the most skilled players ever to don the Ottawa Senators uniform, but we’re looking for more longevity and production on this here list.
Only playing a season and roughly two thirds in Ottawa, Kovalev tallied 49 points in 77 games, after signing with the team in the summer of 2009. The Senators looked to him to provide some much-needed offence with the loss of Dany Heatley, but it never really panned out. Kovalev missed all six games of Ottawa’s 2010 first round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and was traded to those very Penguins after posting 27 points in 54 games the next season.
From there, he spent time with the KHL’s Moscow Oblast Atlant, the Florida Panthers, and the Swiss League’s Visp EHC before officially retiring from professional hockey in 2017.
10. LW/C Dean McAmmond (2006-2009)
Signing with the team in the 2006 offseason, McAmmond proved to be a valuable bottom-six contributor, up until the time of his trade to the New York Islanders in 2009, in exchange for Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie (again). He joined a team hungry for playoff success after a heartbreaking second-round loss to the Buffalo Sabres the year prior, and was a key part of the Senators’ run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, scoring eight points in eighteen playoff games.
Though concussions at the hands of Chris Pronger and Steve Downie hampered his production a bit, Dean McAmmond finished his career in Ottawa with 193 games played and 58 points. While most of us remember the ‘07 team for the likes of Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza, Emery, and Fisher, it wouldn’t have been possible without guys like McAmmond.
He retired after the 2009-2010 season, as a member of the New Jersey Devils.
9. LW/RW Jarkko Ruutu (2008-2011)
If Brady Tkachuk is a thorn in the side of his opponents, Jarkko Ruutu was nothing short of a complete pain in the ass.
One of the most antagonistic players in the modern era, Ruutu signed a three-year, $3.9M contract with the Sens in the summer of 2008. He immediately lived up to his billing, with his patented Finnish smirk driving the opposition to drink on a nightly basis. Though he had 57 points in 210 games to his name, Ruutu is perhaps best known for an incident that occurred in 2009, with Buffalo’s Andrew Peters.
In a scrum near the Ottawa bench, Ruutu allegedly bit Peters’ hand, though he denied this, and claimed that the Sabres’ enforcer was actually gouging his eye. While no penalty was assessed, Peters was irate, and even got into a hallway confrontation with the Senators’ going into their room after the game, exchanging words with defenceman Luke Richardson. Ruutu was later suspended for two games, and fined $31.7K.
Here’s the best summary of the saga that I can find.
Ruutu was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in February of 2011, for a sixth-round pick that ended up being Max McCormick. He retired following the season, and is currently a player development coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
8. LW Randy Cunneyworth (1994-1998)
Randy Cunneyworth was named the fifth captain in Ottawa Senators history, after he signed with the team in the summer of 1994. Despite finishing in last place that year, as they so often did, Cunneyworth was the Senators’ nominee for the King Clancy Award (Leadership and Dedication to the Game).
His best seasons came from 1995 through 1997, wherein he scored 72 points in 157 games. After his production fell to just 13 points in 72 games in the 1997-1998 season, Cunneyworth signed with the Buffalo Sabres, where he spent the majority of his time with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, before retiring in 2000.
7. G Andrew Hammond (2013-2018)
Yup, you bet your ass The Hamburglar gets a higher spot on this list for one season alone. My list, my rules.
All jokes aside, while one great season may seem insignificant when compared to years of solid production, Hammond propelled the Senators to something truly extraordinary. They were 14 points out of a playoff spot in February of 2015, when both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner went down with injuries. Hammond was called up, and the virtually unknown college signing rattled off a 20-1-2 stretch that took the city, and the league by storm. The Senators made the playoffs, and despite falling to the Montreal Canadiens in six games, it was a season that none of us will ever forget.
Injuries, amid an allegation of shady dealings with the team from Hammond’s wife, saw the netminder shipped off to Colorado in November of 2017 as part of the infamous Matt Duchene trade. But even with that in mind, The Hamburglar will always be loved in Ottawa.
6. G Ron Tugnutt (1996-2000)
Ron Tugnutt experienced a career resurgence with Ottawa, upon signing with the fledgling expansion franchise in the summer of 1996. Unlike his counterpart, Damian Rhodes, with whom he shared the net until 1999, Tugnutt actually mangaged to post an overall winning record with the Senators. He finished his tenure at 71-52-25, in 166 games.
With a winning record in each of his three seasons with the Senators, Tugnutt was a valuable piece of an Ottawa team that was beginning to find their way to playoff success.
In the midst of a decline in his final campaign, Tugnutt was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Janne Laukannen, in exchange for fellow netminder Tom Barasso.
5. D Joe Corvo (2006-2008, 2013-2014)
Just the second defender on our list, and the only player on it to have separate tenures as an Ottawa Senator, Joe Corvo may also be the most underrated player that we talk about here.
Signed by the team in July 2006, on a four-year $10.5M deal, Joe Corvo fit like a glove in Ottawa. Instantly becoming a reliable top-four option on the team, Corvo had 37 points in 76 games with his new club. He even set a franchise record for single-game points by a defenceman (5), scoring a goal and four assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Corvo was also a big contributor to that season’s Stanley Cup Final run, with nine points in 20 games, including a double-overtime winner to down Buffalo in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Corvo was traded, along with Patrick Eaves, to the Carolina Hurricanes in February of 2008, while the Sens received Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore. Neither re-signed with Ottawa that offseason.
Joe Corvo returned one more time, as a free agent for the 2013-2014 season. Despite scoring 10 points in just 25 games, he was waived, and loaned to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves in March of that year, retiring upon the season’s conclusion.
4. G Dominik Hasek (2005-2006)
While we established the rule about tenure at the outset, it doesn’t apply to The Dominator, because he still stands as the most talented player that the Senators have ever acquired via free agency.
At the time of his signing of a one-year deal with Ottawa, Hasek was a Stanley Cup champion, two-time Hart Trophy winner, six-time Vezina Trophy winner, two-time Lester B. Pearson award winner, and six-time First Team All-Star. It seemed to be a match made in heaven, with the Senators being a favourite to win the 2006 Stanley Cup.
Damn the Olympics. At that year’s tournament in Turin, Italy, Hasek injured his adductor, and never played another game for the Senators, as the team was eliminated in the second round. They opted not to re-sign him that summer, moving on to the younger Ray Emery.
Despite the failed marriage, Hasek posted a 28-10-4 record in 43 games. He went on to return to the Detroit Red Wings, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008, and subsequently calling it a career.
3. D Sergei Gonchar (2010-2013)
While he was entering the twilight of his career upon signing with the Ottawa Senators in 2010, Sergei Gonchar was worth every penny of his three-year $16M contract. The Russian defender tallied 91 points in 186 games with the Sens, as well as nine points in 17 playoff games, and helped the team to advance to the second round in 2013, their first playoff series win in six years.
Gonchar’s contributions on the scoreboard were more than welcome, but it was perhaps his intangible abilities that made him an invaluable asset to Ottawa. Paired with a young Erik Karlsson for the majority of his stint, the veteran had a steadying influence on the future captain, helping him to reach his full offensive potential while rounding out his game.
He signed with the Dallas Stars in 2013, where he spent parts of two seasons, before playing his final year with the Montreal Canadiens in 2014-2015. Gonchar attempted to make the Pittsburgh Penguins on a training camp tryout that fall, but was cut, and accepted an assistant coaching position that he holds to this day. He helped the team win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
2. LW Clarke MacArthur (2013-2017)
The final two could very well be considered 1a and 1b.
Clarke MacArthur signed with the Ottawa Senators in 2013, jumping ship from the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. Though initially inked on a two-year deal, the man who would come to be known as “Grizz” quickly proved himself to be an addition that the Senators wanted to keep around for the long haul. After posting 55 points in 79 games in his first season, McArthur was signed to a five-year extension by the team.
MacArthur’s well-publicized battles with concussions put his career in jeopardy, but he would make his return in time for the 2017 playoffs. He had nine points in 19 games, including the series-clinching goal in Round 1 against the Boston Bruins.
A failed physical in the Fall of 2017 would effectively end Grizz’s career, but his resilience and contributions to that fabled run leave him beloved in Ottawa.
As for why he’s number two, I’ll explain further below, but it mainly comes down to longevity.
1. C Todd White (2000-2004)
I almost gave it to Grizz, I really did. But at the end of the day, Todd White played nearly a full season longer as a Senator, appeared in 12 more playoff games, and hit the 50-point plateau twice, including 60 in 2002-2003.
He may not be as much of a household name as Hasek or Gonchar, but White easily gave the Ottawa Senators the best ever bang for their buck out of a free agent. Signing with his hometown team on July 12, 2000, White followed that up with his first full NHL season in 2001-2002, scoring 50 points in 81 games. Were that not impressive enough, he followed that up with 60 points in 80 games the next year, shooting 17.5%.
White had six points in the team’s 18-game run to Game 7 of the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals, including a goal and an assist in Game 5 of that series, helping the Sens get a 3-1 win while on the brink of of elimination.
A drop in production due to injury, and a first-round loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003 marked the final year of White’s tenure with Ottawa. The Senators traded him to the Minnesota Wild that offseason, for a fourth-round pick. White would also go on to play for the Atlanta Thrashers, and New York Rangers, before retiring in 2011.
So that does it for my list. Do you love it? Do you hate it? Be sure to let me know in the comments, and make sure to include your own lists too!