Another NHL regular season has come and gone, and for the fourth consecutive season, the Ottawa Senators find themselves on the outside looking in where the Stanley Cup playoffs are concerned. Surely the gnawing hunger for playoff hockey is beginning to grow in the nation’s capital; memories of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final are slowly fading into the ether, and the current iteration of the team boasts a vastly different look from their predecessors.
Fans of the team should, however, take solace in the fact that the Senators are well on their way back to contention, and in the meantime, there are plenty of other reasons to watch this Sens-less postseason.
As has become something of a tradition during the fabled tournament, Ottawa is being well-represented by their alumni. This year’s playoffs are still riddled with former Senators, and there are a few in particular who have a decent chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s hardware when the dust settles. Of course, there are also those who fans may not be so eager to see find success, given their current affiliations.
Arguably the most high-profile former Senator is Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone. Finally getting his due as one of the league’s premier two-way forwards, the 29-year-old Winnipeg, Manitoba native tallied 61 points in 55 games this season, while also passing the 500-game mark.
The Golden Knights roared into these playoffs with a 40-14-2 record, finishing second only to the Colorado Avalanche within their division, due to a tiebreaker rule. They draw a challenging matchup in the upstart Minnesota Wild, but the Golden Knights again find themselves to be a serious contender to win the Stanley Cup.
Stone and his compatriots came close last year, upset by the Dallas Stars in a tightly-contested Western Conference Final, and with their series against the Wild now tied at 1-1, they are driven to finally win that elusive Cup.
Another beloved former Senator — especially where the playoffs are concerned — can be found on Long Island, in Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He also finds his way to a conference final with his new team last season, being downed by the eventual Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pageau has settled in nicely as a member of the New York Islanders, scoring eight goals and three assists through 22 playoff games in the bubble. In this year’s first-round battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 28-year-old has picked up right where he left off, with three points in the series’ first two games.
The Islanders are a stingy bunch, with an often-times impenetrable defensive structure, and rock-solid goaltending. If they can get by a formidable foe in Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, the Isles could find themselves going even further than three rounds in 2021.
Meanwhile, in sunny Florida, a couple more ex-Senators are on the hunt for playoff success. The Florida Panthers may be in a bit of a hole, down 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they are by no means out just yet. Anthony Duclair scored 32 points in 43 regular-season games this year, while somewhat forgotten (by Ottawa) goaltender Chris Driedger staked his claim to a crease owned by Sergei Bobrovsky, with a 14-6-3 record and .927 save percentage.
Things aren’t looking good for the Cats, headed back to Tampa with a major hill to climb, and they’ll need both former Sens to show out in a big way if they want to pull off the comeback.
Speaking of uphill battles, Mike Hoffman and his St. Louis Blues face one of their own, in the form of the Colorado Avalanche.
Hoffman’s season was up and down, with a final tally of 36 points in 52 games, but the cold hard reality of the situation for St. Louis is that they are in desperate need of scoring. Few teams in the league have an offensive attack as potent as Colorado, and if there’s one thing that Hoffman has historically done well, it’s score goals.
The Blues are already down 1-0 in the series, scoring only once, and they’ll need Hoffman to find his old form for them to even have a prayer.
Back in Ontario, there are a couple of former Senators that fans are almost certainly actively rooting against.
I’m hesitant to wade into the Jason Spezza and Nick Foligno conversation — Ian Mendes already made that mistake — but I will say this: you won’t find two better human beings, who are among the most deserving of a Stanley Cup. Toronto Maple Leafs or not.
Good people seem to be a recurring theme, with an unlikely ex-Senator stealing the spotlight for the Washington Capitals.
The undisputed greatest goaltender in Senators history, soon-to-be 40-year-old Craig Anderson was thrust into action against the Boston Bruins (boasting Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly) due to a Vitek Vanicek injury, and has the Capitals in a tied series heading back to Beantown.
Time will tell if Anderson remains in the Washington crease, but for now, he has all of Ottawa rooting for him.
While they may not be loudly beating their chests for a certain Penguins defender, frustration and mockery have slowly given way to warm smiles, and nods of approval from Sens fans.
Cody Ceci’s time in Ottawa was tumultuous at best, but on his third team in three seasons, he appears to have made a home for himself in Pittsburgh. He put up a solid 17 points in 56 games this year, and appears to be playing a more stable, relaxed game in the black and yellow.
If nothing else, the ire that he once drew from Ottawa appears to have dissipated.
There are other former Senators like the aforementioned Lazar and Reilly in these playoffs. Erik Gudbranson and Ben Harpur are both on the Nashville Predators blue line, while fan favourite Mark Borowiecki remains sidelined with an injury. Tyler Ennis and Dylan DeMelo are also set to square off in round one, adding to the intrigue.
As long as Ottawa fails to qualify for the playoffs themselves, it’s nice to see some familiar faces.