by Chet Sellers
Cup finals? What now? Here at RBM, we’re not lookin’ at you dudes, we’re lookin’ past you, and that means it’s time to look ahead to the draft. But before we look ahead, let’s look back!
The Senators are a team that has traditionally been built through smart drafting and shrewd trading. Quick, who’s the best free agent signing the team’s ever had? Sergei Gonchar? Ron Tugnutt? Half a season of Dominik Hasek? I mean, literally lighting $10 million on fire would have generated more heat than Alex Kovalev did. No, the Senators had become a successful team by the late 90s by drafting blue chip after blue chip – Daniel Alfredsson, Wade Redden, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat – and saw their fortunes decline toward the end of the next decade as their prospect stocks dried up and deadline deals couldn’t keep an aging core afloat. But enough talk - let's rank. In 20 years of largely excellent Senators drafts, which year was the best? Close the door - it’s about to get drafty in here.
Here are some years that definitely weren’t the best: 2002 (total haul: six games out of Alexei Kaigorodov, later used to rent Mike Comrie); 2003 (a few years from Patrick Eaves, although grabbing Brian Elliott in the 9th round is pretty good if you count flipping him for Craig Anderson); 2004 (Andrej Mezsaros, unnecessarily traded for Filip Kuba); 2005 (7th rounder Colin Greening is still with the team; frosted 1st rounder Brian Lee, uh, isn’t); and 2007 (Jim O’Brien, who might work better as a fake Twitter account than an NHL forward). You’ll note that these years are largely consecutive. MUCK-LER!
Here are some other years it wasn’t: 2006 (Nick Foligno, who now goes by the name “Marc Methot”, as well as Eric Gryba and Erik Condra); 2009 (Jared Cowen, Jakob Silfverberg, Robin Lehner, Mike Hoffman); 2010 (Mark Stone); and 2011 (Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen, Shane Prince, Matt Puempel, and J-G Pageau). These drafts could end up being as deep as Guillaume Latendresse’s eyes, but we just won’t know for a few more years. One thing about Bryan Murray, though: outside of taking a trade flyer on Nikita Filatov, he’s completely ignored the toolsy Russian prospects the team has traditionally wasted picks on and has concentrated on what’s made this franchise great – Swedes.
Here’s a specific year it wasn’t: 1993, unless you are measuring “best” in terms of bitter, choking irony. I’m speaking, of course, about Alexandre Daigle and the “no one remembers number two” quote (in reference to Chris Pronger) that followed him for his entire career. “Number two” is an appropriate way to describe Daigle’s time with the Senators, as he fell well short of expectations for a #1 pick for whom the Senators had (arguably) tanked the 1992-93 season and was given the largest rookie contract in league history. You know who everybody remembers? Pat Falloon, the fellow first-round disappointment Daigle was traded for after four-and-a-half seasons, and a guy whose conditioning prompted the nickname “Fat Balloon” (as Latendresse remembers his name doesn’t rhyme with anything and breathes a sigh of relief). The Senators actually got more value out of the other player in the deal, Vinny (née Vaclav) Prospal, hockey’s tannest man.
And the capper? The Senators also scooped Pavol Demitra in the 9th round, only to trade him, straight up, to the Blues for Christer Olsson. Olsson would score 5 points in 25 games for the Senators before returning to Sweden; Demitra would go on to score 768 points in 847 career games. Sweet draft, bros.
Finally, here are some years that are good, but not plaque good: 1995 (Wade Redden, although they gave up Martin Straka to get him); 1996 (Chris Phillips, Andreas Dackell, Sami Salo); 1997 (Marian Hossa, Magnus Arvedson, Karel Rachunek); 1998 (Mike Fisher, Chris Neil); 1999 (Martin Havlat, Chris Kelly); 2000 (Anton Volchenkov, Antoine Vermette). That’s a pretty legitimate hot streak, especially considering that most of these guys are still productive NHL players, and they set the big club up for years. But if none of these years are the best, it looks like it's going to take something really special to put us over the top. Here are three drafts that just might.
Oh, you know, just Radek Bonk at #3, the man who scored 399 points in 689 games with the Senators and had the salad so nice it named this site, plus Stan “Dammit, It’s Pronounced Nets-Kash” Neckar at #29, the oft-injured defenceman who lives on through Twitter geeks making “Neckar Money” jokes 20 years later. Anybody else? Well, you could throw in the Senators' pick at #133, a too-old converted Swedish defenseman who likely had just as much shot at a soccer career as one in pro hockey (which is to say, probably not).
As celebrated as it is that Daniel Alfredsson was a 6th round pick, it almost doesn’t matter – he’d be just as valuable to the franchise at #1, and would still have more career points (1108 . . . and counting!) than anyone else in his draft class. Any year you draft your franchise’s spiritual leader AND its spiritual hairstyle has to be right at the top of the list.
What? Chet, are you saying the Alexei Yashin draft is better than the Daniel Alfredsson draft? That playoff disappearances, court battles, and fake orchestra donations are better than 18 years of leadership, a Cup finals appearance, and the JOFA helmet? Okay, let me Chetsplain.
Even though no one other than Yashin, at #2, really panned out from this draft class (Patrick Traverse was a contributor for a couple years, but that’s about it), Yashin himself might be the most valuable pick in franchise history. Yashin was the team’s most productive player in the 90s (at least the regular season), scoring 491 points in 504 games. Not enough, right? So what if...
...we call Yashin the team’s most valuable pick because we’re not just counting seven years of Yashin, we’re throwing in, free of charge, four years of Zdeno Chara and ten years and counting of Jason Spezza (I see you too, Bill Muckalt!). How about that? Is that cheating? I say the only person cheated here was Mike Milbury. Never let anyone say Yashin didn’t give back to the good people of Ottawa.
Okay, okay, it’s too early to call this one. At some point, though, the 2008 draft might just be considered the Senators’ best in terms of both superstar value and depth value, with Erik Karlsson, Patrick Wiercioch, and Zack Smith going in the first three rounds and Andre Petersson, Derek Grant, and Mark Borowiecki potential contributors behind them. Karlsson is the team’s most important player since Alfredsson, and if enough of these guys end up being solid NHL players (and Wiercioch’s ceiling is higher than that), this one might be the winner. So we wait.
For now at least, the 1994 draft has to be the Senators’ best, because that draft IS the Ottawa Senators. And more importantly, look at that run of drafts from 1994-2000 again, and then remember how many of those players contributed to the Senators’ consistent success from the late 90s to the 2007 Cup run. Now look at the run of drafts from 2008-on, and consider what this team will look like in 2014, 2015, 2016 . . . the difference this decade, though? They remembered to draft a real goalie.
See you at the draft!