This time around, we journey back in time to take a look at Ottawa’s first NHL entry. Despite sharing the name Senators with the current NHL club, this franchise had a life (and death) all its own. Even though the current Senators franchise wisely honors the past by hanging the Stanley Cup banners of the old one and was given a fancy certificate of reinstatement, it is not officially considered a continuation of the original Ottawa Senators. A poll and a look back at the most accomplished of the NHL’s lost teams after the jump...
Formed as the Ottawa Hockey Club in 1883 and considered by historians to be one of the greatest teams in the early days of hockey, the Senators began life as an independent amateur club, competing for the first time in the 1884 Montreal Winter Carnival. In 1886, Ottawa HC was a charter member of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, the country's first championship league. In the first AHAC season they lost to the Montreal Victorias in the only challenge they played. A stint of inactivity followed as the team's ice rink was converted to roller rink. The club started playing competitively again with a single exhibition game in 1889 following the building of the Rideau Skating Rink. During the 1889-90 season the team only played two games but this number was soon to increase. In the 1890-91 season Ottawa played fourteen games as a member of three different leagues: the Ottawa City Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey Association and they also rejoined the AHAC. They won the league championships in the OCHL and OHA that season but lost a challenge against AHAC champ Montreal HC. During this time period the team was known as the Generals and sometimes the Capitals. After winning the first three OHA championships, Ottawa HC resigned from that league after a dispute over where the 1894 finals should be played. Ottawa felt the finals should be played at Rideau while the league decided it should be in Toronto. This caused a rift between the city of Ottawa and Ontario which still exists to this day, as the city's minor teams are not members of the OHA but instead belong to the Ottawa District Hockey Association, a descendent of the old City League.
After leaving the OHA, Ottawa focused its attention on AHAC play. The AHAC didn't have a set schedule, instead playing challenges during the season with the winner being declared champion until someone beat them. The club held the "championship" for much of the 1891-92 season before losing their final challenge to Montreal HC. Lord Stanley, often in attendance at Ottawa's games, felt the current format that saw Ottawa lose the championship at the end of the season was unfair as they were clearly the league's best team, losing only once. In the letter announcing his donation of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup (Stanley Cup) he suggested a round robin type format to the regular season which the AHAC adopted the following season. A season opening loss to the Montreal Victorias cost Ottawa dearly, as Montreal HC was awarded the first Stanley Cup by finishing with one more win than Ottawa in the standings. The 1893-94 season saw a four way tie for first place in the AHAC leading to the first Stanley Cup playoffs in history. Quebec City opted not to play, leaving two teams from Montreal and Ottawa to fight it out for the Cup. The two Montreal teams were paired in a semifinal match while by virtue of being the road team, Ottawa HC was given a bye into the finals. Once again Montreal HC got the best of Ottawa, beating them 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup. For the 1896-97 season, the team unveiled the red, black and white barber pole style jersey it would wear for the rest of its existence, except for 1900 and 1901, when they sported a plain jersey with a large ‘O' on the front. In 1898 Ottawa HC, Montreal HC, Montreal Victorias and Quebec City left the AHAC to form the CAHL. In 1901 Ottawa won the CAHL crown, giving the team its first title since leaving the OHA, although they decided not to challenge the Stanley Cup champion Winnipeg Victorias. During this time, the name Senators was first used in association with the club but it would soon become better known as the "Silver Seven."
The "Silver Seven" era of Ottawa HC was from 1903 to 1906, coinciding with the arrival of Frank McGee on the Ottawa roster. Despite the loss of an eye earlier in his amateur career, McGee was coaxed into joining the Senators for the 1903 season. He went on to score 135 goals in 45 games before retiring in 1906. During the 1903 CAHL season, Ottawa and the Montreal Victorias both finished with 6-2 records so a playoff for both the league title and the Stanley Cup was necessary. The first match of the two game - total goals series was played to a 1-1 draw in Montreal. Game Two in Ottawa saw the Senators blitz Montreal 8-0 with McGee scoring three goals to lead the Senators to their first Stanley Cup. Because this was an amateur club, team executive Bob Shillington awarded the team with silver nuggets instead of cash. At the presentation one of the players said "We ought to call ourselves the Silver Seven." and the name caught on. At the time, hockey was played with seven players on each side instead of the six we see today. The club would play in three different leagues and briefly as an independent during the "Silver Seven" era and retain the Cup until March 1906 defeating all challengers including an unlikely opponent from tiny Dawson City in the Yukon. During the second game of the Dawson City challenge, McGee scored an ungodly 14 goals in a 23-2 rout. The streak finally came to an end when Ottawa dropped a two game - total goals series to the Montreal Wanderers 12-10 in an ECAHA playoff series.
A bitter rivalry developed with the Wanderers over the next few years as both teams moved toward professional status. In 1908-09 the ECAHA became a fully professional league, renamed the ECHA, and despite some heavy player turnover, Ottawa managed to win the league and the Stanley Cup that season. A year later the ECHA splintered in two with Ottawa ending up as a founding member of the CHA while the Wanderers ended up in the NHA, the forerunner of the NHL. Fans had little interest in the CHA and Ottawa quickly jumped to the NHA. The NHA welcomed Ottawa, the defending Stanley Cup champions, with open arms and the rivalry with the Wanderers continued. It was during their stint in the NHA that the name Senators finally came to be commonly associated with the club. The Senators were one of the more dominant teams of the NHA, winning the Stanley Cup in 1910 and 1911. As league champions in 1915, they faced the Vancouver Millionaires in the first inter-league Stanley Cup finals but were swept three games to none, with former Ottawa star Cyclone Taylor scoring six goals. The 1916-17 season was the last for the NHA. The Senators finished in first place during the second half of the split season but dropped a playoff series to the Montreal Canadiens who went on to beat Seattle in the Stanley Cup finals. Ottawa gained new ownership after season with Canadiens owner George Kennedy loaning Tommy Gorman the funds to partner with Martin Rosenthal and Ted Dey to purchase the Senators. The new owners would soon back Kennedy's decision to end the NHA, getting rid of troublesome Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingston in the process.
With the NHA now over and done, four of its former teams founded the NHL for the 1917-18 season. A league controlled franchise in Toronto was also added, comprised largely of players from Toronto's old NHA entry. With the Quebec Bulldogs sitting out and it's players dispersed around the league, four teams started play before the Wanderers quickly dropped out, never to return, after a fire burnt down their arena. The Senators lost their first two games in NHL history 7-4 to the Canadiens and 11-4 to Toronto. Their first two wins came against their old rivals, the Wanderers. Despite 36 goals from Cy Denneny, the Senators struggled in the NHL's inaugural season. They placed third in the first half of the season and in second place during the second half, finishing with an overall record of 9-13.
1918-19 saw the Senators blossom over the course of the regular season. After finishing the first half of the split season schedule at 5-5, Ottawa went 7-1 to win the second half, forcing a playoff series with the Canadiens to decide the NHL title. Toronto had suspended operations late in the regular season, cutting two games off the regular season schedule, so the league decided to have the Habs and Senators play off in a best of seven series. Montreal easily handled the Senators by a four games to one count. The subsequent Stanley Cup final between Montreal and Seattle was cancelled due to the spanish influenza epidemic. Cy Denneny and Frank Nighbor each potted 18 goals to pace the Senators during the regular season.
The 1919-20 NHL season saw the Toronto Arenas get new ownership and a new name, the St. Patricks, while the Quebec Bulldogs would finally begin league play. Led by 26 goals from Nighbor and 5 shutouts from Clint Benedict, the Senators won both halves of the now 24 game schedule, finishing with an overall record of 19-5 to win the NHL championship outright. The Senators would meet the Seattle Metropolitans of the PCHA in a best of five series for the Stanley Cup. Ottawa won the first two games before Seattle struck back to even the series. The Senators would win their first Cup as members of the NHL by blasting the Metropolitans 6-1 in game five. Frank Nighbor scored six goals in the series while Jack Darragh added five including the eventual Cup winning tally.
Ottawa opened the 1920-21 campaign with five straight wins to cruise to an 8-2 finish during the first half of the split season schedule, guaranteeing a playoff spot in the O'Brien Cup finals. The team struggled in the second half, going 6-8, at one point dropping seven games in a row. Cy Denneny led the team with 34 goals, including 6 against Hamilton on March 7th 1921, while Nighbor had another fine 18 goal season. The six goal outburst by Denneny in the final game of the regular season, a 12-5 win over the Tigers, sent the team into the playoffs on a high note. In the two game - total goals league finals, Ottawa bested second half champ Toronto by a 7-0 count.The Senators would head west to face the Vancouver Millionaires for the Stanley Cup in a best of five series. The Millionaires took the opener 2-1 before Ottawa won games two and three. Vancouver denied the Senators in game four by a 3-2 score to set up a decisive game five. Jack Darragh scored both goals for Ottawa in a 2-1 win, giving the Senators their second Stanley Cup in a row.
The NHL did away with the split season schedule for 1921-22. The new format saw the first place overall finisher gain an automatic berth in the O'Brien Cup finals while the second and third place teams would meet in a semifinal series. On the strength of a career year from Punch Broadbent, who scored 32 goals, Ottawa finished in first place with a 14-8-2 record. Unfortunately, a four game losing streak to end the regular season was a sign of things to come. Toronto would hold on in a scoreless game two to win the two game - total goals final series by a 5-4 count, ending Ottawa's two year run as champions.
The Senators returned to championship form during the 1922-23 season. Ottawa once again finished in first overall, this time with a 14-9-1 record. Cy Denneny would again break the twenty goal mark and defenseman Buck Boucher added 23 points. In the O'Brien Cup finals Ottawa would meet the second place Canadiens and edge them out 3-2 on total goals. Having regained the NHL crown, the team headed west to face the PCHA winning Vancouver Maroons in a best of five Stanley Cup semifinal series. Despite facing some injury problems, the Senators took the series in four games. The Stanley Cup finals would be a best of three affair against the champions of the WCHL, the Edmonton Eskimos. Cy Denneny scored early in overtime of game one for a 2-1 victory and the Senators would take the series and the Cup after Clint Benedict posted a 1-0 shutout in game two with Punch Broadbent getting the winning goal in the first period.
Prior to the 1923-24 season the Senators moved into the new Ottawa Auditorium. The team posted an impressive 16-8 record in the regular season, once again making the league finals. Frank Nighbor would be the first ever Hart Trophy winner and Cy Denneny contributed 22 goals to lead the team. The Senators would meet the Canadiens in the finals for the league crown but would fall 5-2 on total goals. Montreal would go on to win the Stanley Cup over the Calgary Tigers.
The NHL added the Montreal Maroons and Boston Bruins for the 1924-25 campaign and the schedule was increased to 30 games. The Senators would slip to a fourth place finish with a 17-12-1 record and just miss the playoffs despite a four game winning streak to close the season. Cy Denneny would have a spectacular 42 point season while rookie Hooley Smith would contribute 10 goals and 23 points. Rookie Alec Connell replaced Clint Benedict as the team's goaltender and posted a very promising seven shutouts.
The 1925-26 season saw the NHL add the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Americans while the Hamilton Tigers franchise was revoked. The now seven team circuit would play 36 regular season games. The Senators got off to an amazing 17-2-1 start and were able to cruise the rest of the way to finish on top of the league standings with a 24-8-4 record. Cy Denneny would again lead the team in scoring while Connell posted an astounding fifteen shutouts. In the league finals, the second place Maroons would shock the Senators 2-1 on total goals. Former Ottawa goaltender Clint Benedict, who had come out of retirement to join the Maroons, held the Senators at bay and Montreal would go on to win their first Stanley Cup over the Victoria Cougars.
The NHL grew to ten teams for the 1926-27 season, adding the Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Cougars and New York Rangers. The league split into two divisions and the season was expanded to 44 games. With the demise of the western pro leagues, the Stanley Cup was now to be contested for by only NHL teams.The Senators started the season red hot again, going 9-0-1 before falling 5-0 to the Detroit Cougars. The team finished in first place in the new Canadian Division with a 30-10-4 record. Connell would follow up his fifteen shutout performance from the prior season with thirteen more and a sparkling GAA of 1.49. The Senators defeated the Canadiens in the playoffs by 5-1 total goals count. They met the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals in what was supposed to be a best of three series, winning two games to none although there were also two tie games played. Cy Denneny and Frank Finnigan were the offensive catalysts and Connell posted a miniscule 0.60 GAA in six playoff games. The Senators had now amassed four Stanley Cup wins since 1920.
Despite being Stanley Cup champions, the financial strains of playing in the league smallest market were beginning to take a toll on the team. During the 1927-28 season they played two home games in Detroit to try to increase revenues and sold promising forward Hooley Smith to the Maroons. These moves allowed the team to turn a small profit for the season after losing money the previous year. Frank Finnigan took over as the offensive leader with twenty goals, King Clancy anchored the defense and Connell produced another amazing fifteen shutout season. The Senators dropped to third place with a 20-14-10 record but did qualify for the playoffs. In a two game - total goals series they were eliminated 3-1 by the Montreal Maroons
The Senators again played two homes in Detroit during the 1928-29 season and moved Punch Broadbent to the New York Americans for cash. Rumors swirled that the team would be sold to a group in Chicago. Owner Frank Ahearn denied the team was going to the Windy City but confirmed that it was indeed for sale to the highest bidder. The Senators offense sputtered during the season with only Finnigan and Clancy breaking the ten goal mark. The team fell to fourth place in the Canadian Division despite some sublime goaltending from Alec Connell.
The financial difficulties continued in 1929-30 forcing the Senators to play five home games in three different U.S. cities. The team moved up in the standings, finishing third with a 21-15-8 record. Hec Kilrea lead the way offensively with 58 points, Clancy added 40 points from the blue line and Connell again shined between the pipes. The Senators met the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs and were bounced 6-3 on total goals. This would be the final playoff appearance for the franchise.
The 1930-31 campaign was a sad one for Ottawa. Prior to the season the team traded superstar defenseman King Clancy to Toronto for two players and a huge cash sum. The team continued to draw poorly, lose money and failed to make the playoffs. They finished in the basement of the Canadian Division with a record of 10-30-4. Art Gagne and Bill Touhey led the offense with 30 points apiece while Connell saw his GAA rise to 3.01. Along with the Philadelphia Quakers, the franchise suspended operations for the 1931-32 season, loaning out its roster for $25,000. During the suspension the Senators came close to moving to Toronto to share Maple Leaf Gardens with the Maple Leafs.
The Senators returned in 1932-33 with former player Cy Denneny assuming the coaching reins. Players on loan came back to Ottawa and they also added former Bruin star Cooney Weiland who would lead the team in scoring with 27 points. Unfortunately, the year off did little for the Senators as they finished in the division cellar with an 11-27-10 record.The team got off to a decent 7-7-3 start but an injury to Connell sent the team on a woeful 4-20-7 run to close out the season.
The Senators would start the 1933-34 season with wins at home over both of the Montreal teams followed by the first of two seven game losing streaks. They bounced back with a four game unbeaten streak and continue to tread water until the second half of the season when the bottom completely fell out. Ottawa went 6-16-2 to close out the season, again finishing dead last in the Canadian Division with an overall record of 13-29-6. Bill Beveridge would do a mediocre job replacing Alec Connell as the Senators starting goaltender and Earl Roche would lead the team in scoring. Earl's brother Dessie would score the last goal for the original Senators in a season ending 2-2 tie on the road versus the Montreal Maroons.
The pressures of playing in the NHL's smallest market coupled with the effects of the Great Depression finally conspired to do in the Senators. Another contributing factor to their demise was the lack of interest shown by Ottawa fans for home games involving the American based expansion teams that the NHL added during the 1920s. In a foreshadowing of the future relocation's of the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques, the original Senators left Canada for a much larger American market to become the St. Louis Eagles. The NHL would return to Canada's capital city 58 years later with the awarding of a new expansion franchise who would rightly revive the Senators name.
NHL Seasons: Sixteen
Stanley Cups: Eleven (pre NHL: 1903-1904-1905-1906-1909-1910-1911 / NHL: 1920-1921-1923-1927)
Notable Players: Frank McGee, Cy Denneny, Frank Nighbor, King Clancy, Cyclone Taylor, Alec Connell, Clint Benedict, Punch Broadbent