This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
When the NHL decided to expand from 21 to 24 teams, few thought the city of Ottawa had a chance of landing an expansion franchise. The arena at the time, the Ottawa Civic Centre, was deemed to small by most, and plans for a new arena still had a few years to develop.
So it was a surprise to many, when NHL president John Ziegler awarded an expansion franchise to the Canadian Capital in 1990 to begin play in the 1992-93 season, along with Tampa Bay. Many thought Hamilton would be the next Canadian city with an NHL team, but because of territorial rights owned by Toronto and Buffalo, the Steel City was shunned by the expansion committee. (San Jose was awarded a franchise and began play the previous season).
The team in Ottawa would be known as the Senators, taking their name from the franchise that won 11 Stanley Cups between 1903 and 1927. Funny thing is, they played like a team that was stuck in 1927.
Things got off to a rocky start, when the Senators changed logos before the team even stepped on the ice. The old logo looked staid and boring. So ownership decided on a new logo that looked like an advertisement for Trojan condoms! It was somewhat appropriate as fans needed protection from watching this team dangle on the ice!
The Senators were left with the runt of the litter, so to speak during the expansion draft. With little to choose from, other than cast-offs and ne’er do wells from other teams, the Senators decided they would build for the future. Owner Bruce Firestone and general manager Mel Bridgman knew they would be in tough in their first season, but little did they know that winning in the NHL is much more difficult than campaigning for a senate seat.
The first game of the new Ottawa Senators would be the highlight of the season. Playing in front of a capacity crowd at the tiny Ottawa Civic Centre, the Senators recorded a 5-3 upset victory, over the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. It was all downhill after that.
The Senators finished with a horrendous record of 10-70-4 for a grand total of 24 points. Even the poorest bantam team could get 24 points in a season. The Senators had the fewest goals for, finding the back of the net 202 times, for an average of 2.4 goals per game. This group of Senators couldn’t find the back of the net with Google Maps! Only two players, Sylvain Turgeon and Bob Kudelski topped the 20 goal mark. Turgeon led the team with 25 goals, while Kudelski, who came over in a trade with Los Angeles notched 21 goals.
The leading point getter for the Sens was defenceman Norm MacIver, whose 63 points led the club. MacIver was one of the few bright spots, on an otherwise dismal roster. The Sens had to rely on either has-beens such as Laurie Boschman, Andrew McBain, Doug Smail and Jeff Lazaro. Or never will-bes, such as Neil Brady, Jody Hull, Tomas Jelinek and Darcy Loewen. If you know the whereabouts of any of these former Senators, you are either close family members, or you’re a die-hard Senators fan with way too much time on your hands.
Defensively, the Senators weren’t much better. The Senators gave up 395 goals, for an average of 4.7 goals per game. To no one’s surprise, goaltending was a major issue in Ottawa.
Peter Sidorkiewicz appeared in 64 games for Ottawa between the pipes. That’s a problem in itself. If Peter Sidorkiewicz is your number one goalie, you’re going to have problems keeping pucks out of your own net. The former Hartford Whalers netminder accumulated a laughable record of 8-46-3 with a 4.43 goals against average and a .856 save percentage. The only thing that opponents had difficulty with Sidorkiewicz, was how to spell his last name. Scoring goals on him was rather simple.
Daniel Berthiuame appeared in 25 games for Ottawa, registering a paltry record of 2-17-1 with a 4.30 goals against average and a .871 save percentage. The only “The Bandit” stole was money from the Senators organization, as paying him to be a goalie was a crime for Ottawa fans.
Steve Weeks was another veteran cast-off goalie Ottawa used in 1992-93. The former New York Rangers keeper recorded a 0-5 record with a 7.23 average and a .792 save percentage. Weeks was definitely weak in the net and he mercifully retired at the end of the season.
The defence core wasn’t any better than the forwards. MacIver did contribute offensively, but was prone to making errors in his own end. Veteran Brad Marsh was asked to bring stability to the blue line, but the lack of depth made the Senators less stable than a government raising taxes during a recession. The likes of Gord Dineen, Darren Rumble and Jim Kyte all were better suited to being pylons than NHL defencemen. But no one struggled more than Chris Luongo.
The 25-year-old Detroit native, (and not related to Roberto Luongo) came over from the Red Wings in the expansion draft. Some in the Senators organization were hoping that Luongo could be a future piece on the Senators defence. Not a chance. He provided little offence, 3 goals and 9 assists in 76 games. However, his defensive play was even worse. Despite not even seeing many minutes, Luongo’s plus-minus rating was a frigid -47. While polar bears don’t mind that number, it doesn’t bode well for defencemen, who want to keep playing professional hockey.
The Senators had many long nights in their first season, but no night was longer than October 30, in Buffalo. The Sabres were loaded with offensive talent, such as Dale Hawerchuk, Alexander Mogilny and Pat LaFontaine. The Sens were no match for the Sabres that night, as Buffalo pounded the hapless Sens 12-3. Even noted tough guy Rob Ray scored for Buffalo that night. It was that bad for the Sens.
The Senators did make the record books that season, all in the name of futility. Ottawa broke a record for the longest home losing streak, dropping 11 straight at the friendly confines of the Civic Centre. The Sens weren’t road warriors either. Ottawa lost 38 straight games away from home. The Senators were worse on the road than a 1979 Pontiac Acadian. The Senators also tied the record for fewest road wins in a season, recording a single solitary win as the visitors. (Their only away win was a 5-3 triumph over the New York Islanders.)
When a season this bad happens, there are bound to be casualties. The first Senator to be impeached was GM Mel Bridgman, whose 5 year vision, only lasted one season as he was replaced by Randy Sexton. Head coach Rick Bowness, survived the offseason purge, and remained the incumbent behind the bench. Firestone didn’t own the team for much longer either, as he sold his majority ownership to Rod Bryden in late 1993.
The Senators woes continued for the next several seasons. In the 1993 entry draft, the Senators had the first overall pick, which they uses to select Alexandre Daigle. A high-scoring star in junior, Daigle turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NHL history. In fact, no player that Ottawa selected in the 1993 draft, became a regular in the NHL. Things would get better in future years. Alexei Yashin, the team’s first ever draft pick, finally came over from Russia, and developed into a star. The Sens also started to draft better as well. In 1994, Radek Bonk and Daniel Alfredsson were selected by Ottawa. Alfredsson in particular was an outstanding pick, as Ottawa plucked him in the 6th round. With the likes of Chris Phillips and Marian Hossa being drafted, Ottawa had developed a solid young nucleus to build around. The Senators did finish last overall for 4 consecutive seasons, before finally breaking through in the 1996-97 season, in which they qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Still, the 1992-93 Senators proved to be just as worthless as the Senators who sit in Parliament Hill every day. That’s quite an accomplishment no one wants to hear.
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