It’s no secret that the NHL wouldn’t be the league it is without the influx of great American and European players. The history of the Ottawa Senators includes incredible Swedes, a famous Russian and a dashing Slovak with gorgeous hair. But in honor of another Canada Day, it makes sense to look back at some of the most iconic Canadian players who have played in the nation’s capital.
Before anyone gets upset, remember it’s about being iconic, not necessarily the greatest. JG Pageau’s stint with the Senators undoubtedly made him an icon during his tenure. A fourth-round draft pick that cracked the roster, he became a fan favorite in some exciting playoffs. As an Ottawa resident, he was treated to a chant of his last name to the beat of the Montreal Canadiens’ famous “Ole” chants. Surely a treat for a French-speaking child who grew up straddling the provincial border.
Perhaps the highlight of his time with the Senators was Pageau’s four-goal playoff game. Against the New York Rangers in the second set, he came out on top in team tradition, scoring a hat trick, which included the tying goal and the overtime winner. With each goal, the chants grew louder as “Pageau, Pageau, Pageau” echoed throughout the Canadian Tire Centre. Although he may not have the stamina of some of the others on the roster, his time with the team will be remembered.
When it comes to talking about icons in the world of the Senators, you can’t forget the “CASH” line. Dany Heatley was a big part of this line’s scoring pace, as he set, and still holds, the franchise records for single-season goals and single-season points. 18 years later, no other senator has scored 50 goals in a season or reached the century mark in points. Heatley was arguably one of the most effective scorers the team had ever seen.
While it’s true that his time with the team ended in a rather tumultuous fashion, there’s still some truth to the fact that Heatley is a Senators icon. Poor trade requests aside, he played a key role in pushing them to the Eastern Conference Finals, a place they have yet to return. The team’s greatest seasons have involved him, and that really speaks for this list. Beyond the playoffs, he represented the team at the All-Star Game and represented Canada in international play.
Ottawa is a city often overshadowed by its neighbours, Toronto and Montreal, but that doesn’t make it any less of a wonderful place in its own right. Chris Phillips is the Ottawa of defensemen. The “Big Rig” was steady and steady, as it patrolled the blue line with the ever-present threat of monster hits. While he was rarely talked about in the same circles as other defensemen at the time, he was a big deal for the Senators. From his relationship with Curtis Lazar to being the first player to score a Stanley Cup-winning goal for the other team, Phillips is truly an icon.
There are those who regard the abandonment of the jersey as the true mark of a franchise player. As Phillips retired after playing a club-record 1,179 games, the Senators decided no one else should wear number four. There have been many hard-hitting defensemen in the NHL, but not one has played the role of a true Ottawa senator while exuding true “dad” energy like he did. Right now, most fans can overlook the big one-goal mistake against the Anaheim Ducks.
From his first NHL game to the day he retired, Chris Neil has only ever played for the Senators. But to simply say he played would be an understatement, as he took every game as a battle. The people around him weren’t teammates, they were family, and he fought tooth and nail to defend them against any type of foul play imposed by the opposing team. He was the definition of a wrecking ball, a feat ready to leap into any scrap, regardless of injury or size difference. He was simply there to protect his team.
Refusing to back down from a fight, he carried the burden of being the team’s enforcer. However, when Brian McGrattan made the team, Neil had the opportunity to show that he can actually play hockey. Scoring 16 goals during the 2005-06 season, he would even find himself on the power play. But when it was time to move on to his old role, he returned to the fight, sporting the same toothless smile. Few players have given so much to the Senators, and his jersey deserves to have been retired a long time ago.
Obviously, he was going to be number one. Jason Spezza is easily one of the Senators’ most beloved players, so it makes sense that he’s number one on the Canadiens’ roster. The third member of the CASH line has carved out an incredible career. Following his illustrious playing career, he seems destined for a long career in hockey operations. Between his strong game on the ice and his work in the community, he is truly an icon.
Although he ended up visiting a few other teams towards the end, Spezza played a huge role in making hockey exciting and attracting more fans for the Senators. Sure, his playing career ended with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but his biggest impacts were in Ottawa. Fans across the country will never forget his charm, the “Spezza Deke”, or the league’s goofiest laugh.
This is a short list, so it cannot contain all of the great Canadian players who have hit the ice for the Senators. It’s worth mentioning some of the other big names like Wade Redden who appeared in over 800 games for the team and picked up some international gear along the way. Mark Stone was on course to be the team’s best player in recent years, but he was sent off before he could have those big moments. Give him a few more years and Thomas Chabot should join that list if his career follows the current trajectory. Icons aren’t as easy to define as players who are simply “the best” on the ice, so that’s definitely up for debate. Feel free to add more mentions in the comments below!