On December 6th, 1990, two franchises were born, and they will be linked together and compared to one another for the rest of their existences. The above photo of Bruce Firestone (L, Ottawa Group), John Ziegler (C, NHL President), and Phil Esposito (R, Tampa Group) is forever ingrained in those who are old enough to have been around to remember that tremendous day in Ottawa hockey history.
The Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning entered the NHL in the same season, 1992-93. They two clubs went about building their teams in completely different ways. Tampa, who needed to establish themselves, went with veterans who could make them competitive as soon as possible, in order to create a fan base in a previously untapped Florida market. Ottawa, on the other hand, decided to put a long-term plan into place, fully realizing that this would result in short term pain for long term gain. They had the leeway to go this way because the market of hockey starved fans would sit through the bad times, as long as they saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
The strategies paid off for both, as Ottawa’s dismal finishes created some high draft picks and a solid core, but the build was long and slow. Tampa had 13 more wins than the Senators in that first season, but failed to make the playoffs until their fourth season, where they fell to the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games. The Lightning missed the playoff for the next 6 seasons before making it 4 years in a row, followed by missing 3 in a row. Now they are on the verge of possibly advancing to their 2nd Stanley Cup Final in 7 years.
Ottawa suffered through 4 absolutely abysmal seasons before finally breaking into the post-season, suffering a heartbreaking round one loss to the Buffalo Sabres. It was the start of 11 straight playoff appearances that culminated in advancing to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. They lost that final to the Ducks, and they haven’t been the same team since.
Compare the records of the clubs since they came into the league (from Hockey-Reference.com):
|GP||W||L||T||OL||PTS||Playoff Years||Conf Chmps||Stanley Cups|
So you can see that Ottawa has been the more successful of the expansion cousins in terms of regular season and playoff success (in terms of qualifying for the playoffs). Ottawa has made the playoffs on average 2 of every 3 season, while Tampa only 1 in 3. However Tampa has the one thing that Ottawa does not, and it covets more than anything – A Stanley Cup. If they were to win another one this year, to make 2 championships in 18 seasons, would it mean that their plan has been better than Ottawa’s all along?
The fact is, that the fan reaction to Ottawa’s lack of success over the last 3 years has shown that mediocrity is not accepted from the team. Playoff appearances are expected, and the playoff disappointments have been lamented over and forgiven if not entirely forgotten. So the question I ask you is….
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