Dominik Hasek is one of the best goaltenders of all time. In fact, there’s a good case you could make for him being the best. Although it’s hard to compare goaltenders from different eras when scoring rates were different, he ranks first all time in career save percentage at .922%, first in goals against average at 2.20 and eighth in wins with 389 (with significantly fewer games played than others). There’s no denying how amazing he was, especially in his early to mid-thirties in Buffalo.
That’s why when the Ottawa Senators signed him to a 1-year deal in 2004 they were extremely excited. Let’s take a look back at the Dominik Hasek signing for Ottawa in this weeks edition of Throwback Thursday.
At the time of the signing he was 39 years old, but he was still a very effective goaltender. He had previously retired after winning the Stanley Cup with Detroit in the 2001-02 season, but came back after just one year not playing. After the 2003-04 season, he wanted to go to a Cup contender, and expressed interest in heading to Ottawa. Although he signed in the summer of 2004, the 2004-05 lockout stopped him from seeing any action in the NHL.
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Despite him having a one year contract, it was still valid for the 2005-06 season. It was a different era for the Senators as they had gotten rid of Patrick Lalime, traded for Dany Heatley, and they wanted to shed the label of a team that always got out early on in the playoffs. Signing Hasek gave them a legitimate number one goalie, and they were a Cup favourite heading into the first season after the lockout.
There were questions about Hasek’s health, and if he could still compete enough as an elite goalie. He was very good in 2001-02 for the Red Wings, helping them win a Stanley Cup. However, over the next two seasons he only played 14 games for Detroit because of his short retirement and an injured groin the following season. In those 14 games he posted a sub-par .907% save percentage, and of course he missed the 2004-05 season due to the lockout.
So he hadn’t had much action over the previous three seasons, and he was already 40 years old at the beginning of the new season for Ottawa. But the Senators had been desperate for a proven goalie, and with their high-octane offense all they needed was someone at least average. However, he was anything but average for Ottawa. He was a revelation, and the Senators were the a serious force to be reckoned with.
There was panic amongst all the fans, as everybody was expecting a worst-case scenario
Playing In Ottawa
Up until the 2006 Olympics in Torino, he was second in the league in save percentage, and the Senators sat first in the Eastern Conference. It looked like Ottawa was in a fantastic spot heading into the playoffs, as they didn’t have many holes as a team. There wasn’t going to be an early playoff exit that year.
Then disaster struck. Just 9 minutes and 25 seconds into team Czech Republic’s first game against Germany in the Olympics, Hasek injured his right adductor muscle. There was panic amongst all the fans, as everybody was expecting a worst-case scenario. At first word got out that he would be out for a while, but ready for the playoffs.
In the meantime, young 23-year-old Ray Emery took the crease for Ottawa and he had enormous pressure on him. Despite posting a not-so-great .902% save percentage in 39 games throughout the season, the Senators still finished 1st in the conference and 2nd in the entire league because of their league-leading 314 goals.
Mar 19, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ray Emery (29) guards his net against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
It was then playoff time, and people were expecting Hasek. He was supposed to be ready, but then day by day the news kept getting worse. Nobody was sure if he was going to come back at all. The man they had specifically signed to take the team over the hump and give them their first ever Cup wasn’t even going to be playing when it mattered most.
In the first round, the Senators played the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they took care of them quite easily in five games. That’s what was expected, and then in round two they faced off against the very talented Buffalo Sabres. It was quite the entertaining series, but after three games they were somehow down 3-0.
They lost an epic game one 7-6 in overtime, game two 2-1, then game three 3-2 in overtime once again. Despite the series being close, they were on the ropes (sound familiar?). At that time, the Senators were desperate. There were rumours that Hasek could make a comeback for game four, but it never happened. They were able to win a close game four, but another overtime loss in game five sealed their fate.
Despite clearly being an elite team throughout the whole season, they were out of the playoffs relatively early once again and they had to go back to the drawing board. Hasek never returned to the Senators after getting injured in the Olympics, and they missed him dearly. Emery did his best, but he had only a .900% save percentage in the playoffs. Safe to say if Hasek was in net, I think the Senators may have beaten the Sabres in the second round.
The 2005-06 season was probably their best shot at winning the Cup
Then after that, who knows? Their conference finals opponents would have been the eventual Cup winning Carolina Hurricanes, but Ottawa had a better lineup on paper. Then in the finals the underdog Edmonton Oilers went on a fantastic run, but I feel like the Senators would have overpowered them.
In the end, the 2005-06 season didn’t work out how the Senators envisioned, as Hasek was not the saviour he was supposed to be. It’s not really his fault, because it was to be expected that a 41-year-old goalie was going to get injured. And even though he only played 43 games, he finished 7th in Vezina voting, and had the leagues best save percentage at .925%.
The Hasek signing was meant to get the team over the hump, and with him healthy during the playoffs. I seriously believe they would have won the Stanley Cup that year. It’s depressing to think about, but that team was just so good. It’s a shame that they ran into some bad luck and lost all four games by one goal to the Sabres. Even though there were other years they went deeper in the playoffs (like the Finals the next year), the 2005-06 season was probably their best shot at winning the Cup.
It was one of the best teams they have ever had, and their path to glory didn’t look too hard compared to other years. Signing Hasek was almost a genius move, but it just wasn’t meant to be.