Heatley in Ottawa on Dec. 2

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:29 PM ET

If the Scotiabank Place boobirds find themselves in need of a target next season, they might want to circle Dec. 2 on their calendars.

Unless he comes down with a mysterious 24-hour flu, that’s when Dany Heatley makes his first trip back to Ottawa as a San Jose Shark since his trade demands were finally met by the Senators last summer.

“That will be a popular game,” team president Cyril Leeder said with a grin after the 2010-11 schedule was released Tuesday.

The Senators, who open the season at home against the Buffalo Sabres Oct. 8, believe they have plenty of reason to smile. Especially pleasing to Leeder is the fact that a better “balance” has them playing 22 times at home by the 41-game halfway mark.

Last season, they had 24 at Scotiabank Place by the mid-point — and two five-game homestands before Jan. 9.

“That, in our view, was probably the most difficult part in selling tickets last year,” said Leeder. “Just the way the schedule was laid out, and the imbalance of games ... long runs (at home) early in the year. We don’t have that this year. We like the schedule and we certainly like the balance.”

To create the balance, the Senators will be straying from norm with only nine Saturday night home games and seven Friday home dates —  the latter putting them in conflict with the 67’s traditional home nights. They also play at Scotiabank Place eight Thursdays, eight Tuesdays and four Wednesdays, three Mondays and two Sundays.

Leeder says the swing to Friday home games is a function of the way the league is now making the schedule.

“We used to give them so many dates, and they picked the schedule from those dates,” he said. “Now, we have to give them the entire calendar, and they lay the schedule out with all the available dates. We have more non-traditional days, like Fridays and a few more Mondays, but the consequence of that is you get a better balance, that you don’t have as many games jammed into a single period of time. I think we can co-exist (with the 67’s) pretty well in the market with seven home games.”

“I know for years the Senators have gone out of their way to avoid any conflicts with us, and that’s been great,” said 67’s owner Jeff Hunt. “I guess this year they weren’t able to do that, but we’ll be fine.”

The Senators only had 12 sellouts last season, while averaging 18,270 fans per home game.

Leeder said the team is already enjoying its best renewal rate, with 90% of last season’s package holders signed up. With the schedule out 3-4 weeks earlier than normal, Leeder expects the numbers to be boosted and hopes to have 10,000 season ticket holders by the start of the season.

Other notables on the 2010-11 season schedule include:

Along with their six games against each Northeast Division rival and four games against other Eastern Conference opponents, the Senators have home-and-away series with each of the Canadian teams in the Northwest Division (Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) and only play one game, on the road, against Colorado and Vancouver. All Pacific Division teams (San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Dallas and Anaheim) will visit Ottawa. The Senators will be on the road to play the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks Jan. 7, plus travel to meet the other Central Division clubs (St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus) with the exception of the Detroit Red Wings, who will visit Ottawa Feb. 2.

The Senators play back-to-back games 15 times. Last year, they played back-to-back 11 times, compiling a 14-8 record, including a 9-2 mark in second games.

The team’s busiest month at home is December, with eight of its 14 games at Scotiabank Place.

The Senators play their first game in Pittsburgh’s new arena — the Consol Energy Center — Oct. 18.

Ottawa hosts Pittsburgh on Boxing Day and Toronto on New Year’s Day.

The Senators play three of their last four games at home, with the season finale in Boston April 9.


Videos

Photos