Picking the best of the best

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:45 PM ET

OTTAWA - It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Neil Brady scored the first goal in Senators history on Oct. 8, 1992.

There have been so many late nights at the rink, late flights to cities across North America and way too many highlights to count, but as the Senators celebrate their 20th anniversary season, it’s a good time to pick the best of the best to pull on an Ottawa jersey.

Not everybody is going to agree with my choices. I found that out right away when I ran them by former Senators blueliner Jason York (who made my second team) because he gave me an argument for pretty much every player I picked. And, no, York didn’t argue he should be on the first team.

The most controversial decision was to select Alexei Yashin at centre. For five years, York sat beside Yashin in the room.

“I thought he was a good guy and a really good person off the ice,” said York. “He was what he was: A very talented guy and I just don’t think he was able to lift his game at playoff time.

“I also truly believe that Yashin was giving it everything he had in those playoff series or everything that he felt he had. Some guys take it to a different level at playoff time and maybe he wasn’t wired that way.”

Yashin is the only player in the club’s history nominated for a Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.

“He took over from Randy Cunneyworth as captain and he was the captain of the franchise when this team turned the corner,” York admitted.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson has never worn another NHL uniform, has been almost a point-a-game player and is, without question, the face of the franchise. But even Alfredsson has had a rocky road here at times.

“The guy has shown great resilience. He was nearly run out of town (in 2006) when they lost (to the Sabres) in the second round and the winning goal was (shorthanded) while he was on the ice. People wanted to get rid of Alfie,” noted York.

“All of a sudden, he fights back and now if anybody even talked that way in Ottawa, they’d be looked at sideways. He’s one of those guys who has had to battle his whole life.

“He was never a guy who it came easily for to get to the NHL.”

There were tough calls on left wing and defence. But there was no debate about the goalie. Nobody was close to Patrick Lalime.

Here are selections when asked to ice an all-time Senators team. Go ahead and debate.

C Alexei Yashin: A controversial selection, but it’s hard to argue with his productivity: 218 goals and 273 assists in only 504 games. He had 44 goals and 50 assists in 1998-99 — his last season wearing a Senators jersey — and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Had it not been for contract disputes, the early playoff exit in four games in his final season and looking disinterested some nights, he could have been a long-lasting fan favourite.

RW Daniel Alfredsson: Was there really any other choice at this position? The best player in franchise history, he’ll be the first to have his number retired. The 38-year-old has never played for anybody else in his career and played a key role in the trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. He’s suited up for 1,056 games and has almost been a point-a-game player. A strong contributor on and off the ice in the community.

LW Shawn McEachern: This one was tough and is not based on numbers alone — otherwise, it would be Dany Heatley. A Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins in 1992, McEachern came to Ottawa in tough times and helped to push this club into its first playoff berth in 1997. He had good chemistry with Yashin and was only sent packing in July 2002 to Atlanta because the club could no longer afford his salary.

D Zdeno Chara: The decision to let him go in June, 2006 and keep Wade Redden changed the franchise. Yes, the club made the Cup final, but losing the 6-foot-9 Chara in the back end was a huge blow. He kept the front of the net clean, was used by coach Jacques Martin on the power play and made it a lot more difficult for the opposition. It was a huge blow to lose him and the Senators are still trying to recover.

D Chris Phillips: The club’s No. 1 pick in 1996 has been there through thick and thin for Ottawa. He has never wowed anybody with his offensive skills, but has played a key shutdown role. Phillips is a stay-at-home blueliner who has had chances to leave as a UFA and has remained in Ottawa. He’ll be part of the rebuild and that means his role isn’t going to change. He’s an alternate captain for a reason.

G Patrick Lalime: It was unfair the way his career ended — sitting on the bench in an ugly Game 7 loss to the Maple Leafs in 2004 in what would be Martin’s final game with the Senators. Goaltending has always been an issue in Ottawa, but Lalime’s numbers were better than most others. He finished with 146 regular-season victories in 283 games — with 30 shutouts. He was great at times.

GM Marshall Johnston: He spent three years in the club’s front office after Rick Dudley walked away in 1991. Not only was he top scout for the Senators before taking the post, he made the best trade in Senators’ history in 2001, dealing Alexei Yashin to the N.Y. Islanders in exchange for D Zdeno Chara, RW Bill Muckalt and the No. 2 pick used to select C Jason Spezza. Johnston left his mark before walking away in 2002.

Coach Jacques Martin: He stood behind the bench in his hometown for eight years. He took over the job after a disastrous stay by Dave Allison in January, 1996 and stayed until a playoff meltdown in 2004. Martin got the players to buy into his system, he commanded respect and got the most out of his horses. He got fired because the Senators needed to find another voice who was going to get them over the top.

SECOND TEAM

GM PIERRE GAUTHIER: His lack of personality and horrible trades aside, he did hire Jacques Martin. Tough choice.

COACH BRYAN MURRAY: He was the right voice at the right time to get this team to the Cup final.

LW DANY HEATLEY: His two 50-goal seasons can’t be ignored. His ugly departure after signing a new deal ruined his stay.

C MIKE FISHER: He is gone, but won’t be forgotten. Worked hard at both ends and another big player in the community.

RW MARIAN HOSSA: The decision to deal him for Heatley in 2005 ended up being a huge mistake.

D WADE REDDEN: His play fell off measurably, but was a key component in Senators’ success.

D JASON YORK: Played here for five years, helped bring the team through its infancy and was Redden’s partner.

G RAY EMERY: Not only did he sell a lot of newspapers, he piled up wins and helped the club get to the Cup final.


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