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The Ones That Got Away: Former Senators Keeping Stanley Cup Dreams Alive

When their team is eliminated, most Ottawa Senators fans don’t just stop watching hockey. After all, the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs was outstanding, with five of the eight series going to a Game 7. The trick is finding a reason to cheer for certain teams or players. Or a reason to cheer against them (Oh. Hi, Toronto).

So, with the Senators disenfranchised from all the playoff fun once again, rooting for players who once wore the Senators’ crest is as good a game plan as any. Today, we look at five such cases, who all kept their Stanley Cup dreams alive in round one.

 

Nick Paul

This time last year, Nick Paul was scoring World Championship winning goals for Team Canada. This year, he’s scoring Game 7 winners for the defending Stanley Cup champs.

Like the slogan says: Nicky Paul does it all.

At the trade deadline this year, the Senators dealt Paul to Tampa. Two months later, wearing the jersey of a division rival, he’s still finding ways to make a lot of Senator fans happy. With an injury to Brayden Point and something nagging Nikita Kucherov, Tampa needed secondary scoring in a big way. Paul stepped up and scored both goals in Tampa’s 2-1 Game 7 victory in Toronto Saturday night.

 

Paul is about to become an unrestricted free agent and was initially expected to be strictly a rental for Tampa in the playoffs. But he may be forcing the cap-strapped Lightning to find a way to re-sign him. Paul was brought in to play the kind of heavy hockey meant for the playoffs and he’s done that. He’s fit in with the group, been a good third line centre, a key penalty-killer and a member of the second unit power play.

Sounds like a guy any team would try and keep around.

Disappointing as it was to see him leave, the Senators did very well in acquiring Mathieu Joseph in return. Joseph was a point-per-game player who thrived in every situation. If Tampa can’t get something done with Paul this summer, you’d hope the Senators would at least kick the tires on welcoming him back.

 

Mika Zibanejad

Like Paul, Mika Zibanejad was also a Game 7 hero. With the Rangers trailing 3-2 to Pittsburgh Sunday night – their season slipping away with under 6 minutes to go in the third period – Zibanejad took a pass in the high slot and absolutely wired one top shelf to tie the game. The tall Swede then called it a night with an assist on Artemi Panarin’s game and series-winning overtime goal.

 

Zibanejad now stands tied for third in NHL playoff scoring with 11 points.

Ottawa chose Zibanejad 6th overall in the 2011 NHL draft. After three and half seasons with the Sens, they traded him in 2016 to the Rangers, along with a second round for Derick Brassard and a 7th rounder. Zibanejad had his moments here but the compete level just didn’t seem to be there on a nightly basis.

It’s turned out to be a terrible trade, possibly the worst in franchise history. Brassard was good for the Sens in the 2017 playoffs, but failed to crack 40 points in either of his two seasons here. The Sens later mitigated the stench of that deal with a trade to Pittsburgh that turned Brassard into Filip Gustavsson, Jacob Bernard-Docker and an asset that helped them draft Mads Sogaard. But the fact remains, they dealt away a player who would emerge as a true number one centre in the league.

 

Cody Ceci and Erik Gudbranson

You can probably count on one hand the number of players currently active on an NHL roster who was both born and raised in Ottawa. Ceci and Gudbranson are two such players and, as such, easy for Ottawa fans to root for.

Ceci was yet another former Senator who stepped up as a Game 7 hero, scoring the winning goal for the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night in a 2-0 win over the LA Kings. Ceci had scored only 10 goals combined over the past three seasons with Toronto, Pittsburgh and Edmonton. But for a moment, he turned back the clock to his high scoring junior days with the Ottawa 67s. Ceci stepped up from the point to be a passing option and ripped one top corner past Jonathan Quick.

 

That gave the Oilers a 1-0 second period lead they would nurse the rest of the way.

In 5 and a half seasons with the Senators, Ceci always seemed like a tweener. He wasn’t a defensive shutdown guy and never quite found his offensive footing with the Senators who drafted him 15th overall in 2012.

The Sens didn’t give up on Ceci so much as they found a trade that made a ton of sense. He was traded to Toronto in 2019, along with Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 third-round draft pick in exchange for Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Michael Carcone. Zaitsev’s game has been comparable to Ceci’s, but the addition of Brown has been an absolute boon for the Sens.

 

As for Gudbranson, his time with Ottawa was short-lived, lasting less than one season last year. With the Sens wanting to see younger players, they traded Gudbranson to Nashville to finish out the year. The big blueliner had a long wait in free agency last summer, finally signing a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames in September.

It’s been an excellent match. Gudbranson played in a career high 78 games and the Flames had a fantastic season, allowing the third fewest goals in the league. In Game 7 Sunday in Calgary, Gudbranson logged over 25 minutes of ice time in the Flames’ 3-2 overtime win over Dallas.

 

Anthony Duclair

From the “Ex-Senators Club,” Duclair may have the best chance at a Stanley Cup ring. But the Florida Panther winger can’t be particularly happy with his individual circumstances. On April 13th, Duclair scored his 30th goal of the season, reaching that plateau for the first time in his career. A month later, on a Friday the 13th, Duclair’s good fortune ran out.

The Panthers made him a healthy scratch in their Game 6 series clincher vs Washington. Duclair had just 2 assists in the first 5 games of the playoffs. His exclusion may simply be a one-time wake up call, but it’s a reminder of the inconsistency that’s dogged Duclair through his career. One cannot ignore that, at age 26, he’s already played for 6 NHL teams. 

He seemed to find his stride in Ottawa with 31 goals in 87 games here. But in 2019-20, he went very cold after a hot start. After that, the two sides couldn’t work out a deal that summer. Sens fans scratched their heads when the RFA wasn’t even re-signed to maintain the asset and then later inked a reasonable 3-year deal worth $9 million in Florida.

So, as the road to the Stanley Cup continues, if you enjoy cheering for the players who once wore the centurion, you still have several good, likeable options out there.

 

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