State of the Stanley Cup drought: How close are Senators to winning first title?

The Ottawa Senators have never won the Stanley Cup and seem unlikely to do so in 2023-24, but the future is bright for the team.

This is Part 1 of a 10-part series examining the longest Stanley Cup droughts in the NHL, and how close teams are to breaking through for their first championship in decades — or ever.

The Ottawa Senators will enter their 31st season of existence in 2023-24, and the Stanley Cup has yet to make its way to the Canadian capital.

While Ottawa iced teams among the NHL's best at times over the years, the league's greatest honour has proven elusive — and after missing the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, hoisting the Cup isn't exactly top of mind.

In 30 years, the Senators have a middling 1043-1017-115-184 record, and their playoff track record is far from sterling as Ottawa has just 11 series wins in 16 appearances with a postseason record of 72-79.

This team has experienced plenty of ups and downs over the decades, and while there is hope for the long-term future, it looks like an inaugural title will have to wait at least a couple of years.

Here's a look at the state of Ottawa's Stanley Cup drought:

The Senators are set up well for long-term success. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Senators are set up well for long-term success. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

How long has it been?

The Ottawa Senators have never won the Stanley Cup in their 30 seasons as an NHL franchise.

How close have the Senators come?

In a literal sense, the Senators have been three wins away from a title back in 2006-07 when they fell to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final.

They were never particularly close to winning that series as they went down 2-0, won Game 3 and didn't threaten again. Anaheim didn't necessarily dominate, as three of its wins came by a single goal, but the Senators didn't deserve a better fate, either.

Ottawa has only had one Cup Final appearance, but the Senators have put together quite a few teams with legitimate championship aspirations that didn't get as close as expected based on their regular-season success.

Between 1998-99 and 2009-10, the Senators had the fourth-most regular-season points in the NHL (1,105). The team made the playoffs in each of those seasons except one (2008-09) but suffered six first-round exits. In the pre-lockout part of that run, the Senators simply couldn't get past the Toronto Maple Leafs as their inter-province rival ended four of their six trips to the postseason.

Following the lockout, the Pittsburgh Penguins were a massive problem for Ottawa as Sidney Crosby and Co. snuffed out the Sens twice.

The team's most glaring missed opportunity may have come in 2005-06.

Ottawa was led by a trio of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza all at the height of their powers, while a still-effective 41-year-old Dominik Hasek owned the crease. That team had the best goal differential in the NHL (+103), which was 61 better than any other squad in the Eastern Conference.

Unfortunately for Ottawa, Hasek suffered a right adductor injury during the Winter Olympics and never returned to action. Ray Emery took the reins and his .864 save percentage in the second round helped sink Ottawa's chances.

How does Ottawa's championship prognosis look now?

In the immediate term, not great.

The Senators haven't made the playoffs since 2016-17, and last season was the first time they came even remotely close, falling six points shy.

Taking the next step for this team would mean reaching the postseason, not winning it all. There is plenty of young talent in Ottawa, and having a full season of Jakob Chychrun will help, but the Senators don't look like Cup contenders just yet.

One significant issue for the team is goaltending, as Ottawa had the NHL's 20th-best team save percentage last season (.895).

While the Senators believe they've solved that problem by adding Joonas Korpisalo, the big Finn has a career GSAA of -37.9 and he's never played more than 40 games. He looked good last season, but Ottawa made a big bet on his best year being more reflective of his abilities than the rest of his career.

It's too early to know how the gambling on a five-year deal for Korpisalo works out, but it's clear the team shouldn't have let go of Filip Gustavsson, who broke out with the Minnesota Wild last season.

The good news for Ottawa is that this team is clearly on the right trajectory. The Senators have gotten significantly better in two straight seasons and all of their core players are signed through at least 2024-25.

Losing Alex DeBrincat hurts, and the Senators could use some depth scoring, but few teams have as much growth potential over the next few years. Building around a trio of Tim Stützle, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot is a good place to be — especially when that group costs a reasonable $24.55 million per season and all three are signed through 2027-28.

While this team isn't exactly knocking on the door, it's easy to imagine it having a real shot of earning its first-ever title in the next few seasons. Ottawa is not one of the NHL's best teams this second, but has a viable route to becoming one with a promising group of young players and a cap sheet devoid of anchors.

Plenty of teams can say they have a better chance of winning the Cup than Ottawa in 2023-24, but few have a better long-term outlook.