Since the modern-day Ottawa Senators returned to the NHL in 1992, they have not typically been very active in free agency. The majority of their signings have gone under the radar. While the Sens have never really landed a superstar in free agency (with one exception), they have made several low-key acquisitions that greatly benefited the team. Here are three underrated Sens free-agent acquisitions.
Andrew Hammond (undrafted free agent March 2013), Dominik Hašek (unrestricted free agent [UFA] July 2004), Joe Corvo (UFA July 2006), Joe Juneau (UFA October 1999)
When the Senators signed free-agent winger Clarke MacArthur to a two-year, $6.5 million contract on July 5, 2013, no one assumed that he’d make the impact he did. He was coming off a very productive three-season stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he scored 125 points over 195 games, including a career-high 62 points in the 2010-11 season. Even though he was a talented player, he was on a downward trend when he arrived. His points per game average was in a free fall and Toronto declined to re-sign him. The Senators had also lost long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson that offseason and had acquired young Anaheim Ducks star Bobby Ryan via trade. So, MacArthur’s deal flew under the radar.
In his first season in Ottawa, MacArthur’s play turned heads. In a year where the Senators took a significant step back in their defensive play, and in the standings, he stood out. He finished fourth in team scoring with 55 points and had his best season since his breakout year in Toronto. Going into the final season of his two-year contract, he intended to gain an extension, and he got it. On Aug. 19, 2014, the Senators signed him to a massive 5-year, $23.25 million contract, ensuring that he’d be in the Canadian capital for a while. Meanwhile, in the final year of his original contract, he took a step back but was once again productive.
Although his extension kicked in the next season, he was only able to play eight regular-season games over the next two years before he retired. He had suffered a series of concussions, including one from his own teammate Patrick Sieloff in a training camp scrimmage. He did manage to return for the 2016-17 run to the Eastern Conference Final, scoring nine points in 19 games, including an emotional series-clinching goal in the first round against the Boston Bruins.
Despite the tragic injuries, MacArthur was a great pickup for his first two seasons in Ottawa. He remains one of the franchise’s better UFA signings.
When the Senators signed Todd White to a contract on July 12, 2000, they really had no idea what they were getting. With only 49 games played and 15 points under his belt, he joined the Senators as a likely depth piece. He was much more than that and was a key contributor to several great teams.
In his first campaign in Ottawa, he skated in 16 games while recording five points, but played well enough to earn a spot on the big club in 2001-02, where he enjoyed a massive breakout season. He played in all but one game that year, scoring 20 goals and 30 assists. However, the best was yet to come as he took that confidence into the next season. His 60 points in 2002-03 were his career best, alongside his 25 goals and 35 assists, helping the Senators gain 113 points and the Presidents’ Trophy. The 2003-04 season saw a regression in his play due to an injury, but was still valuable to the team.
After the 2004-05 season was canceled due to the lockout, White’s contract became expendable. He was traded to the Minnesota Wild before the season began. In his four years in Ottawa, he suited up for 230 games and had 144 points. The Senators took a chance on him, and he paid back that chance in full.
Free-agent goalies can be a hit or miss venture. They often are overpaid based on their past performance and are a risk to be a strain on a team’s pocketbook. Sometimes taking a chance on a goalie works out, and Ron Tuggnut is a great example of that. Before joining the Senators in 1996, he had played for four different franchises. With the exception of his 70-save game for the Quebec Nordiques, he was far below the expected play of an NHL goalie. When he joined the Senators, something clicked, and he turned his career around.
Beginning his time in Ottawa as a backup to starter Damian Rhodes, Tugnutt had one of the best seasons of his career while starting 37 games. He and Rhodes formed the backbone of the 1996-97 team, which secured the franchise’s first playoff birth. Tugnutt and Rhodes moved into a 1A/1B situation in 1997-98, and Tugnutt had another great season. He posted a save percentage (SV%) over .900 for the first time since 1994, and had the best goals against average (GAA) of his career. The Senators returned to the playoffs and upset the New Jersey Devils for their first series victory.
The 1998-99 season for Tugnutt was his magnum opus. He produced one of the greatest single seasons in modern NHL history. In his 43 games, he went 22-10-8 and set a then-record for lowest GAA in league history with a 1.79. He recorded a career-best SV% at .925, and led the Sens to a then-franchise-best 103 points that season.
Related: Do You Know Your NHL Goalie Trivia?
Rhodes was traded in the summer of ’99, and Tugnutt became the number one in the net. Unfortunately, he couldn’t maintain his pace and was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the season. After three-plus seasons in Ottawa, he held a record of 72-51-25, with a .906 SV%. Tugnutt was a fantastic springboard goalie to bring the Senators from expansion franchise to contender, and one of the best goalies the team has acquired from the open market.
Free agency is usually defined by the amount of money spent on July 1 every year. The winners of free agency are usually not ranked by how much they spend, but how they spend it. Star players are found year to year on the open market, but the gems are hidden in the rough. The three players listed were risks but paid off significantly. Very productive players often join teams in moves that are not hyped up, and the Sens are no strangers to that.
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