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Sports fans love to reminisce over the days that it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
Ottawa Sun reporter Bruce Garrioch faced a conundrum when we asked him to list the most heartbreaking moves of the nine-year-old Ottawa Senators. While he never hesitated in listing the trades of first-round picks Alexandre Daigle and Alexei Yashin, he actually was referring to two of the team's most welcomed moves. The heartbreak was in the Daigle-Yashin Era, an era of discontent. We'll use their trade dates as our point of reference, but we're really talking about the headaches they caused while they were there. Also on our list, the trade that sent Pavol Demitra to St. Louis.
January 17, 1998
Senators trade C Alexandre Daigle to Philadelphia for C Vaclav Prospal, RW Pat Falloon and a 2nd-round pick (LW Chris Bala)
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun: Here was a kid the team was going to build its franchise around five years earlier, and they him shipped off for nothing. Let's look at it this way: Daigle never wanted to play hockey. He didn't have the heart or the desire. He got too much money too quick. It's not a surprise that he's not playing anymore, because he liked the lifestyle but not the work that went with it.
Far too often, Daigle just didn't seem to have his head in the game. Robert Laberge/Allsport
CNNSI.com: The Senators' inaugural season was a nightmare, one that started with GM Mel Bridgeman drafting a worthless expansion roster (including an ineligible player) and ended with a 10-70-4 record that barely eluded the '74-75 Capitals' mark of 8-67-5 as the worst in history.
Bridgeman wouldn't make it back for a second try. Under the guidance of Randy Sexton, the Senators used their No. 1 overall pick on Daigle, who was reputed to be another Eric Lindros: a five-tool player with a bit of a mean streak. The desperate Senators pinned their hopes on Daigle despite fears that pressure would eat at the teenager.
Daigle didn't wilt under the pressure. In fact, he kind of, well, just didn't care. With a five-year, $12.25 million contract in his back pocket, Daigle infuriated teammates and management with a half-hearted approach to the game. He scored more than 16 goals only twice and never broke 51 points in his five seasons with Ottawa. After flittering around Philly, Tampa Bay and the Rangers, Daigle took his 100 career goals and moved to Hollywood, where he plays on a celebrity hockey team and hopes to be a player in the entertainment industry.
The Hartford Whalers, by the way, had the second pick in '93 ... taking future league MVP Chris Pronger (not that they had the sense to hang onto him). Also bypassed by the Senators: Paul Kariya (No. 4 by Anaheim), Jason Arnott (seventh by Edmonton) and Jason Allison (17th by Washington).
Daigle Took The Money ... And Sun Toronto Sun -- January 16, 2001 By Mike Ulmer
Now, you should know that Daigle is usually one of the most likable kids on the planet. No matter how indifferent his on-ice performance, Daigle remained impossible to slag. He was just too charming.
"My great failing as a hockey writer," longtime Ottawa hockey writer Roy MacGregor once said, "is an inability to criticize Alexandre Daigle."
Daigle was the Ottawa Senators' first-overall choice in the 1993 draft. He was a beautiful skater with fair hands and, thanks to a few well-documented high-sticking incidents, the kind of mean streak scouts love.
The Senators, desperate to ink what they figured would be a bilingual cornerstone, signed him to a five-year, $12.25 million deal. That contract looks every bit as foolish in hindsight as it did at the time, and the deal was at the root of the 1994-95 lockout. You can make a good argument that by bringing about a collective bargaining agreement whose main feature was a rookie salary cap, Alexandre Daigle cost generations of rookies millions and millions of dollars.
Daigle scored 20 goals in his first season with the Senators and 74 in total while in Ottawa, but distinguished himself mostly by an almost pathological unwillingness to compete. In his fifth season, Ottawa dumped him to Philadelphia, and Daigle's freefall continued through the sunny hockey backwater of Tampa, to the minors with the Hartford Wolfpack and then to the New York Rangers, where he scored eight goals in 58 games last season.
This summer he disappeared for good into the California culture that has long obsessed him, and we are left to ponder his impact.
You know, maybe Alexandre Daigle had it right. He did a job he didn't care for, took advantage of the Senators' stupidity in granting him lifetime security and is now following his heart.
Ottawa's Decade Of Despair Toronto Sun -- April 15, 2001 By Mike Ulmer
The Ottawa Senators are approaching their 10th year and what a decade it has been.
Already they have brought about the game's biggest pooch in Alexandre Daigle and the first game-fixing scandal in the sport's history when the Buffalo Sabres were fined for discussing the possibility of tanking to get Daigle in the draft.
The Senators also are responsible for the one-year reign of Mel Bridgman, a general manager whose most famous remarks were, "The Ottawa Senators apologize," and, "Off the record, I have no comment."
Daigle's $13 million U.S., five-year contract was the Archduke Ferdinand of the player lockout, and it was the Senators who brought about the "we need subsidies or we will move" bluff, called by the federal government. That, in turn, brought about the "OK, we'll charge a few more bucks at the gate and let's forget the whole thing movement."
Sens Left With Bad Case Of The Blues Ottawa Sun -- October 23, 1998 By Chris Stevenson
Alexandre Daigle, the man who said, "Nobody remembers who was No. 2," when he was picked first overall in 1993, was a healthy scratch for the Philadelphia Flyers last night.
No. 2, meanwhile, played 29 minutes and 50 seconds for the St. Louis Blues, close to the average 30-plus minutes he clocks for the Blues.
Chris Pronger just might win a Norris Trophy this year as the NHL's top defenceman.
Daigle, meanwhile, might be another step closer to the acting career he craves.
That Daigle was scratched against the New Jersey Devils was another interesting bit of irony. When Daigle was cradled in the arms of the City of Brotherly Love, he was hailed as the "trap breaker," a man whose speed would help the Flyers smash apart the Devils' trap.
The New Jersey defensive tactic had given the Flyers fits in the playoffs, and Daigle was seen as a guy who could help solve the problem.
"Was [Daigle] sitting with Pamela Anderson?" deadpanned Pronger after the Blues' 5-3 win over the Senators last night.
June 23, 2001
Senators trade C Alexei Yashin to the N.Y. Islanders for RW Bill Muckalt, D Zdeno Chara and the No. 2 overall pick (F Jason Spezza)
Yashin was the MVP runner-up in 1998-99 ... then didn't show up for the '99-00 season. Robert Laberge/Allsport
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun: Yashin was the
first player in Senators history, and ever since then he's
had a tumultuous ride because of the contract battles.
You can't deny his talent. He's one of the top 10
players in the league. Had they given Yashin all the
money in the first place, they would have never had a
problem with him. Instead they opted to give it to
that piece of garbage Daigle ... and you can quote me on
CNNSI.com: If Alexandre Daigle's legacy is that of hamstringing the Senators, then let's not hesitate to mention that he probably was responsible for the strained relationship between Alexei Yashin and the Senators.
After making Yashin their inaugural draft pick (only because Tampa Bay surprised everybody by taking Roman Hamrlik), the Senators opted to leave him in Russia for a year to spare him the agony of that miserable first season. It was the last nice thing they ever did for him.
They cried poverty when signing him to a five-year, $4 million contract, then turned around and gave Daigle three times as much. Yashin and Daigle debuted together in 1993, with Yashin outplaying and outscoring Daigle. Yet the team pushed for Daigle in rookie of the year voting, and Yashin was left out of the finalists.
Yashin often asked the Senators to restructure his contract because of the incentives for which he fell tantalizingly short or the clauses that were too general to be interpreted logically, yet the team never relented.
While his distrust of the organization was understandable, Yashin didn't do much to endear himself to fans, either, ultimately sealing his fate with his holdout for the entire 1999-2000 season despite having a year left on his contract. Other fiascoes included a $1 million pledge to Ottawa's National Arts Centre that was later rescinded amid accusations of kickbacks and scandal.
The Senators pulled a major coup before the 2001 draft, sending Yashin to the New York Islanders for two established regulars and the No. 2 overall pick, which they used on Jason Spezza, who by all accounts has all the talent of Daigle and Yashin without any of the mental baggage.
A Superstar Out For Himself The Ottawa Citizen -- June 24, 2001 By Allen Panzeri
He finally got his wish.
After eight years, three messy contract disputes, one grandly offered and then controversially withdrawn charitable donation, 504 games, 218 goals, 273 assists, and a trail of bodies that includes Rick Bowness, Dave Allison, John Ferguson, Tim Higgins, and Randy Sexton, he finally got his wish.
Fans thought Yashin had more interest in getting his hands around Carol Alt than around the Stanley Cup. Laureus Pool/Allsport
Alexei Yashin, the team's first-ever draft pick, is now a member of the New York Islanders, traded yesterday for towering defenceman Zdeno Chara, right wing Bill Muckalt and this year's No. 2 draft pick, who turned out to be Jason Spezza, likely the Senators' next poster boy.
Ottawa fans will almost certainly rue the day. That's always the way these things work out. Mr. Yashin is sure to come back to haunt the Senators and may even help the Islanders one day claim the Stanley Cup, which Ottawa's original braintrust thought he might bring here.
But the flip side of the coin is: Good riddance. Though he could have, Mr. Yashin, now 26, doesn't leave with any hold on the heart of the city.
November 27, 1996
Senators trade RW Pavol Demitra to St. Louis for D Christer Olsson
Pavol Demitra scored 37 goals in 1998-99. Robert Laberge/Allsport
It's one thing to get duped in a trade. It happens to every GM. But getting duped by Mike Keenan hurts.
Blues fans are reluctant to give credit even for the mastery that brought Pavol Demitra to St. Louis in exchange for Christer Olsson, who at last sighting was still playing in Europe.
It is easily the worst trade made by the modern version of the Ottawa Senators, who had the vision to draft Demitra 227th in 1993 but not the vision to hold on to him.
Gauthier Can't Shake Demitra Ottawa Sun -- January 24, 1999 By Bruce Garrioch
Agent Rich Winter never likes to miss a shot at former Senators GM Pierre Gauthier, so when he saw an Ottawa reporter hanging around a lobby yesterday, he couldn't resist.
"If you see Gauthier," deadpanned Winter, "tell him I'm going to dinner with Pavol Demitra and he's playing in tomorrow's All-Star Game."
That's gotta hurt.
As the World All-Star team filed into the basement of the Ice Palace, the former Senators winger -- the subject of the dumbest trade Gauthier ever made -- strolled past wearing a St. Louis Blues logo on the arm of his sweater.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," said Demitra. ...
... "[Ottawa] had all those first-rounders, and I always thought their first two lines were set," said Demitra. "They wanted me to play on the third or fourth line. That didn't work for me, and then they sent me down.
"They'd tell me I wasn't good enough defensively. Well, sometimes you just look for reasons for a player to fail. I had to improve, but the move has been good for me. It's helped a lot to get a chance to play with great players."