Team management believed the Senators' fortunes would change when they began play at the Corel Centre, Ottawa's glorious new $190 million rink, which opened last Jan. 17. But even the arena has seemed cursed. At its debut, which drew a capacity crowd of 18,500, a hitch in the hydraulics caused the line raising the original Senators' Stanley Cup banners to jam while the banners were midway to the rafters, leading spectators in the upper deck to chant, "We can't see! We can't see!" Fans at rinkside eventually envied those with a limited view, as Ottawa was shut out by Montreal 3-0.
Since the opener, attendance at the Corel Centre has lagged. Federal layoffs have impoverished many residents of Canada's capital, and even well-heeled Senators fans seem increasingly reluctant to pay an average of $48 per ticket to witness a pitiful team.
Whatever its other failings, the Ottawa brass hasn't sat idly by as the Senators floundered. In 1995-96 Ottawa went through three coaches and two general managers. Last season Bryden sent Bow-ness a fancy tie pin commemorating the opening of the new rink and a note saying that Bowness would be the coach for the long term. Five days later Bowness was fired. (See: Bridgman, Mel.)
"I remember [former Islanders general manager and current Florida Panthers president] Bill Torrey once told me that with an expansion team you've got to be prepared to be sick to your stomach 82 nights a year," Sexton said after a loss to the Panthers in October 1995. "I've consumed my share of Maalox, but I've never viewed this team through rose-colored glasses. Our focus is on a seven-year plan." Seven weeks later, Sexton was fired.
Even the high-priced mascot has embarrassed the franchise. In 1993 Spartacat was canned. In a fit of pique Spartacat swiped the company car and fled across the border to the U.S. The car was eventually found in New Jersey and returned to Ottawa with only a few dents.
For those who have suffered with them the longest, the Senators have become an addiction. Among the diehards in the stands during last season's final home games was the exiled Sexton, who sat alone with his thoughts, dressed in a suit and tie, making notes as if he had never been fired. "I don't live and die over every shift anymore," Sexton says. "But I was there when the child was conceived. I was there when the child was born. I may have fallen into a custody battle, but I believe it's a good kid and I still want to see it succeed, to see it have a nice life. We suffered through a lot together, but it was always exciting."
Talk about redefining excitement.