Long before Montreal, Toronto, or Detroit, the Ottawa Senators won three Stanley Cups in four seasons, making them professional hockey’s earliest dynasty.
Unfortunately, hockey’s earliest dynasty has been forgotten.
No one remembers the exploits of players like Jack Darragh, or the craziness of the 1926-27 Stanley Cup Finals. In fact, the 1995 National Hockey League Stanley Playoffs Fact Guide listed the Ottawa Senators as one of the teams that “have not appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
Once upon a time, the Ottawa Senators were nicknamed the "Silver Seven," because teams put seven men on the ice at a time, including a “rover.”
When the NHA—the NHL's forerunner—eliminated the rover before the 1911-12 season, the Sens became known as the "Silver Six" instead. By that time, they’d already won the Stanley Cup four years running, from 1902-03 to 1905-06.
Ottawa also won the championships in 1906 and 1909 as a member of the Eastern Canadian Hockey Association. In 1910 the NHA was formed, and Ottawa continued assembling their championship resume as they won yet another Cup in 1910.
Despite the uncertainties of teams folding, teams starting, owner in-fighting, and World War I, the Senators obtained some of the greatest players in the early era of professional hockey.
Frank Nighbor, Jack Darragh, Harry “Punch” Broadbent, Art Ross, Cy Denneny, and Sprague Cleghorn all played for Ottawa. Owner Frank Ahearn had assembled a team of hometown heroes.
The Senators won their first NHL-era Cup in 1920 after beating the Seattle Metropolitans. After Game 4, in which the Senators were beaten 5-2, Jack Darragh declared, “I’ve had enough hockey for this winter. You will have to get along without me in the final game.” He then promptly called a cab and headed home, but was convinced to return in time for the final game.
They won again in 1921 after beating the Vancouver Millionaires, but after this victory the team lost several of its stars.
Jack Darragh decided to retire. Frank Gorman didn’t want to deal with Cleghorn anymore, so Cleghorn walked away and was assigned to play for the Hamilton Tigers. Cleghorn was then traded to Montreal and famously vowed revenge.
But as the Senators lost or traded these stars, they also signed two rookies who would go on to have stellar careers: Frank “King” Clancy and Frank Boucher, though Boucher was traded after the 1922 season.
The Senators won yet again in 1923. This was the first time in NHL history that brothers squared off against each other in a Stanley Cup final. Not only were Cy and Corb Denneny on opposing sides, but George and Frank Boucher as well.
Jack Darragh decided to come out of retirement for the 1922-23 season. He played on that championship team, played one more season, and retired once more. He did not get to enjoy that retirement much. In July 1924, he died of peritonitis.
By the time Ottawa claimed another Cup victory in 1927, the lineup had changed again. This time, they had Jack Adams, Hooley Smith, and Hec Kilrea in addition to Nighbor, Denneny, and Clancy.
The 1926-27 Stanley Cup finals were intense. In the final game, neither team could score in the first. Ottawa went up two goals in the second and Boston answered with one. Denneny put another one in the net in the third for the game-winner and the game ended in a brawl.
Hooley Smith inexplicably went after Boston's Harry Oliver, which brought Eddie Shore to Oliver's defense. Boston's Lionel Hitchman took on Buck Boucher and after the game officially ended, Boston's Billy Couture attacked both of the on-ice officials.
When the dust settled, League president Frank Calder (who witnessed the fray from his rink-side box) fined Hooley Smith $100 and suspended him for the first month of the next season. Hitchman and Boucher each received a $50 fine, and Boston's Jimmy Herbests was fined $50 for intimidating a referee. Billy Couture was banned for life.
Despite their all-star lineup and winning ways, the team never really made much money. Even in a winning season like 1926-27, the Senators lost $50,000. Frank Ahearn began selling off players to compensate.
The team’s winning ways slowed, then stopped altogether.
In the 1930-31 season, the Senators won just ten games. The following year, team operations were suspended.
The team was resurrected in 1932, but finished last in the 1932-33 and 1933-34 seasons. In the middle of the 1934-35 season, the team relocated to St. Louis and became known as the Eagles. That season, they only won 11 of 48 games. At the end of the season, the team folded and it was the official end of the Senators.
Fifty-five years later, in December of 1990, the NHL board of governors met to hear pitches for the first expansion teams since the admittance of ex-WHA teams in 1979. One of the contenders for a new franchise was Ottawa.
To make sure the league understood just how serious Ottawa was, they brought along the last surviving player of the original Senators: Frank “Shawville Express” Finnigan. Frank was 87 at the time, and his mind was still as sharp as ever. He cornered then-president John Ziegler at a function and instructed Ziegler to give Ottawa a franchise.
“You’re going to give those boys in Ottawa a chance,” Frank declared.
The next day, Ziegler did just that. Once again the Senators were back in the league, beginning with the 1992-93 season.