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Remembering the original Ottawa Senators, the NHL's 1st dynasty

In our latest installment of Lost Franchises, we go back to the early days of the NHL and remember the original Ottawa Senators, the best team in the league during the 1920s and the NHL's first real dynasty.

The Silver Seven pose with the Stanley Cup in 1905.
The Silver Seven pose with the Stanley Cup in 1905.
(Getty Images)

When the NHL expanded in the early 1990s, it sent the league into Canada's capital city, with the Ottawa Senators beginning play during the 1992-93 season.

Their debut season was a complete disaster and would turn out to be one of the worst single-season performances in NHL history, but the team slowly built itself into a consistent playoff team for the better part of a decade in the late-'90s and mid-2000s. The Senators even played for the Stanley Cup during the 2006-07 season.

But long before the days of Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Alexei Yashin, Ottawa had another NHL team that shared the same name.

They were not only one of the original teams when the NHL began operations as we know them during the 1917-18 season; they were also a powerhouse team for much of their existence and won multiple Stanley Cups.

The Silver Seven era

The Ottawa Senators got their start as an amateur team whose history goes back as early as 1883, when a group of players started what was at the time the only organized team anywhere in Ontario. Because there were no other teams to play against at the time, they were limited to practice for the first year of their existence. Over the next 30 years, the team played in several different amateur and professional leagues that are now long defunct, including the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, OHA, CAHL, FAHL, ECAHA, CHA and NHA.

Between the 1903 and 1906 seasons, now known as the "Silver Seven era", the Senators were an incredibly successful team, winning the Stanley Cup four times during the "Challenge Cup" era. (Today, the "Silver Seven" name is also the namesake of SB Nation's blog covering the modern Sens.)

The Challenge Cup era was when the Stanley Cup was awarded to league champions who would then keep it until another team ended their championship reign, or if another champion in another league issued a formal challenge and defeated them in a game or series of games, depending on what the two teams agreed to.

During this era, the Senators were known as one of the nastiest and dirtiest teams in hockey for their constant use of slashing, cross-checking and tripping. During one particularly brutal Challenge Cup game in 1904 against the Winnipeg Rowing Club, the Senators injured seven of the nine players Winnipeg had in uniform.

By the time the 1908 season rolled around, the Senators were made up entirely of professional players and began playing in the newly formed Eastern Canada Hockey Association. They lasted for two years until the ECHA split up into two separate leagues, the CHA and the NHA. The Senators played in the NHA, which would later lead to the creation of the NHL.

The NHL's first dynasty

For much of the 1920s, the Senators were the NHL's elite team, winning the Stanley Cup three times between 1920 and 1927. They reached the final three additional times and won 129 regular-season games, 22 more than any other team in the league over that stretch.

The foundation for their success was a core of Hall of Fame players led by Cy Denneny, one of the top offensive players of his era, and starting goaltender Clint Benedict before he was traded to the Montreal Maroons in 1924 (after joining the Maroons, Benedict eventually become the first goalie to wear a mask in an NHL game).

Like many teams of their time, the Senators were also responsible for altering the constantly-evolving rules of the game.

Part of their championship strategy in the early 1920s was that once they gained a lead in a game, they would keep both defensemen and a forward in the defensive zone at all times. This strategy contributed to them being the most difficult team in the league to score against and completely sucked the life out of offense in a league that was already short on goals. Following the 1924 season, league president Frank Calder, in an effort to help boost scoring, made it illegal for a team to have more than two players in its own zone after the puck had moved up the ice.

The Senators won their final Stanley Cup during the 1926-27 season with what might have been their finest team yet. They won 30 of their 44 regular-season games before rolling through the playoffs with a 3-0-3 record (playoff games could end in ties back then) and outscored their opponents by a 12-4 margin, never allowing more than one goal in any individual game.

From there, it was nothing but bad news for the franchise.

Decline and relocation to St. Louis

Playing in what was the smallest market in the NHL at the time wasn't kind to the Senators at the box office, and it contributed to the team losing $50,000 during its last Stanley Cup-winning season in 1927. As the league began to expand into the United States -- with teams now in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit and Boston -- the Senators struggled to attract fans to see the newer expansion teams at home and were faced with increased travel costs to get to the games on the road.

As financial problems continued to mount, the team found itself in a position where it had to begin selling off its top players, including Hooley Smith, a promising young winger that had scored 34 goals in his first three seasons with the team. They also had to eventually sell Denneny to the Boston Bruins prior to the 1928-29 season, though by that point he was in his late-30s and had been rapidly declining.

After being the dominant force in the league between 1920 and 1927, the Senators followed that run by qualifying for the playoffs just twice over the next seven seasons through 1934, and won only 89 games. The only team to win fewer games during that stretch was the Pittsburgh Pirates/Philadelphia Quakers organization, a team that ceased operations in 1931.

The Senators continued to sell players, including Hall of Fame defenseman King Clancy -- who brought a $31,000 price tag from the Toronto Maple Leafs -- and forward Frank Nighbor, the 1923-24 league MVP. The Senators ended up taking a one-year hiatus during the 1931-32 season in an effort to rebuild their fortunes and returned for two more dismal years in Ottawa that resulted in last-place finishes.

In Senators' final home game, a 3-2 loss to the New York Americans, the crowd of a little more than 6,000 spent most of the game pelting the ice with an assortment of fruits and vegetables that included carrots, parsnips, lemons and orange "for no reason whatsoever," according to the game story in the Ottawa Evening Citizen.

Following the 1934 season, and having lost more than $60,000 over the previous two seasons, the Senators relocated to St. Louis and spent the 1934-35 season playing as the St. Louis Eagles, finishing in last place yet again. The team suspended operations after winning just 11 of its 48 games and never played in the NHL again.

Ottawa remained without an NHL team until the 1992-93 season, when the second version of the Senators began play as an expansion team.