The battle between the Toronto Maple Leaf s and the Ot tawa Senators has always been fierce in the pas t especial ly when both teams faced each other in the playoffs. This season however, the battle has taken an intriguing turn. Both Ontar io NHL teams have struggled so far and are projected to be competing for the NHL first overall draft pick, also known as the John Tavares sweepstakes.
Entering the 2008-2009 NHL season, the Leafs were in the midst of rebuilding the franchise with several familiar players let go to make room for young prospects. The search for the next general manager was also ongoing at the time. Sports pundits all pegged the Leafs as a non-playoff team that would be in strong contention of drafting an early — possibly number one — pick in the NHL lottery.
The Ottawa Senators, coming off a disappointing 2007-2008 season where they were utterly outplayed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of playoffs, are on their way toward a similar fate.
Before this seasons opening, the Senator s , despi te several new faces, still had their core star players on the roster and were expected once again to be playof f contenders. Not long before entering the season, Ottawa let goalie Ray Emery go, marking an end to a tumultuous relationship that saw Emery as a scapegoat for the teams problems. The Senators also par ted ways wi th defencemen Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros.
To the delight of many Leaf fans however, the Ottawa Senators have taken a dramatic step back from a team competing in the Stanley Cup finals a few years ago. The Sens are currently sitting near the bottom of the Eastern conference and are also several points behind the Leafs. With the sudden collapse of the Senators, there is now a realistic possibility of the Senators missing the playoffs and selecting a high draf t pick. Thi s would increase the competition for the services of John Tavares who is touted as the number one pick this season.
GM Bryan Mur ray of the Senators has already promised not to trade away their first round draft pick for a temporary fix. I can save my job by trading our firstround pick probably, and making the team a little more competitive. Murray continued by stating that he would never do such a thing to the franchise.
Even though several other teams such as the New York Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers, St. Louis Blues and the Los Angles Kings are also in contention to select first, the battle of Ontario would certainly take a surprising twist if either Toronto or Ottawa draft first overal l . Loyal fol lower s of ei ther Ontario team already despise each other; the impeding competition to draft Tavares could add another dimension of dislike in the already fierce rivalry.