Rumors swirled about another expansion in the NHL, and two places about 1,300 miles apart with opposite hockey experiences stepped up to request franchises. On December 6, 1990, Ottawa, Ontario received a franchise again and Tampa Bay received Florida’s first ever franchise. With the addition of the new Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, the 1992-93 season featured 24 NHL teams.
Ottawa had an NHL team called the Senators from 1917 until 1934, and they won the Stanley Cup four times. When financial woes during the Great Depression forced them to move to St. Louis, it took almost 60 years before Ottawa rejoined the NHL. In preparation for a franchise bid, real estate developer Bruce Firestone set up Terrace Investments and West Terrace, a city project including an arena. They also received permission to use the Senators name. Even with all of this, Ottawa was told it was a long shot, but their presentation ended up working. As they prepared for their first season, the trouble started. First, their laptop failed at the 1992 Expansion Draft, and they did not have a paper copy to help them select players. Although they were able to improve the team through trades, they had to muddle through the first season without any superstars. As the team struggled, Firestone caused them to be fined by making comments to the press about deliberately losing. Then his development plan failed, and he was forced to resign. The franchise continued to experience financial difficulties until 2003.
In one of the most southern parts of the U.S., two groups from the Tampa area expressed interest in bringing NHL hockey to Florida. Although the group headed by Peter Karmanos (future Carolina Hurricanes owner) and Jim Rutherford (former goalie) seemed more financially stable, they did not want to pay the $50,000 entry fee. Instead, the other group led by famous hockey brothers Phil and Tony Esposito “did what it took to get the full amount ready.” Naturally, they received the franchise. Although they struggled to get good players from the 1992 Expansion Draft, they had first pick at the 1992 Entry Draft (choosing Roman Hamrlik). Phil Esposito served as general manager and president, while Tony Esposito took over the scouting. The Japanese businessmen that had helped obtain the franchise caused financial issues so that the team was sold to Art Williams. Although he had promised to keep the Esposito brothers, he let them go in 1998.
Both teams won their first game against major contenders. On October 7, 1992, the Lightning defeated the Stanley Cup defenders, the Chicago Blackhawks, 7-3. The very next day, the Senators beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-3. Despite the auspicious beginnings, neither franchise had a good first season, both placing sixth in their divisions. Although, Tampa Bay’s 53 points (23-54-7) was double Ottawa’s mere 24 points (10-70-4).
Since then, the two teams have played 26 seasons. The Senators have made the playoffs 16 times, while the Lightning have made the playoffs 10 times and won the Stanley Cup in 2004. They have played each other in 100 games with the Senators winning 57 and the Lightning winning 41 with two ties. All told, Ottawa currently has 2,076 points (906-844-115-149) while Tampa Bay has 1,980 points (865-900-112-138).
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 347-349 and 358-360.