The 2010–11 Ottawa Senators season was the 19th NHL season (18th season of play) for the modern Senators franchise. The Senators posted a regular season record of 32 wins, 40 losses, and 10 overtime/shootout losses for 74 points, failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second time in three seasons. After falling to last place in the conference by the end of January, the Senators started a rebuild, trading away several veterans for draft choices. Coach Cory Clouston was fired at the end of the season.
Early in the off-season, the Senators signed several players including summer development camp attendee Colin Greening on April 28 and Binghamton Senators forward Ryan Keller on May 19 as well as goaltender Mike Brodeur on May 26. After some media speculation, the Senators also bought out Jonathan Cheechoo's contract on June 29 after he cleared waivers, making Cheechoo a free agent.
Throughout July, the Senators made various signings. On July 13, they signed Swiss forward and 2004 Senator draft pickRoman Wick to a one-year, entry-level contract, and re-signed Derek Smith to a one-year contract. On July 22, they re-signed forward Cody Bass to a one-year, two-way contract and forward Mike Hoffman to a one-year, entry-level contract.
On August 5, the Senators re-signed Binghamton defenceman Geoff Kinrade to a one-year, two-way contract as well as signing forward and local prospect Corey Cowick to an entry-level contract. Cowick was an assistant captain with Ottawa's OHL team the Ottawa 67's and was the Senators sixth-round pick at the 2009 Draft.
Of the four RFAs, all re-signed with the Senators. Winchester and Foligno each signed two-year deals on July 1 and July 21 respectively. Campoli and Regin both filed for arbitration, however, they each re-signed before it reached that point. Regin signed a two-year deal on July 29, while Campoli signed a one-year deal on July 30.
Of the six UFAs, none re-signed with the Senators. On July 1, the first day of free agency, Volchenkov signed with the New Jersey Devils while Cullen signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild. On August 2, Sutton signed with the Anaheim Ducks in a two-year deal. Donovan did not sign with any NHL team. St. Pierre and Hennessy both signed with teams overseas.
In early June, an Ottawa Sun article reported that star centreJason Spezza was "unhappy" and that there were "indications [he] may have asked for a trade." Though purely speculation, the article prompted various other Ottawa sports media sources to issue their own perspectives. Theories ranged from conjuring up various trade rumours, noting the similarity to the previous year's Dany Heatley trade demand, or to suggesting that it was just "lazy rumor mongering." Meanwhile, the Sun received criticism for its journalistic integrity to the point where they had to defend accusations that they were "anti-Spezza" This did not stop speculation though, which was emboldened by silence both from Spezza and GM Bryan Murray.
Spezza finally broke the silence during his annual Celebrity Classic golf tournament on July 20:
I just want to clear up a lot of the talk going on, at no point did I ever demand a trade to Bryan Murray. At the end of the year, I was pretty emotional and upset. I was upset at losing, I was upset at the response I got. I talked to Bryan about it, I see it in the newspapers every year, they talk about me, and I said, if you want to move me, you can move me. I wanna be here, but if he thinks it's best for the team and the city, then he can move me. He told me he wasn't going to move me. To be honest I was happy about it, cause I like being here in Ottawa. It seems like every year it's been talk of "should I get traded, should I not get traded?" My priorities are here in Ottawa, I want to win in Ottawa. It was just a whole lot of hearsay that was going on. I had prior conversations with Bryan, I talked to [head coach] Cory [Clouston], we were all clear on what was going on.
Further, he expressed regret that the issue had become public at all. "Me and Bryan have talked since then and probably our conversation should have stayed between us," he said. "We probably wouldn’t even be talking here today. But it happened and it’s a reality." His statement largely settled the rumour, apart from some minor speculation (again by Ottawa Sun columnists) that Spezza had in fact demanded a trade similar to Heatley. However, sources confirmed with Spezza's team members that the situation was "not even close to the Dany situation."
On June 18, the Senators announced that they would play eight pre-season games, which includes three home games, four road games, and one neutral site game. The Senators faced the Toronto Maple Leafs three times, and had home-and-home sets against the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers. The Senators also played in the 2010 Kraft Hockeyville game in Dundas, Ontario, against the Buffalo Sabres. The game was played on September 28, 2010, at the J.L. Grightmire Market Street Arena.
The Senators' regular season schedule was announced on June 22, 2010. The Senators opened the season at home against the Buffalo Sabres on October 8, 2010. The Senators end the season on the road against the Bruins on April 9, 2011.
The Senators goal for the season was to return to the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons. Media predictions were mostly negative. The Hockey News predicted in their 2010-11 Yearbook that the Senators will finish tenth in the Conference, missing the playoffs.The Hockey News writer Adam Proteau predicted the Senators will finish ninth in the conference. The Las Vegas Hilton SportsBook set the odds at 40–1 that the Senators will win the Stanley Cup.
Within a few days of each other, two of the Senators celebrated milestones in wins. On October 22, Daniel Alfredsson scored a hat trick to reach 1,000 points in his career in a win against the Buffalo Sabres. On October 26, Sergei Gonchar played in his 1,000th game in his career. The game saw the Senators set a new team record for fastest two goals. Erik Karlsson and Alexei Kovalev scored only nine seconds apart, breaking the record of ten seconds set in 1995. The Senators defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 5–2.
On November 13, 2010, the 14-year-old daughter of assistant coach Luke Richardson died. The team, on a four-game road trip, returned to Ottawa for a 'celebration of life' memorial service held at Scotiabank Place on November 17. 5,600 attended the service, including former NHL players Paul Coffey, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Tie Domi. The team flew out after the ceremony for a game against the Carolina Hurricanes that night. Richardson took a personal leave from the club. He returned to his duties with the Senators in January.
Another player reached the 1,000 point plateau on November 22. Alexei Kovalev scored at the 10:00 minute mark of the first period. Kovalev became the third Russian player to reach the mark. Kovalev later assisted on the game-winning goal as the Senators prevailed over the Los Angeles Kings at home 3–2.
The Senators set a new modern franchise record starting in the first period of a game of November 29 versus the Edmonton Oilers through the game of December 5 against the New York Rangers. The team went through a scoring drought that lasted 202 minutes and 57 seconds without a goal. The Senators were shut out by the San Jose Sharks and Buffalo Sabres before Chris Kelly broke the streak in the second period of a game against the Rangers.
The Senators poor performance led to constant rumours of a shakeup right through until December. The rumours were heightened in January after the team went on a lengthy losing streak. Owner Eugene Melnyk, who had remained silent during much of the streak, finally broke his silence in an exclusive interview with the Ottawa Sun. He made it clear that, despite rumours in the media to the contrary, general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Cory Clouston would be allowed to finish out their contracts and would not be replaced mid-season. Melnyk also assured the team's fanbase that a "plan [was] now in motion" to return the Senators to the status of Stanley Cup contenders, and that "difficult decisions" would be made in the coming months.
Those "difficult decisions" began on February 10, 2011, when the club traded long-time centre and fan favourite Mike Fisher to the Nashville Predators for a first round and a conditional draft pick. The trade was met with mixed reaction from the Senators' fanbase. Some viewed it as an important step in the team's rebuilding process, while others were outraged at the loss of a player who was adored within the community. That outrage was most palpable when a local Ottawa radio station suggested that Fisher's new wife Carrie Underwood was largely responsible for his move to Nashville, and subsequently banned the play of her music. Underwood is a country music singer who is based in Nashville, where Fisher had recently begun living during the off-season.
Struggling goalie Brian Elliott, a pending restricted free agent was sent to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for goalie Craig Anderson, who had also been struggling through an inconsistent season. Anderson, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, was auditioned for a possible contract extension by the organization. Ottawa later acquired goalie Curtis McElhinney on waivers on February 28. With Pascal Leclaire's injury status unknown and future with the team in doubt, the Senators finished their schedule with a vastly different goal-tending tandem than they had begun the season with.
Following speculation that longtime Senators defenceman and looming unrestricted free agent Chris Phillips would be dealt as part of the rebuilding process, the club instead signed him to a three-year extension on February 27, the day before the trade deadline. With a group of inexperienced young defencemen expected to stock the Senators' blueline in 2011–12, Phillips' experience was deemed an important asset. Defenceman Chris Campoli was traded on deadline day to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Ryan Potulny and a conditional second-round draft pick, as Ottawa's rebuilding process continued.
For the rest of the season, the Senators rotated call-ups from Binghamton. On March 21, after 11 games with Ottawa, Craig Anderson was signed to a four-year extension by Murray. After media speculation on the future of Murray within the organization, Murray re-signed as general manager on April 8, to a three-year extension. After the final game of the season on April 9, Murray dismissed Clouston and his assistant coaches.
The Senators signed Kurt Kleinendorst to a two-year deal to be head coach of Binghamton. He was previously the head coach of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program's Under-18 team, which won the Under-18 world championship in 2010.