Poor attendance numbers an early story in Ottawa

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The headlines from Ottawa’s local rags say it all.

Now we know how low the season ticket base is
Wayne Scanlan, Ottawa Citizen

Senators outscore Coyotes before a lot of empty seats
Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun

Attendance a growing concern for Senators
Don Brennan, Ottawa Sun

The Senators’ crowd numbers have been a problem right from the get go.

Ottawa opened the year with home dates against Toronto and Montreal, two games that — on paper — should’ve been sellouts. The Leafs are arguably the Senators’ biggest rival, and they arrived on opening night with No. 1 pick Auston Matthews in tow.

Wednesday’s attendance figure at the Canadian Tire Centre, which has a capacity of 19,153?

Just 17,618.

Surely, though, things would improve for Game 2.

This one was against Montreal, an original six club and another of the organization’s fiercest rivals. What’s more, the game was on a Saturday night and Habs fans routinely travel well to Ottawa, given the proximity between the two cities.

Saturday’s attendance? 18,195.

Things bottomed out completely against Arizona on Tuesday. A non-conference foe on a midweek night going up against the Blue Jays — who were fighting for their playoff lives against Cleveland — was always going to be a tough draw.

Really tough, apparently. Only 11,061 showed up to watch the club put up seven goals in a win over the Coyotes.

That offense is something worth mentioning. Though the sample size is small, Ottawa has emerged as one of the most offensively productive teams in the league, having found the back of the net 16 times through the first four games.

(Ottawa’s defensive issues also make for some high-scoring games: 5-4, 4-3, 5-1 and 7-4 thus far, with the first two going to overtime and a shootout respectively.)

You’d think those high scores and entertainment value alone would draw in the crowds, but it’s more complicated than that.

The Canadian Tire Centre is located in Kanata, an Ottawa suburb that’s not especially easy to get to. But there are other issues at play — outlined here, by SensNation’s Tyler Ray — which include traditionally “soft” attendance numbers at the beginning of the NHL campaign, and rumblings of a new arena location.

That, of course, is the proposed LeBreton Flats project, a 21.6-hectare parcel of land that Sens owner Eugene Melynk is bidding on. In his bid, Melnyk promised that a new Senators arena would be ready for the puck to drop by September of 2021.

The Senators don’t play again until Saturday, with another compelling matchup at home — Tampa Bay, an Eastern Conference powerhouse led by captain Steve Stamkos (who just so happens to be from Markham, Ontario, a five-hour drive away from Ottawa).

Should be interesting to see what kind of numbers the Sens get at the gate.