Some permutations and possibilities in life simply defy imagination.
Perhaps because they’re too painful to envisage, or so remote as to be unfathomable – whatever, this is such an event.
Daniel Alfredsson, the longest-serving captain in the NHL, will pull on another team’s sweater next season, the first time in 18 years he won’t spend September in Ottawa.
It’s the sort of radical occurrence that upends entire belief systems.
And Sens fans responded with uncommon fury on talk-radio stations in the nation’s capital and on Twitter.
Traitor, they foamed after it was announced Alfredsson had signed a one-year, US$5.5-million deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Ingrate. Judas.
The frothing cloud of how-could-you over Ottawa may have been visible from space.
The thing is, Alfredsson gets it.
“I expect there will be some resentment and anger from the fans … and there should be,” he said on a conference call Friday from his summer home in Sweden.
Rather than trying to deflect blame or dodge the criticism, Alfredsson opted for candour.
“I’m doing this for myself, I feel this is right for me,” he said.
It’s hard to argue a player who has dedicated himself so completely to a franchise and a city has earned the right to indulge himself a little as the sun prepares to set on his career.
It doesn’t lessen the surprise.
Even Red Wings general manager Ken Holland admitted when he called Alfredsson’s agent: “I really expected to get a response that he was going to be staying in Ottawa.”
Alfredsson spoke at length to Wings centre Henrik Zetterberg – his countryman and Olympic teammate – and ultimately decided Thursday.
By then, it was obvious to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray something was up. “When I got nervous was [Thursday], when I kept calling and calling and there was no answer,” he said.
In the evening, he arrived at his cottage to find a voicemail message waiting.
It was 8:40 p.m. (EDT) – Murray turned up at a news conference Friday armed with a detailed timeline, which says something about the importance of the occasion.
“I woke some poor guy up in Sweden because [Alfredsson] left the wrong number, or I dialled the wrong number,” he said.
Alfredsson soon called back, and though Murray tried to prevail on his captain to change his mind – and offered the possibility of a trade later in the season – the decision was final.
“It was a devastating evening, you go to bed and you lie there all night,” said Murray, adding the only discussion he had on financial terms with Alfredsson’s agent was last Saturday.
The crestfallen GM, who estimated exchanging 20 phone calls with team owner Eugene Melnyk over 48 hours, said: “I was convinced [a deal] was a matter of one phone call.”
Assigning the blame in this tale is a matter of perspective.
Could Murray have countered more forcefully at the beginning of the process, or pressed the issue when Melnyk said: pay him? Sure. Could Alfredsson have better communicated his intentions? Certainly.
Officially, the reason for the move is an opportunity for a 40-year-old player to fulfill his lifelong dream of lifting a Stanley Cup – although reported interest from Boston would have made the Cup finalist Bruins a more obvious choice.
Whatever the deep motive, it only manifested itself recently.
“I didn’t really see myself making a change if you would have asked me a week ago,” he said.
The fact the Sens are a budget team may have had something to do with it (Melnyk’s finances aren’t what they used to be); the conspiracy theorists will draw a straight line between Friday and Alfredsson’s frank admission in the playoffs Ottawa wouldn’t be able to mount a comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Alfredsson batted the suggestion aside, saying Detroit is placed to contend now.
The Sens show great promise, he said, “but at this stage of my career … I don’t really have the time to wait for that.”
Still, he’ll be uprooting his family in September – Alfredsson and his wife, Bibbi, have four boys – and wouldn’t commit to returning to a city where he has become piece of the metaphorical furniture.
That may be the deepest cut of all.
Within a couple of hours of the Alfredsson announcement, Murray offered a balm to the fan base, swinging a deal with the Anaheim Ducks to acquire 26-year-old right winger Bobby Ryan.
A deal has been in the works for a couple of weeks, and the second-overall draft pick in 2005 came at a steep cost: second-year NHLer Jakob Silfverberg, 2011 first-round pick Stefan Noesen and a first rounder in 2014.
But let’s face it, Murray needed to do more than just sign former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur to a free-agent deal.
Ryan is signed for two more seasons at $5.1-million – less than what Alfredsson will fetch in Detroit. The American has topped the 30-goal plateau in four of his five full NHL seasons.
Asked if he expected to replace the departing captain in the Sens lineup, Ryan told Sportsnet: “God, I hope not. I don’t think Alfredsson will ever be replaced in that organization.”