These are not good times in the national capital.
The Senate is in disgrace, the government in free fall, and the captain in limbo.
After 18 years of Ottawa Senators fans screaming “Go! Alfie! Go!” it just may come down to that, given some sudden and unexpected turns in what, up until late this week, seemed a predictable closing chapter in the brilliant NHL career of Daniel Alfredsson.
The beloved – in all parts of the universe but the centre – captain of the Ottawa Senators, 40 and still worthy, would by his own choice play another year for the team, then retire gracefully to a front-office job while waiting for the call from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Heart of the team, soul of the city, the Swedish-born Alfredsson, now so imbedded in the Ottawa Valley he rides snowmobiles and has four boys tacking “ehs” onto the end of their English sentences, was a Senator for life.
The only matter in the way was a routine signature on a new contract, a fair contract. Having played through one of the old NHL’s ludicrous front-end-loaded contracts, his final year – the year no one is ever expected to play – had been for a mere $1-million (all currency U.S.). Ever the honest scout, Alfredsson had played for that amount without so much as a shrug, despite the undeniable fact his contribution was far more and his value on the open market far, far more.
Especially at a time when the NHL seems to have lost even more common sense than the precious little it showed when it began the last player lockout.
Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, whose wise dealings brought his team to within two wins of the Stanley Cup in June, looked to Friday’s opening of the free-agent market and mused about how some help on right wing from a veteran player might be just the ticket to take the Bruins all the way next season.
Why even bother mentioning a name?
But then word began moving through social media that not only the Bruins might be interested, but other teams, such as the Detroit Red Wings.
Alfredsson had been coy about retiring, eventually saying he would play one more year. He had said nothing about heading off in pursuit of the Stanley Cup his stellar career lacks.
But he didn’t have to: others were in a race to say it for him. His first choice, of course, was Ottawa, but nothing was set in stone.
“I didn’t realize it was that big an issue,” Ottawa GM Bryan Murray said Thursday, “because we’re going to get it done.”
He could, however, do nothing about the rumours team owner Eugene Melnyk, having lowered his sights on the team’s salary cap, wasn’t interested in paying the going price for high talent, even though on Thursday the team was happy to extend NHL coach of the year Paul MacLean’s contract for another three years.
Murray said they were waiting to hear from Alfredsson’s agent, J.P. Barry, while Alfredsson himself was telling Swedish media that, though his first wish was to remain in Ottawa, his camp would negotiate – “and then we will see what happens.”
This, of course, set new rumours flying: that the captain was waiting to see what improvements the team might make before he himself would commit.
Stay or go? Each has intriguing repercussions:
Alfredsson would have that shot at a championship ring and at a salary likely in excess of his value. Sensible Ottawa fans see this is a team for tomorrow, and Alfredsson is clearly a player for today. Without him taking a top-line position, it would open up significant ice time for a number of young and promising prospects. It is also a team where the next tier of leadership needs to move to the top: Jason Spezza turned 30 in June; Erik Karlsson is only 23, but undeniably a captain-to-be. Money that the team would now have to commit to Alfredsson – perhaps $5.5-million under today’s silly market conditions – could be dedicated, instead, to taking on a younger free agent. David Clarkson had 15 goals this season for the New Jersey Devils while Alfredsson had 10. Both play on the right wing. Clarkson is 29, and, according to reports, was in Ottawa for a “chat” this week.
Alfredsson’s family ties and city ties run deep. His popularity is without compare in a city where popularity is usually a fleeting currency. He might well risk that status if he is perceived to be greedy, as former Senators Alexei Yashin and Dany Heatley are still routinely slagged for in Ottawa. “If he is only thinking of today,” one passionate fan said Friday, “he’s making a lifetime mistake.” Given Melnyk’s known volatility, Alfredsson’s “guaranteed retirement job” might be off the table if he helped a rival team keep the Senators from the playoff revenue Melnyk wants. Alfredsson can certainly contribute, as he was perhaps the team’s best forward over the truncated 48-game 2013 season and, clearly, can still play at the high level he demands of himself. He is not only a highly respected leader in the dressing room but serves as a mentor and surrogate dad for a number of young Swedish prospects: Karlsson (who used to live with Alfredsson and babysit the children), goaltender Robin Lehner and promising forwards Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg.
Stay or go? Stay or go?
Many would still say “Go! Alfie! Go!” no matter what the decision.