It is the question consuming the nation’s capital: What will he do?
Not “he” as in Mike Duffy, the besieged senator who seems to have no idea where he lives. Not “he” as in Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has a good idea where he wishes the honourable senator would go.
But “he” as in Daniel Alfredsson, captain of the Ottawa Senators.
Alfredsson is 40. He is the NHL’s longest-serving captain, having been given the ‘C’ in a previous century. He has played 1,178 regular-season games, scoring 426 goals and 682 assists (1,108 points – almost a point-a-game pace).
He has played 121 playoff games, scoring his 100th point as his Senators fell to the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of this spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs. He has played in the Olympics since the professionals were first allowed in 1998, in Nagano, winning a gold medal in Turin in 2006.
He came close to retiring last season. He talked it over with his wife, Bibi – they have four young sons, Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William Erik – and he spoke with others facing similar decisions, such as recently-retired captain of the Detroit Red Wings, Nicklas Lidstrom. In the end, he opted for one last hurrah, but 2013 went so well for him that a second hurrah is under consideration. At least by his teammates.
“If Alfie hands in his notice,” assistant captain Chris Phillips says, “it might not be accepted.”
Pressed to tip his hand Monday morning, as the Senators cleaned out their lockers at Scotiabank Place, Alfredsson showed little interest in discussing either retirement or recommitment.
“There are no thoughts as of now, actually,” he says.
Instead, there is the “empty feeling” of coming to an end in the playoffs. The No. 7-seed Senators knocked off the No. 2 Montreal Canadiens in only five games, but then fell to the No. 1 Penguins in five, being outscored 13-5 in the final two games.
This year, the advice he will seek is his own counsel. He will talk it over with his family – the hockey-mad boys have made it clear they prefer a life that involves access to the Senators large hot tub – and he will talk it over with himself. Probably several times.
Alfredsson played in all but one of the team’s 48 regular-season games this year and all 10 of the playoff matches. On a team short on goals, he stood near the top of team scoring with 26 points and had a point-a-game in the postseason.
“I thought I was okay,” he says of his regular-season play. “In the playoffs, I felt I was able to improve on that a little bit.”
He was more than “okay.” He was the team’s best forward all year by a good shot, given star centre Jason Spezza missed all but five games and last year’s top goal scorer, Milan Michalek, had a season of injury and dreadful production. In the playoffs, Alfredsson was again the best player, the best and hardest-working Senators player by far in the team’s demoralizing final two losses to the powerful Pens.
“As far as I’m concerned,” another assistant captain, Chris Neil, says, “he could have a couple of years left, not just one. He’s still got a lot left in the tank.”
“He could play another year – or four or five years,” forward Kyle Turris adds. “He’s the heart and soul of the team.”
The lockout-shortened, busy season Alfredsson found “mentally-draining.” He says he has to know whether or not he is willing to go through another summer of arduous training: “I wish you could just take the summer off and come back and play – but it doesn’t work that way, especially now.”
If he does retire, he knows he will not leave the game. He has been told he is in the Senators’ plans for as long as he wishes, but he isn’t sure in what capacity. The lockout gave him an opportunity to work with Hugo’s team and, ever honest with his answers, Alfredsson confesses: “I’m definitely not a great coach, so far.”
He says the fire still burns, as it needs to, and hat the game is still fun, especially when you are injury-free for an entire season.
“I feel my game is good enough that I can keep up,” he says. “I don’t feel like I don’t have it any more. If I felt that it would have made my decision pretty easy.”
He likes the direction the team is going and relishes the role of mentor to the likes of fellow Swede Erik Karlsson, the 2012 James Norris Memorial Trophy winner. He is idolized by the young players, even if Toronto Maple Leafs fans insist on booing his every move.
And finally, there is the fact he is, technically, out of work, soon to become an unrestricted free agent, having played out what was to be the “final” year of his contract for $1-million (U.S.) – likely a quarter or less of what his output would be worth in the NHL market. He chose to honour the deal rather than ask for a new one.
A new deal, however, is surely his for the asking at this point. But no one, not even his closest friends, knows what the answer will be.
“I don’t think he knows himself,” Karlsson says.
“He’s the type of guy who could come to the rink tomorrow and have a press conference and it could go either way,” Phillips says.
“I’m not sure anything I could say could convince him. … [But] I’ll be doing my best to convince him to come back for one more year.”