In the 16 years since, there has been plenty of glory but only one chance at the Stanley Cup, 2007, which came up short despite his own best efforts. In 2005-2006 he had 103 points and, along with centre Jason Spezza and left winger Dany Heatley, formed the most dangerous line in hockey. The year the peaking Senators might well have won the Cup, 2004-2005, there was no season, Alfredsson returning to Sweden to play, and star, for his old team, Frolunda HC, which he led to the Swedish championship.
But it has not all been glory. Like all long-time NHLers, he has battled injury, hip flexors and knee problems that periodically took away his ability to pivot. Fans once demanded he be traded after the team came up short in the 2006 playoffs. Toronto fans learned to despise him during four straight playoff meetings between the Senators and Maple Leafs – including a spoof of popular Toronto captain Mats Sundin when Alfredsson pretended to throw his stick into the stands – and, to this day, Alfredsson is booed in Toronto every time he touches the puck.
In Ottawa, however, he is beloved, and as much for his citizenship as for his play. Like so many hockey stars, he lends his name to causes; but unlike others, he does his charity work with great courage. He grew up dealing with mental illness in the family – sister Cecilia suffers from anxiety disorders – and, with the blessings of the family back in Sweden, began helping the Royal Ottawa Hospital to raise both money and awareness.
“It’s a stigma there, too,” he says. “It’s still a stigma all over the world. Our family had not been very open about it. I was worried about the reaction, but after I went public I was so thankful for the way people would come up to me at the rink or in the grocery stores and say how much they appreciated someone speaking out.”
They also appreciate the fact that he stayed on when it appeared the Senators were heading for rock-bottom and a complete re-build. Not only did he stay, but his own play
dramatically improved following off-season back surgery. Even so, there were early rumours that the re-building Senators would seek to trade their valued veteran before the trading deadline, just as the Boston Bruins did Raymond Bourque, in a deal that would give Alfredsson one last shot at a Stanley Cup and bring more young blood into the Senators. To do so, however, would require Alfredsson waving his no-trade clause.
General Manager Bryan Murray says he would have done whatever Alfredsson wished. At no point, says Murray, did he consider asking Alfredsson outright “do you want to go and can you get us an asset?” The franchise was too indebted to Alfredsson to put him in such a spot.
Alfredsson says he had no interest whatsoever: “I wanted to be part of this turning around. Of course I want to win the Stanley Cup, but I want to win it in Ottawa. I felt that if it never happened I would still be satisfied with my career. I was not going anywhere.”
As it turned out, the “contender” may well turn out to be the Senators themselves, the surprise of the first half of the season and seemingly headed for the playoffs at the All-Star break. Alfredsson himself, who earlier missed five games with his first-ever concussion, has had such a resurgence – 17 goals, 21 assists – that his presumed 2012 retirement is now on hold.
Murray says the Senators see him as sort of a Steve Yzerman, the quiet captain of the successful Red Wings who left the ice for management and is today GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The “understanding” is that Alfredsson will be given the same opportunity.
Alfredsson has consulted with Sundin, now retired, and with Nicklas Lidstrom, still playing well for Detroit Red Wings at age 41, and thinks he will continue on “if health allows it.”
He and his wife, Bibi Backman, plan to stay on in Ottawa well beyond retirement, whenever it comes. His younger brother, Henrik, who came over to live with Daniel and Bibi while playing junior hockey, is now with the Ottawa police service. Their four boys – Hugo 8, Loui 5, Fenix 3 and William Erik, 18 months – all speak English and the older ones are in the public school system, though the family could easily afford private schools.
So acclimatized to the Ottawa Valley has Daniel Alfredsson become that he even drove to practice a while back on his snowmobile.
This, for someone who thought he might (ital)try(end ital) Canada for a short while before returning home.
With files from Eric Duhatschek in Los Angeles