Daniel Alfredsson is ready to assume his rightful place on centre stage.
As the unofficial host of the NHL's all-star festivities in Ottawa next week, the veteran forward will enjoy a national spotlight unlike anything he's seen since leading the Senators to the Stanley Cup final in 2007.
It will go beyond selecting a team that carries his name — something fellow captain Zdeno Chara gets to do as well. At a time when Alfredsson's playing career has reached its twilight, he'll be the most sought-after interview and the player cheered the loudest during a major event on the NHL calendar.
“I look forward to that,” Alfredsson said in an interview this week. “I think we're going to be good hosts in Ottawa and it's going to be something that I'm always going to cherish. To be able to play in front of our home fans at an all-star game — even though it's not a Stanley Cup final — it's a celebration for the game. Having four guys from Ottawa there is going to be pretty neat. I really look forward to it.
“I'm going to embrace it all and make sure I try to enjoy it as much as I can.”
As recently as September, there was reason to believe that the event might not play out so nicely. Most observers pegged the rebuilding Senators to be among the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and Alfredsson himself was facing an uncertain future following major surgery.
In fact, there was every possibility the all-star game focus could have been on whether Alfredsson would be prepared to accept a trade away from the only NHL franchise he's ever played for with the Feb. 27 deadline looming.
But no one will be asking those question now. The Senators have been among the NHL's biggest surprises in the first half with a 27-16-6 record — good for fourth in the Eastern Conference — thanks in part to their veteran captain, the team's third-leading scorer.
A season that saw Alfredsson turn 39 in December has come with justification for the difficult recovery he endured after undergoing back surgery in June. He arrived at training camp with seeds of doubt planted in the back of his mind, but has since enjoyed more personal and team success than he could have imagined.
“We've got a good feeling in the room and we haven't had that in a few years, where it's been a grind for us,” said Alfredsson. “I feel way healthier this year too, so that's a big bonus. For me, I feel definitely think I made the right decision to have surgery and to try to come back. For everybody that's been here, we've shown that we're better players than we have been in the past few years and I think the coaching staff has helped out in that.
“It's definitely been the most fun we've had here since a few years back.”
That is reflected in the fact Alfredsson will be joined at the all-star game by teammates Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. All of those players were voted in by fans, but each of them had made a strong argument for inclusion with their play.
Amazingly, the Senators haven't lost consecutive games in regulation since early November. The players say they've been following Alfredsson's lead during that remarkable run of consistency.
“You know, I think it's a credit to our captain Alfie and how he comes to the rink every day and battles hard,” said Senators goalie Craig Anderson. “That guy never takes a day off and he's just a great role model for everybody else.”
When it came to the all-star game, there was never any doubt that Alfredsson would be called on to play a major role.
Even though his captaincy was only announced this week, NHL executive Rob Blake acknowledged that he'd been cast in the role since “Day 1.”
“He's represented the league and the Senators for so many great years,” said Blake.
The decision earned applause from all corners of the league. It's the ultimate compliment for the former sixth-round draft pick, who is in his 16th season with the Senators.
“I think it's a great thing,” said Minnesota Wild forward Dany Heatley, a former teammate. “Obviously, he's done a lot for that city and that franchise. ... Top to bottom, on and off the ice, he's a guy that really works hard and takes care of himself.
“He's had his best years kind of in the second half of his career. That doesn't happen much these days anymore.”
Alfredsson's past couple seasons have been filled with significant milestones: playing his 1,000th NHL game two seasons ago, reaching 1,000 points last year and hitting the 400-goal plateau in December with a dramatic overtime winner.
The experience of hosting next week's all-star festivities in his adopted hometown will almost certainly be added to a long list of memories and achievements.
Alfredsson has yet to commit to playing out the final year of his contract next season, choosing instead to wait and see how his body holds up down the stretch. One thing that is perfectly clear is that his NHL career will begin and end with the Senators — making him the perfect ambassador for the city's first all-star experience.
“My heart's in Ottawa,” said Alfredsson. “I want to be part of taking this organization in the right direction before I retire too. It obviously feels great to be where we are now and not be on the outside looking in.
“It's also been nice not to be answering questions about what I'm going to do by the (trade) deadline. There's no question about that now and that's the way I wanted when I went into the season.”Report Typo/Error
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