Fans hoping to get a clearer picture of why Daniel Alfredsson left the Ottawa Senators for the Detroit Red Wings may never get the answers they're looking for, but it appears money played a major role in the decision.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday, Alfredsson admitted contract negotiations — or lack thereof — were a big factor in his choice to sign a US$5.5-million (all currency U.S.), one-year contract with the Red Wings as a free agent on July 5 rather than remain with the only NHL team he's ever played for.
The 40-year-old former Ottawa captain explained that his last contract had been structured under the assumption he would retire before the final year of the deal, which was for $1-million.
"When I did my last contract for four years ending in the [2012-13] season, I was asked to help the team manage the salary cap by adding on an extra year to my contract. I agreed. Each side fully expected I would retire and not play the 2012-13 season," Alfredsson said during a news conference at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. "However, after the 2012 season, I told the Sens I wanted to play another season. I also asked to look at a possible extension for this upcoming season at a fair amount to balance out the two years for both of us. They agreed.
"Sadly, the contract negotiations went nowhere, but I played out the season as I had promised and I believe this past season, was in my view, a very special one."
Despite a rash of injuries, the Senators advanced to the second round of the playoffs where they were eventually eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. Alfredsson led the team in playoff scoring with four goals and 10 points, but once again talk of impending retirement surfaced.
Alfredsson told Senators general manager Bryan Murray at the end of the season that he wanted to take a few weeks to reflect on his future. A few days prior to the NHL draft, Alfredsson's agent J.P. Barry informed Murray that Alfredsson was indeed interested in playing another season.
"In late June this year, I decided I had it in me to play at least one more season," he explained. "I told management I was willing to return and I reminded them of our agreement from the year before and to my disappointment the negotiations again quickly stalled."
Murray responded on the Ottawa Senators' website and expressed his dismay at the way Alfredsson characterized the negotiations.
"I'm disappointed to hear that contract issues were something important to him that he didn't feel we were trying to accommodate," Murray said. "I think in every shape and form we wanted this man back to be the captain of our hockey team and it didn't work out. Sometimes in negotiating all the facts aren't maybe presented to the player the right way, but we certainly feel bad that Daniel reacted the way he did today."
Murray also said he felt Alfredsson's previous contract was good for both the team and its captain.
"We structured the four-year contract so that Daniel would get most of the money up front," he said. "We did that and we worked it in such a way that he got finances early and we got a cap number that worked for our hockey team that allowed us to build and add if need be so that we would be a contending hockey team."
Murray said that Alfredsson asked for a $7-million, one-year contract or $12-million, two year contract prior to the 2013 draft. He said the team countered with a one-year deal worth $4.5 million which Alfredsson declined, and talks gradually broke down from there.
Within days of negotiations stalling, a number of teams began contacting Alfredsson, who felt the Red Wings were a good fit. He had friends on the roster and the club was in need of a right-handed shooter. Initial discussions with the Red Wings left Alfredsson pondering a whole new future.
"I was also delighted by their enthusiasm about me and how they saw me fitting into their plans and their team," he said. "So that call opened my eyes to a possibility I would never have thought of — to play another year, or maybe even two, with another great team."
Alfredsson said he and wife Bibbi, who was by his side at Thursday's news conference, discussed the opportunity offered by the Red Wings and, knowing the impact the change would have on his children, asked for their insight as well.
"Bibbi and the kids and myself struggled with this decision, but in the end we decided we were ready for another adventure and this time in Detroit," said Alfredsson. "I don't know how long this new adventure will last and if or when we will return, but Ottawa will always be home in our hearts."
Over the course of 17 years with the Senators, Alfredsson became the face of the franchise and a fan favourite. News of his signing with Detroit left fans devastated, and in his customary humble attitude, Alfredsson admitted he might never have truly grasped how beloved he was.
"Sometimes I don't think I understand myself at times how people are attached to me," he said. "I understand I've had a big impact on the community and I'm very proud of that, but when I made this decision it was for me to challenge myself as a hockey player and also to try a new adventure with the family. It's not easy, but I'm looking forward to this new chapter and I'm hoping it will be a lot of fun."
Alfredsson, who has been heavily involved with The Royal, admitted he would continue to help bring greater awareness to mental health while playing with the Red Wings and will remain involved with the Ottawa facility.
"Apart from hockey, my work with the Royal Ottawa Hospital and my education about mental health by their team is the most important gift of our years here," he said. "I will continue to support them any way I can."
Hours after signing his new contract, Alfredsson told reporters he felt Detroit offered him a better opportunity at winning the Stanley Cup. On Thursday, the Swede was once again asked about his assessment of the two teams.
"I wish I could take that comment back I guess," said Alfredsson. "The reality is it's two great teams. We all know in today's NHL it's making the playoffs that counts and anything after that anything can happen."
Alfredsson said he holds no ill will towards Senators management, but it appears it's been a messy separation.
Last week, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk told the Ottawa Citizen the organization would have been unable to add Bobby Ryan, who was acquired hours after Alfredsson signed with the Red Wings, and meet Alfredsson's contract demands.
Yet two days ago, Murray told NHL.com that the team had in fact discussed scenarios where both players could be put under contract.