Alfredsson: As good as new

When the hockey season began, one of the bigger questions facing the Ottawa Senators concerned captain Daniel Alfredsson’s health and his future with the team.
Would he be able to recover from back surgery in June, regain strength in his right leg, and be able to skate again? Or would he continue to be hobbled, unable to skate, and eventually forced into retirement?

Alfredsson: As good as new
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

When the hockey season began, one of the bigger questions facing the Ottawa Senators concerned captain Daniel Alfredsson’s health and his future with the team.

Would he be able to recover from back surgery in June, regain strength in his right leg, and be able to skate again? Or would he continue to be hobbled, unable to skate, and eventually forced into retirement?

While many feared the worse, especially with the way Alfredsson looked last season, the answer appears to be one every fan of the team can cheer: through the first quarter of the season, he looks as good as new.

It’s as much a relief for the team as it is for Alfredsson. If the surgery hadn’t worked and he was unable to skate well enough to satisfy himself, there was “no way” he would have tried to played, he said on the weekend. Instead, he would have retired.

“Last year I was skating more on one leg than two,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest difference for me this year — “I’m strong on the puck. I’m skating more. I’m able to play more of a two-way game.”

All in all, he said, “it’s been fun … and I’m enjoying playing again.”

Last season, Alfredsson pulled himself from lineup on Feb. 8, the day after a 4-2 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver. He’d been in so much pain during that game and the one two days before against the New York Islanders that he had to face facts and take himself out of the lineup.

He then started a rehab program that he hoped would provide a remedy. Near the end of the season, he had started to feel well enough to accompany the team on a road trip through Florida.

But in the end he decided he wasn’t ready, and he would up playing only 54 of 82 games.

As the season ended, he continued with the rehab program, hoping that a program to strengthen his back would be the answer. But by June, he realized the surgery he had hoped to avoid had became unavoidable. The pain had become so bothersome that it was affecting his everyday life, not just his life as a professional hockey player.

“I think I had it a little bit the year before, but last year was when it wasn’t really manageable,” he said. “Once we decided to go the route with surgery, I felt confident, and even if it wouldn’t have been good enough (to play), I would have done it just because of the day-to-day stuff. It was bothering me.”
Now, for the first time in two years, he can run again.

The surgery, to take pressure off a nerve that was affecting the strength in his right leg, didn’t take long, but the recovery did, and Alfredsson had just as many questions about his future as everyone else did. He just tried to stay open minded.

“I was going to rehab pretty hard and give it every chance I could, and it’s been better than I thought, which is great,” he said.

“I’ve been able to practise, pretty much all the time. And that’s a big part for me, being able to practise and get better in certain areas.”

So, for now there is no thought of retirement. He’ll only entertain that kind of thinking when he no longer enjoys going to the rink every day.

With the all-star game in Ottawa in February, Alfredsson has a chance to play before a home crowd, which would be a fitting end to his NHL career, if indeed this season is the end.

The surgery has extended Alfredsson’s career. Might it have added years? That’s not a prediction Alfredsson is ready to make.

“Well, it’s added this year already,” he said. “So we’ll see how it goes after that. But I have no issue at all with my nerve. I’m able to practise and practise hard. That’s all I can ask for.”

INJURY UPDATE: After a day off Monday, the Senators will be back on the ice for practice this morning, preparing for their next game Friday in Pittsburgh against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

Chris Neil (ankle), Matt Carkner (knee), and Peter Regin (shoulder) remain out, though Carkner should be getting close to returning.

It’s possible, however, that he could be asked to do a conditioning stint with the Senators’ AHL team in Binghamton before returning to NHL play.

Craig Anderson could only serve as Alex Auld’s backup on Sunday because of stiffness in his neck, but he’s expected to be at practice today.

DANGEROUS HIT: Through Monday, there was no indication that league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan was going to review a dangerous hit by Maxim Lapierre, aided by Alexandre Burrows, on Ottawa centre Jesse Winchester during Sunday’s game in Vancouver.

As Lapierre hit Winchester along the boards at the Vancouver bench, Burrows opened the bench door and Winchester fell through.

There was no call on the play. Whether Burrows intentionally or just accidentally opened the door isn’t clear, but Winchester was angry.

“It’s not a safe play,” he said. “I was under the impression my butt was against the wall. The next thing I know I’m through the bench. I couldn’t see behind me, I’m not paying attention to what’s on the bench.”

Another dangerous hit, by Canucks defenceman Andrew Alberts on Kaspars Daugavins, was also not reviewed. Alberts drove Daugavins head first into the boards and got two minutes for boarding.

While Lapierre and Burrows carry reputations as provocateurs, Alberts doesn’t. He has only 10 penalty minutes this season.

What do you think? Leave a comment