Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray was sitting in his office on Monday afternoon trying to figure out what to do with his time.
Just about all his work for the summer was done.
There was only one thing left: Daniel Alfredsson.
Murray had a suspicion the 39-year-old team captain was going to come back for a 17th season, and he was certainly crossing his fingers. But he wasn’t sure.
Then the phone rang.
It was Alfredsson calling from Gothenburg to say, yes, it was official: He would be back for the 2012-13 campaign.
“It made my day, there’s no question about it,” said Murray.
As for Alfredsson, he’s feeling so good that he’s thinking of playing beyond next season.
He won’t make that decision until next summer, but he feels a lot better than he did last summer, when he was coming off back surgery, and he’s been invigorated by the work he and teammate Erik Karlsson have been doing at the Frolunda Indians training facility with track and field coach Peter Froberg.
Alfredsson believes he can improve on the 27 goals he had last season, the most he’s scored in a season since he had 40 in 2007-08. He also had 32 assists and a plus-16 rating.
“I’m not saying this is my last year,” he said.
“If I can still play and contribute, I’ll continue.
“I had issues with my back for a few years, and now that I finally feel healthy again, I want to see how good I can be.
“You see players at 40 and 40-plus like (Jaromir) Jagr and (Teemu) Selanne, and maybe it’s a new trend that’s starting, that if you look after yourself and take care of yourself, you can play. Who knows what the limit is?
“That’s an intriguing part for me, how far I can push myself. How good can I still be? I feel like I can get better, especially looking back at the health issues I’ve had, feeling that I’ve corrected that.
“I should be able to push myself and be better, especially physically, than I was last year.”
Alfredsson will earn only $1 million next season, but will still carry a salary cap of $4.875 million because his four-year contract was front-loaded: $7 million in each of the first two years, $4.5 million in the third, and $1 million in the fourth.
And though he had talks with Murray about extending the contract, Alfredsson will honour it as is. He said he never had it in mind to try to squeeze a big signing bonus out of his return.
“It’s a non-issue for me,” he said. “I’m good with the way the contract is.”
“I’ll just play out the last year of the contract and go from there.”
Murray later suggested that at some point next season, the two sides would have to get together to discuss the following year.
“At some point, hopefully, we’ll initiate some talks with them to think about longer, if he wants to do that,” said Murray.
Alfredsson said it was always in his mind to return, but he had to see what his body said about it. He gradually came to the awareness that it was going to be OK.
“I think I’ve had the intention of playing (next season) from the beginning, but I had to go through the process to really know for sure,” he said.
“With my back problems … I haven’t really been able to work out as I would have liked for the last, probably, four years.
“With the surgery last summer, having to do a lot of rehab and I didn’t get the proper training in, I didn’t know where I stood physically and mentally.
“It took some time, but the training has been going well. I’ve really enjoyed it, so I’m really happy that I feel this way in the process of getting ready for another camp.
“I could probably have made my mind up a little quicker if I felt the team needed to know for whatever reason, but I also feel this is a good time.
“The training the last two weeks has gone into another phase, more heavy lifting, and that’s gone well. I probably could have waited for another month, but this feels right.”
One of the thoughts at the back of his mind was that he didn’t want to look back and see that he had retired too soon.
“Once that day comes, I’ll look forward to the challenges,” he said.
“But when you feel as healthy as I do … if you retire too early, you’ll kind of look back and say ‘Maybe I should have played another year or two.’”
Alfredsson said his family was supportive of his decision. Indeed, he was even under some pressure from his four sons to play another season.
“My kids have (had) me playing the whole time,” he said.
“They’ve been bugging me and I think they would have been really disappointed if I didn’t play. And my wife and I, we feel that our family situation will be easier this season coming up than it was last year, with a newborn baby (William Erik) and sleepless nights.
“We have more of a routine now. She’s kind of been hoping, too, that physically I would feel fine and play another year and postpone everything that comes with retirement and starting a new chapter in our lives.
“We’ve got pretty good control of what to do when I’m playing and how to handle me being away and whatnot, so she’s been extremely supportive, too.
“That’s makes me feel a little less guilty, I guess, about playing another year because I know how much time it takes away from family.
Alfredsson said the ongoing NHL-NHLPA negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement, with the possibility of a work stoppage, did not factor into his deliberations.
Nor did the possibility of playing in the 2014 Olympics, though he did concede if he’s still playing then, and playing well, he’d be interested.
His decision to return not only gives Murray the team leader and mentor he needs, it also more or less completes the roster.
Murray had a Plan B in place, in case Alfredsson decided to retire, but now he doesn’t have to use it.
“We certainly felt there was someone out there who could have filled the (top-six) spot, but not to the degree (Alfredsson) can,” said Murray.
“There’s no question that what he brings to the room, what he brings to the work ethic and character of our team, we weren’t going to be able to replace that.
“Maybe from the skill point of view we could have replaced some of the goals. But I just think having him back is a huge improvement over anything I could have done.”
Alfredsson and family will return from Sweden on Aug. 22. They would have stayed for a few more weeks, except that Hugo’s minor hockey league begins on Aug. 25.
“I still can’t believe that his hockey begins three weeks before mine,” said Alfredsson.