A year ago, the image that seemed to represent Daniel Alfredsson was a setting sun on a hockey classic.
At 38 and more badly injured than he let on, the Senators captain literally limped through the 2010-11 season until he completely shut it down in early February, ultimately succumbing to back surgery in June to correct a problem that was robbing him of strength in his right leg.
So, what would the great Swede have left in the tank post-surgery, while both his 16th NHL season and his 39th birthday beckoned? Alfredsson himself wasn’t sure.
“I didn’t know,” he admitted on Monday, prior to the Senators 40th game of the season and 21st at home, with the New Jersey Devils in town. “Even in the beginning of rehab I didn’t feel great. Going into camp I didn’t feel as good as I would have liked.”
Alfredsson’s approach was simply to “at least give it a shot.” If it didn’t work out, and he had to retire before the end of his contract, which runs to 2012-13, so be it. The Senators organization has made it clear the team’s first legacy player will always have a position with the club if he wants it.
Considering the growing doubt – much of it unspoken, out of respect — the speculation that it might be too late in his career to rebound from back surgery, the play of Alfredsson through the first half of the season has been nothing short of startling. What did you accomplish this holiday weekend? Alfredsson merely scored a pair of overtime winners, career goals No. 400 and 401, with a shootout goal in between – sort of an All-Star sandwich.
Someone suggested his script writer is lazy, penciling in these OT power play goals for him, his latest coming Monday in a 3-2 win over the Devils.
“I don’t mind,” Alfredsson smiled.
The ageless wonder now has 12 goals and 28 points in 34 games, third in team scoring behind only Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. Before the week is out, he could eclipse the 31 points he managed all of last season. He looks fresh in practice, invigorated in games. And he just earned his teammates a day off today.
Friday night at Scotiabank Place, Alfredsson hammered home his 400th career goal, in OT against Calgary, and on Saturday he contributed a shootout goal in a victory over the Sabres in Buffalo. As important as the clutch goals, Alfredsson looks and feels as good as he did two or three years ago.
Or, almost as good. For there isn’t a player in the game more honest about himself.
“I’ve been not as consistent as I would like to be — physically — all the time,” Alfredsson said. “I’ve been more tired than I should be at times maybe, but overall I’ve been happy.”
Happy that he can play and practice fully, at times going on the ice ahead of his teammates or playfully lingering afterward without discomfort.
How else to explain the recent Alfredsson phenomenon except to say the stars have been aligned just so for a unique player and community icon. With his parents and sister here from Sweden, Alfredsson scored career goal 399 on home ice in a 4-3 win against Florida on Dec. 22, then ripped that OT winner for No. 400.
The circumstances: a comeback win, his family watching the overtime slapshot – yes, Alfie went top shelfie – combined to make it his new favourite milestone, no small consideration for a player that has already surged past 1,000 points and 1,000 games.
“Just the feeling of that night, it ranked higher than any of the others,” Alfredsson said.
Hockey players are never too old to want to impress dad. Have you noticed a little extra jump in Alfredsson’s step since his father, Hasse, arrived here about two weeks ago? Scoring No. 400 with such flair before a father who coached Alfredsson for 10 years of minor hockey was icing on a grand cake.
Alfredsson knows his father is proud of him, “even though he doesn’t let on too much.
“He’s been a big part, both him and and mom (Margareta) of why I am where I am today — how they brought me up, my values. So, it was special to see them after the game.”
It wouldn’t be a media gathering at the man’s dressing room stall without someone asking the retirement question. Given his current form, it might be more fitting to be asking him about his next contract.
“I don’t know if it’s me that’s totally making that (retirement) decision,” said the father of four young sons. “We’ll see. At this point, I haven’t given it much thought, one way or another.”
No. 11 is still having fun, and that is a big factor. He says he may play another year if the game doesn’t feel “like a struggle” by season’s end.
It wasn’t a struggle to receive framed 400-goal mementos from his teammates Monday, as the home crowd stood on its feet, roaring, in yet another salute, with glorious goal No. 401 standing in the on-deck circle.