After a little dose of Sweden and a little bit of sweat, the big decision is only days away for Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
General manager Bryan Murray said Tuesday that his captain would likely indicate whether he’s staying for another year or opting for retirement “before the weekend.”
At this point, Murray’s hunch is that the 40-year-old right winger will be back, providing that his return to serious off-season training in Sweden this week goes well. Alfredsson is also expected to touch base with agent J.P. Barry in the next few days. If he’s on his way back, the two will discuss the framework for a one-year contract extension.
The Alfredsson question was at the top of the list on Tuesday, as Murray elaborated on everything from Sunday’s NHL entry draft to the possibility the Senators will be busy when unrestricted free agency begins July 5.
“Hopefully before the draft, I will have a chance to understand what he’s thinking,” said Murray.
Alfredsson, who has always taken pride in preparing himself properly during the summer, wants to make sure his body can stand up the toll of what will be a full 82-game schedule in 2013-14. While Alfredsson is the club’s unquestioned leader and played a significant role in helping young players adjust to the NHL last season, but it’s also clear to Murray that the Senators captain wants to be productive on the ice, as well.
“For him, it’s more than that and he doesn’t just want to be a player that’s hanging on,” he said. “He wants to contribute at a good level.”
The club’s free agency plays will be affected by the captain’s decision. In the Senators ideal world, Alfredsson would return and the Senators would also add a power winger in his mid to late 20′s, a player who would be expected to play somewhere on the team’s top two forward lines.
The Senators are in position to take advantage of clubs with salary cap problems. Beginning late Wednesday, teams can offer buyouts. Free agency arrives the following week. Top draft picks could also enter into the equation for teams hoping to receive a future prospect in return for a talented proven player who doesn’t fit under the 2013-14 salary cap of $63 million.
“There are always a few players available that you can go talk to,” said Murray. “We’re at a stage where we can be somewhat selective…a guy that can come in and play a definite role on this hockey team and contribute in that role.”
The top end of the unrestricted free agent forward class includes David Clarkson of the New Jersey Devils and Bryan Bickell of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Bickell, the former Ottawa 67′s left winger, is fresh from scoring nine goals and eight assists in 23 playoff games — including the game-tying goal in Monday’s Cup-clinching victory – while seeing considerable time on a line with Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
As for Sunday’s draft, Murray says anything is possible. The club could stick with its current 17th overall selection in the first round, could trade up to a higher draft position for a more NHL-ready prospect or could trade away the pick altogether for an established NHL player.
While the Senators have compiled their own master list of the top 150 prospects, it’s unlikely they’ll have a shot at a player in their Top 10 list if they remain in their current drafting position.
According to The Hockey News, Swedish centre Alexander Wennberg is rated 11th, Swedish defenceman Robert Hagg is 12th, followed by left winger Adam Erne of the Quebec Remparts, Russian defenceman Nikita Zadorov, London Knights centre Max – son of Tie – Domi, London left winger Bo Horvat and Swedish left winger Andre Burakowsky.
While the highest drama on the weekend could come from the Colorado Avalanche – will they choose Portland defenceman Seth Jones, Halifax centre Nathan MacKinnon or Halifax left winger Jonathan Drouin with the first pick and what happens with the next four or five selections? — it’s a tougher scouting assignment to project greatness from a prospect who isn’t quite ready for the big leagues.
“It is a challenge,” said Pierre Dorion, the Senators director of player personnel. “Everybody can tell you who the top three are. It’s intriguing, because you know you’re not going to get a finished, polished prospect because you’re not picking early in the draft. You’re going to get somebody who is going to have flaws, somebody you’re going to have to work with, somebody you’re going to have to develop.
“Because of that, it’s important to just do your homework and be diligent.”
The Senators quietly invited four of those types of prospects to Ottawa last week, learning more about them through skating sessions and dinners. The current Senators management group can lay claim to a successful mid first round scouting story, drafting skilled, but severely undersized defenceman Erik Karlsson 15th overall in 2008.
At the same time, the scouting staff is also prepared that anything – and everything – can change before Sunday afternoon.
For the record, there was a heated internal discussion on who should be ranked No. 1 overall – Jones, MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin – just in case the Senators received a last-second offer they couldn’t refuse.
“For the (scouts) that see everybody, we had three different guys No. 1 and it was pretty intense,” said Dorion. “And Bryan (Murray) sometimes kids me and says ‘I think I can get the No. 1 pick.’ It would be a very healthy discussion, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. From Day 1, Bryan and Tim (Murray, assistant general manager) have said to prepare for every scenario. So we prepare for every scenario.”