Daniel Alfredsson’s “selfish” decision leaves “devastating” feeling

Daniel Alfredsson talks to reporters in Ottawa Thursday May 23, 2013.(Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson understands the frustration, the resentment and the hollow feeling that many Ottawa Senators fans are feeling after his “selfish” decision to leave for the Detroit Red Wings.

“I’m not worried about my legacy in Ottawa,” Alfredsson said in a conference call Friday following his shocking decision to leave the only NHL team he had known during his 17-year career, in pursuit of a Stanley Cup with the Detroit. “I suspect there will be anger from fans and there should be and I thought that question through, as well.”

Alfredsson will receive a one-year contract that pays him $5.5 million, including bonuses, but it wasn’t about the money. Ultimately, the former face of the Senators franchise says the decision boiled down to looking at his best options to win a Stanley Cup and believing that Detroit is closer to that quest than the Senators.

“I didn’t really see myself making a change, if you had asked me a week ago,” he said. “But then thoughts started creeping in. Everybody knows Detroit’s goals are always to be at the top of the game and to win championships and they’ve done that in the past.”

The 40-year-old Alfredsson, who owns his own chapter in the Senators record books, says he likely would have been satisfied playing out his career in Ottawa, but that his competitive nature wouldn’t allow him to turn down the opportunity for a shot with Detroit. Henrik Zetterberg, a fellow Swede, made some convincing arguments.

“Just to stay in Ottawa and enjoy my last year there and retire as an Ottawa Senator probably would have been a great ending, too,” he said. “But I’m a competitive person and I wouldn’t have felt the same drive, sort of being the mentor and playing it out.”

Senators general manager Bryan Murray was sharing the feeling of the fans Friday, feeling like he had been kicked in the gut. When Alfredsson broke the news to him in a telephone conversation late Thursday, Murray says it was a “devastating” feeling.

Murray’s attempted to talk Alfredsson out of the decision. The Senators general manager promised him the moon and more to stay, discussed possible trades and also debated whether the Senators were so far behind the league’s perceived front-runners. After all was said and done, he admits to having a restless night, knowing the organization would never be quite the same way again.

“You’ve got to feel what a terrible loss it is for the franchise,” a remarkably candid Murray said. “If you didn’t feel that, then you weren’t here very often. He’s a big game player, a good man, a guy who helped all our kids…it’s hard to lose this guy.”

In case you have been living on an island since Alfredsson broke into the NHL with the Senators during the 1995-96, you know what what he meant to the team. Alfredsson is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. He has played in 1,178 regular season games, scoring 426 goals and 682 assists. His playoff resumé includes a franchise record 121 games played and a franchise-high 51 goals and 49 assists.

Way more than that, however, are the intangibles. He has become the living definition of a leader by example, talking softly while carrying a lethal stick. Over time, he became a bigger and bigger piece of life in Ottawa outside the arena, embracing his children’s events and establishing himself as a face for countless charities within in the city. If he ran for Mayor, Jim Watson would soon be uttering his concession speech.

All of that makes his departure all the more startling. Even to his teammates.

“I’m shocked, like everybody else,” said right winger Chris Neil. “I thought he would be around and retire here, with his legacy, along with his family and all the stuff he does in the community.”

Neil says he was aware of the rumblings for the past few days and the possibility that Alfredsson could leave, but he still didn’t believe it would ever happen.

“He will be tough to replace. I’ve always said that Alfie is not the most vocal guy in the locker room, but he always led by example, always scoring that big goal or having that big shift or slowing the game down for a shift.”

“You expect your captain back and it changes the whole make up of the locker room.”

It’s expected that centre Jason Spezza will inherit the captain’s role, but any such decision likely won’t be made until training camp. Murray says there are several players who have been here for lengthy periods, who can help fill the void.

Still, defenceman Marc Methot echoed Neil’s thoughts, caught completely off guard by the news.

“It’s disappointing, we all love Alfie so much,” he said. “He’s such a great guy in the room. There’s a reason why we praise him all the time. I’m surprised, but Alfie does have the right to exercise his options.

“I still thought we had the best chance of (keeping) him.”

Murray was startled at how Alfredsson slipped away, saying that negotiations on a contract extension with the Senators “never really started, really” after Alfredsson announced his desire to return for another season on June 28.

Murray and Alfredsson’s agent, J.P. Barry, exchanged preliminary offers that neither side were happy with at the NHL draft last Saturday. There was limited talk between the sides during the week and once outside teams were allowed to express their interest in pending free agents Wednesday, Alfredsson began seriously entertaining offers from Detroit and the Boston Bruins.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland acknowledges he was surprised his interest in Alfredsson went anywhere and Murray was convinced that he simply needed to talk to Alfredsson to get a deal done.

When the two finally spoke and Alfredsson suggested it was simply like he was fading away into retirement, Murray didn’t want to hear it.

“I told him, ‘but Alfie, you didn’t retire, you’re going to play in our league, and dammit, in our division.”

Alfredsson says he had long, “difficult” discussions with his family before finally taking the leap, but he insists the Senators are on the right track.

“Ottawa is in a great spot, going in the right direction and has a lot of things going for it,” he said. “If this is my last season, I don’t want to change anything that’s going on there and not demand that Bryan or Eugene have to make a push because of me to go for it. They have too many good things going on there to not stay the course.”

 

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