LONDON — What a day at the Games for Eugene Melnyk.
When we spoke with the Senators owner, he was just across the way at Olympic Park, heading into the diving venue, pumped about the chances of seeing a Canadian medal — and thrilled to have his team captain back.
Melnyk must have been a lucky charm. Minutes after the interview, Canada hauled in its second of three medals on the day, in synchronized diving. The Senators owner felt fortunate enough already with the earlier news that captain Daniel Alfredsson, at 39, was returning to complete the final year of his contract.
“I think he still has the fire in him,” Melnyk said by telephone, shortly after the hockey club confirmed the most anticipated announcement of the summer.
“I think he’s the missing piece,” Melnyk said. “We felt we might need to get into the free agent market, but it wasn’t worth wading in. The prices were so far out of the ballpark, they weren’t in the realm of our budget.”
Now, the Senators feel as though they just made a trade for a star winger — one with a few miles on him, but a heart-and-soul leader who can still fire the puck and inspire his teammates. Alfredsson could have played a role in a suit, too, but Melnyk thinks it’s more important to have No. 11 in uniform, as a dressing room and on-ice presence.
“After the year that we had, and the leadership that Alfie and others provided, you can have those other $8 million to $10 million free agents,” Melnyk said. “Alfie can bring up all those young Swedes — he’s their mentor and our future rests on them.”
A couple of weeks ago, Melnyk received a strong ” hint” that Alfredsson would be returning in an active capacity, foregoing an off-ice position with the Senators.
“It was 50-50 for a while,” Melnyk said. “He stepped up his training, and that was make-or-break. When he asked his body to crank it up another notch, he convinced himself he still had it in him.”
Will the Senators re-work Alfredsson’s deal? Not at the moment. Both the captain and team management expect Alfredsson to play for $1 million at the end of a front-loaded contract, still carrying a salary cap hit of $4.875. million. Melnyk says it “speaks to the guy” that he is not asking to have that final year redone.
Once the season gets underway, there is always the possibility of working out an extension beyond 2012-13.
“That’s a bit of wild card,” Melnyk says. “How close are we to winning a Stanley Cup — and does he physically and mentally still want to play?”
This much is beyond debate: The organization, from the owner down to the game day staff are thrilled that Alfredsson is coming back. Melnyk joked that we could both fly over to Sweden from London to have a visit with Alfredsson and his family.
First, though, Melnyk is busy taking his daughters, Olivia, nearly 10 and Anna, 13, to Olympic events and tours of London by land and boat. The Melnyks have already been to Monday’s swimming competition, Tuesday’s diving. On deck: Artistic gymnastics on Aug. 2 and athletics on Aug. 3
“They’re old enough that I think they’ll remember this,” Melnyk said, suggesting he might need his own photo editor from all the pictures they’ve taken. “They’re both gymnasts, and they like swimming. Diving is a lot like gymnastics, a lot of these divers began as gymnasts, so who knows, maybe they’ll be interested in diving after this.”
Wednesday, the family is taking a day off from the Games to do more sightseeing, then attending Olympic events Thursday and Friday before flying back to Canada Saturday. Melnyk has been impressed by the Olympic hosts and visitors he has met here, finding the people “beyond friendly.”
He admits, though, that the Olympic pace is frantic.
“Every day has been full, and it’s getting to us,” Melnyk said. “I don’t know how people stay for the whole two weeks.”
Wayne Scanlan is covering the Olympics as part of a team of Postmedia writers. Follow him at Twitter.com/HockeyScanner.