In Daniel Alfredsson’s perfect world, he would welcome an abbreviated NHL season every year.
“If I could choose, I would play 48 or 50 games every year,” the Ottawa Senators’ 40-year-old captain said Monday, facing the largest media crowd he has seen since the end of the 2011-12 season. “Not just because I’m older, but it makes for better hockey and a better product overall, I guess. For me, selfishly, it’s not a bad thing.”
For everything Alfredsson has accomplished during his career, leave it to him to act as a pitchman, selling fans on the merits of a regular-season sprint, leading to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Without a formal agreement signed, Alfredsson was even acting as a de facto coach at the Bell Sensplex, leading the drills for the Senators players in Ottawa and the other NHL players who will be heading out to practice with their teams this week.
Not surprisingly, the pace of Monday’s workout was brisker than at any point during the past month, as players push to be ready for the opening of training camps on the weekend.
Trying to get up to speed with only one week of training camp will be a novel experiment. Some players are returning from Europe, others will be making the jump from Binghamton and a dozen or so others are hoping they’ve done enough with their practice time here that they’re not too many steps behind. Alfredsson thinks the Senators might have an edge — “maybe we can ride their tails a little bit in the beginning,” — because a healthy portion of the lineup has been playing competitive hockey for the past few months.
“The toughest thing for the manager and the coach is, how do you evaluate or pace yourself when you have players at different levels in terms of conditioning and playing games and what not,” Alfredsson asked. “I’m sure they have a pretty good idea and the strength coach and medical team is going to play a big role as well. You want to maximize the week you have as much as possible, but at the same time, you don’t want to run the team down too hard to get off to a slow start because of that.
“It’s a fine line, but knowing Paul (MacLean), I’m sure we’re going to be skating quite hard.”
Alfredsson believes the Senators are in a good spot. While he’s anxious to see if they can improve upon last season, when they were on the brink of eliminating the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, he also recognizes that the organization is still in the early stages of a development project.
Veteran Senators defenceman Chris Phillips understands it might take some time for the club’s fans to buy into the NHL again.
“I’m not sure it’s going to happen overnight, but hopefully they will come out,” he said. “The reality is we need them here. They’re a big part of the game.”
While Phillips says “we’re excited to get back on the ice,” he remains bitter at the squabble that kept the NHL idle for four months.
“(The players) were ready to lace up and play and work towards an agreement. I don’t know if it was Gary Bettman’s call or a group decision on his side, but I don’t know if it was necessary.”