Time for Senators, Alfredsson to call a truce

In one of the more memorable scenes in the popular series Mad Men, the lead character, Don Draper, is sitting in a hospital room with protégé Peggy Olson.

In one of the more memorable scenes in the popular series Mad Men, the lead character, Don Draper, is sitting in a hospital room with protégé Peggy Olson.

Peggy has gotten into a situation that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today, but is threatening to derail a groundbreaking career move in the 1960s. Don, who has a history of burying his own controversial past, offers up some guidance in the form of a command.

“Get out of here and move forward,” he says through an intense glare. “This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”

If ever there was a time for both the Ottawa Senators and Daniel Alfredsson to take that kind of bold advice, this is it.

After an F5 tornado of accusations and recriminations over Alfredsson’s untimely departure for Detroit blew through the city Thursday and left damaged reputations strewn about, all that’s left to do it pick up the pieces and clean up the mess.

This will be difficult, given the deep wounds suffered this week.

It all started seven days ago, when the Citizen published an interview with team owner Eugene Melnyk in which he revealed the Senators couldn’t afford Alfredsson’s contract demands while also adding the top-six forward that he, general manager Bryan Murray and Alfredsson felt would make Ottawa a true contender.

The Senators are operating under an internal budget on player salaries in the neighbourhood of $51 million, and Alfredsson was seeking a big raise over the $1 million he earned on the tail end of a front-loaded contract he’d signed four years earlier.

As the week rolled on, Murray emerged to say he still felt he could have gotten Alfredsson under contract and done a deal with the Anaheim Ducks for young sniper Bobby Ryan — something the general manager pitched to the Senators’ captain during contract negotiations.

And on Thursday, Alfredsson mixed his farewell to the city he’d grown to love with a defence of his own actions.

Yes, he was asking for a lot of money, he explained, but only after being asked by the team to help it manage the salary cap by tacking on that $1 million for a season he and management assumed he’d never play. He was also promised a fair contract extension when he wound up playing.

Melnyk was back in the news this Friday, joining Murray in condemning how Alfredsson’s agent, J.P. Barry, handled the negotiations.

“For anyone to even suggest the remote possibility that Bryan Murray is not fully honest in his clear recollection of events should be ashamed of themselves,” Melnyk told sports broadcaster TSN. “I point the finger squarely on J.P. Barry, the man who blessed us with the (Dany) Heatley mess.”

The Heatley mess he refers to is a whole other putrid can of worms that is still being sorted out. The Senators filed a grievance against the player after he demanded a trade, then used his no-trade clause to nix a deal that would have saved the Senators $4 million in bonus cash in 2009.

Barry’s response to the owner? Don’t shoot the messenger.

The story, up until this week, was that Alfredsson’s decision was purely a hockey one: That the veteran Detroit Red Wings had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup than the young Senators.

In the end, cash was king for all sides.

And from another perspective, the most ardent Senators supporter in my life summed it up nicely with a one-line text message: “Hard to be a fan today.”

So, how do the Senators and Alfredsson start repairing the damage done this week?

From a public relations perspective, two easy steps would go a long way.

1. Radio silence

Alfredsson’s decision to leave was a completely unexpected bombshell that needed to be explained further. While some would have been satisfied buying the initial “hockey reasons” narrative, many others had to know the real reason the franchise’s marquee star suddenly decided to uproot his four kids and bolt for the border rather than close out a storybook career here. There was a grieving process that had to take place.

For all mixed messages coming out of both camps, there is a much clearer picture now. As in most arguments, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

So what is there to gain by continuing to lob grenades, drawing this argument into a time of year when people have actual hockey to talk about? Nothing.

2. Make Dec. 1 a memorable evening for the right reasons.

There are two ways Alfredsson’s return to the Canadian Tire Centre can go. The first is a week that begins with a discussion about how the team and fans will receive him (‘will he be booed?’) and ends with a token scoreboard acknowledgment of his mere presence.

The other is that both sides park their hostility and the Senators give Alfredsson a proper tribute before the game even starts, acknowledging and embracing just how much he, the franchise and the city have meant to each other over the last 18 years.

Move forward.

As with Don and Peggy, the past will occasionally creep up. For the next little while, expect almost every story about Alfredsson to reference this messy hockey divorce.

But time has a way of taking the edge off of spats between players and the teams that employ them, and a truce would move that process along much quicker.

There’s no reason it can’t happen here.

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