Warren: On paper, maybe Senators are better off

It wasn’t a long weekend in Ottawa. It only seemed that way for area hockey fans, still dealing with the emotions following Daniel Alfredsson’s startling exit to the Detroit Red Wings.

It wasn’t a long weekend in Ottawa. It only seemed that way for area hockey fans, still dealing with the emotions following Daniel Alfredsson’s startling exit to the Detroit Red Wings.

Alfredsson’s growth with the Ottawa Senators and contributions to the city will never be forgotten. His success story here was unlikely and remarkable.

Some of us can remember when he first arrived, with little fanfare and limited English in the fall of 1995. As I drove him home from the airport one night during his first exhibition season, he carried a huge chip on his shoulder and his eyes burned with competitive desire after reading an article suggesting the sad-sack organization was nothing without Alexei Yashin, who was in the midst of one of his countless holdouts.

Alfredsson went on to win the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. Year after year after year he was the one constant as the Senators went way up the standings, back down to near rock bottom in 2010-11 and back up again in the past two seasons. Along the way, the franchise sidestepped several major financial landmines.

For all that, his decision to move on provides a cold, hard — and necessary — reminder that this whole big thing called the National Hockey League is a business.

Owners routinely lock out the players, crying poverty, before returning to the same ridiculous, compulsive shopping addictions. Players join the party by shopping themselves around to the highest bidder or where the opportunity for success is greatest.

Yes, even Alfredsson has gone there.

He has joined a Detroit team that will spend to the salary cap. Don’t discount the fact he’s now part of a pseudo-Swedish all-star team in an Olympic year. Maybe just maybe, Alfredsson wants to close out his career as just a hockey player with a big winner, not as a larger than life figure called upon to answer for every big and little thing that goes right or wrong with his team.

“This is hockey, this is pro sport, and people come and go when you don’t want them to,” Senators general manager Bryan Murray said in the midst of his grief. “We have to turn the page.”

Yes, we do.

Now, if we can ever get past thinking about what Alfredsson was for so long and instead think about what he is now on the ice — a highly competitive second- or third-line right-winger with outstanding leadership skills — it’s open to debate whether the Senators could actually be a step ahead of where they were when the 2013 playoffs ended.

For the first time since Dany Heatley — oops, sorry about dredging up another painful franchise memory — the Senators have a proven, consistent, not injury-prone, 30-goal winger to take passes from Jason Spezza.

Spezza might, in fact, be the biggest beneficiary of all from Friday’s developments. Bobby Ryan has topped 30 goals in every full season he has played. He scores pretty goals and ugly goals. He’s only 26, and, since a player’s peak years often come in their late 20s, he may not yet have reached his potential. The Senators power play should be better.

Coach Paul MacLean will make the lineup calls, but there should be some excitement about the potential of a combination of Ryan, Spezza and Milan Michalek, if Michalek can stay out of the trainer’s room for an extended period.

Every blockbuster trade comes with a gamble, of course. In this case, the hope is that the instant dividends Ryan should provide will be better than what Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen will eventually deliver for the Anaheim Ducks. If the Senators remain competitive and make the playoffs next season, losing the first-round draft pick in 2014 won’t be as costly as if they struggle, don’t make the post-season and end up giving away a top-10 pick.

There is only so much room on the roster and the Senators had the prospects to make the deal. They also believe that Curtis Lazar, whom they selected 17th overall in the June 30 draft, will fill a top-six forward role within a couple of years. His performance at the club’s development camp last week — he scored a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 intrasquad contest — has some people wondering whether he might seriously push for a spot as soon as next season.

For those who can’t stop thinking about hockey in the summer, here’s a fun topic: Who joins Spezza, Ryan, Michalek, Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur on the top two lines? Mika Zibanejed? Cory Conacher? Mark Stone? Shane Prince? Mike Hoffman?

MacArthur is one of the few players who has switched sides in the Battle of Ontario, and it’s reasonable to think he can match Alfredsson’s expected offensive output next season: somewhere in the 20-goal, 45-point range. With Spezza back from his back and knee injuries, Turris will be restored to a more comfortable second-line centre spot.

What the on-paper fantasy GM analysis can’t predict, however, is how the leadership void is filled.

All criticism aside, it seems logical Spezza would inherit the captaincy of the Senators, with defenceman Chris Phillips and winger Chris Neil continuing to be loud voices in the dressing room. Erik Karlsson, the Norris Trophy winner in 2011-12, will have his say.

Can they be the ones who relay the messages from MacLean to the rest of the team? Can that group put out any fires that develop behind closed doors? Can they motivate and inspire the Senators’ youngsters as Alfredsson once did?

Every team faces question marks when a season begins, and queries about the Senators leadership will be at the forefront.

Change is the nature of the game, though, and by “game,” I mean the business of the NHL. Players come and players go.

We’ve just forgotten that because Alfredsson hung around here for so long.

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