On July 5, the city of Ottawa was dealt a big blow when Daniel Alfredsson, their captain of 13 seasons and the most beloved player in Senators history, announced he was taking his talents to the Motor City to sign a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings, their new Atlantic Division rivals.
I’ll never forget that day and the coverage it received; radio call-in shows flooded with confused and angry people, mouths agape at what they’d just heard.
It’s not the first time the Senators have had difficulties dealing with a star player, whether it was Alexandre Daigle failing to live up to his draft hype in spectacular fashion, Alexei Yashin and his trade demands and contract holdouts, or more recently, the fallout between Dany Heatley and the coaching staff that led to his 2009 trade to San Jose.
But never did they think Alfredsson, who was a cornerstone in the Ottawa community for the past two decades (and still is, thanks to his charity work), would wind up in a similar category. It was hard to think the man known as Alfie could ever come into Corel Centre Scotiabank Place the Canadian Tire Centre wearing a different sweater.
The question on everyone’s mind was simple: Why?
Why would Daniel Alfredsson leave the only team he’d ever known despite the Senators being a young team on the upswing? He’d originally said it was for a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup, but wouldn’t the move to Detroit be considered a lateral, if not backwards move given the Red Wings’ aging roster?
On August 15, the curtain was pulled back on some of the behind-the-scenes workings that led to Alfredsson’s departure, and a case of He Said, He Said ensued shortly thereafter.
Speaking at Ottawa’s Royal Health Centre, Alfredsson laid all the cards out on the table, saying that, after agreeing to a team-friendly contract with a $1 million salary in the final year, he felt there was a verbal agreement for the next contract “at a fair amount to balance out the two years for both of us,” but that Senators management didn’t see eye-to-eye with their longtime captain, instead offering him much less than what he, along with agent J.P. Barry, deemed to be below Alfredsson’s fair market value.
We know the rest of the story from here. Alfredsson hit the open market on July 1, and Detroit capitalized. The Red Wings’ enthusiasm on where he would fit in the team’s systems, along with the idea of playing with friends and filling a need for a right-handed shot in the Detroit depth chart, won the Swede over and led him to leave Ottawa.
At least, we thought that was the end of the story.
Upon hearing Alfredsson’s reasoning today, Senators general manager Bryan Murray objected to his former captain’s statement, saying Barry was dishonest in the negotiation process, particularly after making demands for either a one-year, $7 million deal or two years at $12 million when Murray countered with a $4.5 million cap hit.
For his part, Barry said he stopped responding to Murray’s negotiations after what he perceived as a criticism on his status as an agent in the process. He also felt the Senators were trying to force Alfredsson to negotiate against himself, holding firm on the $7 million contract demand while accusing the Senators of trying to get Alfredsson to take a below-market value deal once again.
For what it’s worth, it’s not the first time Alfredsson pressed the Senators for more money. Hockey fans who are long in the tooth may remember Alfredsson held out at the start of the 1997-98 season to get a four-year, $14 million contract just one season after winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
However, that negotiation was under a different management team, and everything Alfredsson did over the next 14 seasons made the brief holdout seem like a distant memory. This time around, there was a starkly contrasting view on what Alfredsson’s value was to the franchise. Alfredsson felt there was a sort of gentleman’s agreement in place, while Murray and the Senators management presented what they felt was an appropriate offer under their salary structure.
This whole saga smacks of the drama surrounding LeBron James when he took his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat, minus the ESPN special and jersey burning in the streets.
In the short view, this will be a deep wound in the hearts of the Senators’ fan base, though I doubt you’ll see Eugene Melnyk writing an open letter to label his former face of the franchise a modern-day Judas. They will feel like they’ve been let down by the man they’ve supported through thick and thin.
It’s certainly not the first time this kind of bloody, bitter divorce has happened in the NHL, nor will it be the last.
- Eric Lindros buried the hatchet with the Philadelphia Flyers after years of mud-slinging between Lindros and then-Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke, playing for the Flyers (with Clarke on the roster) in a Winter Classic alumni game against the New York Rangers;
- Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens made up after ‘Le Trade’ in December 1995, as his number was retired by the team in 2008;
- While not having anywhere near the acrimony of the previously mentioned situations, Jarome Iginla was the centre of attention when he rebuffed Boston’s trade offer at the 2012-13 trade deadline, instead choosing to go to Pittsburgh, since he felt they had a better shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Boston eliminated Pittsburgh in the conference finals, and now Iginla finds himself wearing the Boston black and yellow.
- Fellow Swede Mats Sundin might be the closest mirror of Alfredsson’s situation, himself a longtime captain of a Canadian team (the Toronto Maple Leafs) looking to be properly paid for his contributions. A lengthy period of indecision led to Sundin signing with Vancouver, but Sundin was still given a hero’s welcome in his first trip back to the Air Canada Centre, where he remains an icon today.
In the long view, I think this will also resolve itself. The majority of the fan base will recognize Alfredsson’s countless contributions to the franchise’s glory years, and while they’ll probably boo him any time he touches the puck in the short term, the positives of his Ottawa tenure should far outweigh the negatives (which pains me to write, as a Leafs fan.) Once Alfredsson hangs up the skates for good, you can bet you’ll still see his number 11 become the first jersey retired in the modern era of the Senators.