Daniel Alfredsson’s recent signing with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent caught the hockey world by surprise.
Alfredsson, 40, was expected to re-sign with the Ottawa Senators, the only team he’d ever played for during his 17-season NHL career, most of it as their captain.
A number of Senators fans were understandably upset, with reaction ranging from shock, dismay, sadness, even anger.
Though Alfredsson and the Senators publicly parted on good terms, the reasons behind his decision are still being analyzed and debated by pundits, bloggers and fans.
Alfredsson call his decision a selfish one and understood the criticism he would receive from Senators fans. There’s speculation, however, suggesting his decision was based upon disrespect from Senators management over his asking price.
After years of accepting less than market value, Alfredsson may have been put off by the Sens initial reaction suggesting his request for market value was excessive.
Whatever the reason, Alfredsson won’t be returning to the Senators next season, which could be his NHL swan song.
Some fans and pundits suggested Alfredsson “tarnished” his legacy by abandoning his long-time team to pursue Stanley Cup glory elsewhere.
I recently responded on Twitter by comparing his decision to long-time Boston Bruins star Raymond Bourque’s trade request to a Stanley Cup contender midway through the 1999-2000 season.
Some of my Twitter followers agreed, some thought it was a poor comparison, while others maintained Alfredsson’s legacy was forever diminished.
Some suggested a better comparison was Mats Sundin, who refused to waive his “no-trade” clause in the final year of his contract with the Maple Leafs, only to sign months later with the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent.
Sundin was vilified for his “selfishness” by refusing to accept a trade which, in the eyes of his critics, could have landed a big return to help the Leafs rebuild into a playoff contender.
The long-time Leafs captain, however, wasn’t comfortable with changing teams in mid-season and parachuting onto a Cup contender. He didn’t feel right trying to win a Stanley Cup that way.
What should’ve been praiseworthy, however, was fodder for his critics, who howled about Sundin’s “tarnished legacy” as loudly as Alfredsson’s critics today.
Bourque, on the other hand, faced scant criticism for his decision. At the time, he was an ageing star and the Bruins were mired in mediocrity, but rather than face vilification, fans and pundits overwhelmingly supported his trade request. In their eyes, Bourque “earned” the right to contend for a Cup elsewhere after being so faithful to the Bruins for two decades.
Funny how Bourque “earned” his right, but Alfredsson’s decision was seen by some as selfish, even traitorous. Oh, I know, the difference was Bourque’s Bruins weren’t playoff contenders while the Senators are a team on the rise. Given that Alfredsson is now 40, however, he evidently feels the Red Wings stand a better chance to win a Cup next year than the Senators. Time will tell.
Some responded to my Bourque-Alfredsson comparisons by claiming the former’s departure via trade was the better way to go, as it allowed the Bruins to get a return for him, whereas the Senators lost Alfredsson for nothing via free agency.
In other words, by requesting a mid-season trade, Bourque was more of a team guy, whereas Alfredsson was being a selfish jerk.
To disgress a moment, the return the Bruins got for Bourque from the Colorado Avalanche (Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier, Samuel Pahlsson and a first round pick in 2000 (Martin Samuelsson) wasn’t that great.
Rolston had four good seasons with the Bruins, but departed via free agency to Minnesota in 2004. Pahlsson was dealt to Anaheim in 2001 for Andrei Nazarov and Patrick Traverse, while Grenier and Samuelsson saw limited time in the NHL.
True, the Senators got nothing for losing Alfredsson, except room under their self-imposed cap ceiling of $50 million to comfortably absorb winger Bobby Ryan’s contract in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks hours after Alfredsson’s announced departure.
The Senators replaced the ageing Alfredsson’s declining offensive skills with a younger scorer who could push the Sens closer to Cup contention. Ryan won’t replace Alfredsson’s leadership and experience in the short term, but the Senators will adjust over time.
Had they re-signed Alfredsson, perhaps the Ryan trade wouldn’t have happened, or the return would’ve been more costly.
Returning to Alfredsson’s supposedly tarnished legacy, let’s recall the reception Sundin received in Toronto following his tenure with the Leafs.
When the former Leafs captain returned to Toronto in 2009 as a member of the visiting Vancouver Canucks, he received a lengthy ovation from Leafs fans. Some of those cheering fans might have been among those castigating Sundin the previous year. He received another ovation when he scored the game-winner for the Canucks in a shootout.
Following Sundin’s retirement, the Leafs honored him by raising his number to the rafters. Once again, Sundin was loudly cheered by Leafs Nation.
Over time, the criticism aimed at Alfredsson will diminish, just as it did with Sundin. The hot emotion of summer will cool when next season rolls around. The young Senators should improve, giving their fans plenty to cheer about, and the sting of their former captain’s departure will fade.
When Alfredsson makes his inevitable return to Ottawa as a member of the Red Wings, he could be booed every time he touches the puck, just as Sundin was in his first game back in Toronto with the Canucks.
Then, the video tribute will be played on the Jumbotron, and Alfredsson will receive a lengthy standing ovation from the Senators faithful. If he gets a goal or an assist in that game, cheers could drown out the boos.
In a few years, when he’s honored for his inevitable Hockey Hall of Fame induction and the Senators retire his number, Ottawa fans will stand and cheer and remember everything their beloved “Alfie” did for their team and their city, both as player and citizen. Bitterness over his departure will be scarcely heard, let alone remembered.
No matter what happens from now on, Alfredsson’s legacy as one of the greatest players (if not the greatest) in the modern history of the Ottawa Senators remains tarnish-free.