It’s been approximately one month since Daniel Alfredsson made the decision to bolt the Ottawa Senators for the division rival Red Wings and in these four weeks, Sens fans have invested a lot of time and energy into figuring out why their beloved captain packed up and left for a better opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
During this time, there’s been ample opportunity to come to terms with Alfie’s decision and heal our proverbial wounds, but with one Szymon Szerberg tweet that depicts a colour coordinated Alfie working out at a Frölunda Göteborg gym in preparation for his first NHL season outside of Ottawa – working out in front of an Erik Karlsson jersey nonetheless – that went out the window. The photo was a swiftly delivered kick to our Swedish meatballs.
I have tried to rationalize his decision to move on by convincing myself that no one should be bigger than the crest on the jersey, not even Alfie.
But like many, I cannot seem to let go of it. Something just doesn’t sit right.
Of course there are others fans who disagree and what we’ve essentially been left with is a situation in which the entire fan base has become polarized – fans are arguing vehemently with other fans through social media, comments left on media websites, blogs, forum postings or whatever online communities these fans belong to.
On one hand, you have one sect of the fan base defending Alfie. Wondering how a player who has spent 17 seasons with the Senators can pack up his family and move to Detroit. Why now? Why would Alfie, a player who has: a) faced scorn from the NHLPA for agreeing to a contract before the 2004/05 lockout (costing himself millions after a salary rollback); and b) deferred salary during the Bryden bankruptcy years to accommodate the team and give them the flexibility to make moves at the trade deadline to bolster their playoff roster, start looking out for own self-interest now, of all times?
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch can simplify matters by saying this was simply Alfie’s decision to give himself a better chance at winning the Cup, but for many, it doesn’t pass the smell test; even if Alfie corroborated this take during his introductory media teleconference for the Red Wings.
If winning truly takes precedence for Alfie, why even bother having his representation pursue the reported two-year extension with the Senators for an annual average value of $6-million? (As an aside, you have to imagine it’s the Senators who leaked these numbers. They’re the only ones who stand to gain from it.)What would you expect from the captain? It would be unfitting for him to throw the organization and ownership under the bus now.
For these fans, how the events unfolded doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Alfie has had plenty of opportunities to leave, especially during these past few rebuilding years. If he was going to leave, why leave when the team is on the upswing and has proven itself to be competitive? Why leave for a franchise in Detroit that, although they have proven to be a perennial playoff team, have not distinguished themselves as a Stanley Cup contender in years?
For many, the gap between Ottawa and Detroit isn’t as large as Alfie has led us to believe. This kind of lateral move has instead raised doubts about the ownership situation in Ottawa and its commitment to win.
Over the course of the summer, we’ve heard allegations about Eugene Melnyk’s purported financial hardships. The buzzword of the summer has been ‘internal budget’ and Ottawa has one of the smallest payrolls in the league. Coupled with the organization’s fervent appeals to the City Council for due process and whatever additional revenue streams could be created should the City forego a sole source casino decision and potentially allow the OLG to build and operate a casino near the Canadian Tire Centre, fans are concerned with organization’s willingness (or lack thereof) to invest money into their payroll.
With an adherence to a relatively tight budget, Alfie’s decision to leave has left fans not only wondering what went wrong in negotiations, but whether Ottawa will have the wherewithal to be able to retain its best players moving forward. Looking two seasons ahead, unless either player signs an extension beforehand, both Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza will hit UFA at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season. Given the circumstances, it’s understandable to see some fans lose confidence in this team’s ability to prevent impending UFAs from leaving.
If Alfie can leave, anyone can and with its two best offensive talents approaching unrestricted free agency (UFA) at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season, our confidence in ownership to retain the organization’s best players is shaken.
Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum are those fans who can’t fathom why others are dwelling on a decision that was made one month ago. For them, cheering for the crest on the front of the jersey is more important than pulling for the name on the back of it.
They take Alfie’s words at face value and believe that he made his choice for what he considers as his best chance to win a Cup; citing his Eastern Conference semifinals actions (picking up the puck) and post-game comments as a player who had come to terms with how far Ottawa has to come to be one of the top teams in the East.
Rather than dwell on the negative, they’re more than happy to look at the situation in a vacuum and point to the state of Ottawa’s roster and declare that this team is better on paper now than it was a month ago, and because of that, we should embrace that and move on.
With the hockey analytics community and other pundits stepping forward to declare the Senators as a team that should be better next season, but at times, and maybe this is an issue for a team that’s still relatively modern in its existence, we are too quick to dismiss who Alfie is and what he has done.
After all, this is a player who holds the franchise records in games played, goals, assists, points, power play goals and shorthanded goals. The fact that he’s the only player to incur the wrath of the opposition’s fans within our own barn and have a chant started at the 11:11 mark of each period speaks volumes about him as a player.
Perhaps Senators President Cyril Leeder put it best by saying in an interview on the Team 1200 that, “I think people, I think, may have missed the point that this is once in an ever, once in a lifetime, certainly once in a generation kind of player that we had here. It would have been nice to keep him for the rest of his career.”
Amen to that.
The third group of fans refuses to put blame on either the player or the organization; instead, they prefer to believe that the situation was complicated by a number of factors and refuse to pin blame solely on ownership/management or Alfie for how everything transpired – believing that any attempt to do so oversimplifies things.
Regardless of which way you lean in the Alfie debate, the important takeaway for the Senators organization is that the fans have invested emotionally in their product and its players. There’s no ambivalence and everyone involved still has an eye on the Sens’ future. Time heals all wounds and provided the future proceeds in the right direction, fans will get over Alfie’s departure. They have no choice. Fortunately for us, many are forecasting the Senators to be headed in the right direction, so without further ado, here’s a list of reasons why Ottawa’s better off without Alfie in the fold for 2013/14.
1) HBO’s 24/7
Daniel Alfredsson already has quite the catalogue of memorable moments thanks to playing against the Maple Leafs in the Battle Ontario.
Having signed with the Red Wings, he’ll have another opportunity to add another moment when he suits up to play the Leafs in the December 31st Heritage Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbour, Michigan.
As part of the buildup for this outdoor game, HBO’s infamous 24/7 series will chronicle the Leafs and Red Wings in the weeks leading up to the game.
Mix Alfie’s history versus Toronto, as well as his December 1st return to Ottawa and barring injury, we’re essentially ensured that Alfie’s story will be a central focus of at least one episode. And hopefully, with HBO’s excellent production and storytelling ability, we’ll be given a little more firsthand perspective on his decision to leave than we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
And even if we don’t get that, I’d settle for a running commentary of Alfredsson describing what happened on this shift.
2) Changing of the Guard
Whether Alfie retired at the conclusion of this season or next, every Sens fan recognized that he was approaching the end of his time in Ottawa.
Now, after his decision to leave for Detroit, it’s like someone ripped a band-aid off of a cut to get this over with. We weren’t prepared for it, it stings like hell right now, but we don’t have to worry anymore about this thing dragging out.
Without that Alfie decision looming over the team, guys no longer have to answer questions or worry about their former captain’s status. Stars like Erik Karlsson, an underappreciated talent in Jason Spezza, and Bobby Ryan can come to the forefront. It’s their team now.
Speaking of Ryan…
3) “Ottawa, I’m coming in hot…”
The last time the Senators acquired a goal scoring winger, who was entering or in his prime to complement Jason Spezza on the team’s first line, he riddled off four seasons in which he averaged 45 goals.
Now no one wants to put that kind of pressure on Bobby Ryan to produce 50 goal seasons right away, but for the Senators to take the next step in their ascent up the NHL standings, they will need him to perform at a high level. Fortunately for Sens fans, he has shown a personality and willingness to embrace the newfound responsibility that comes with being a go-to guy.
There are naturally going to be concerns over the term that’s left on Ryan’s deal. Although he has expressed an interest in returning the favor to the Senators who paid a handsome price to acquire his services, it remains to be seen whether the Senators will be able to sign him to an extension.
The good news is that Ryan’s entering the perfect storm for a lucrative contract extension. He was their targeted PR grab to atone for the loss of the franchise’s long-time captain. If he can parlay his ice-time playing the bulk of his minutes with Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, the opportunity for massive point production will be very real. And should he post some ridiculous numbers, the Senators will caught in a situation in which they can ill afford to take the PR hit that would come should Ryan test the market as an UFA.
And even if he does test the market, he has every incentive to give the Senators two guaranteed years of productive play. That's probably more than Alfie, the man whose absence may or may not have led to the trade of Ryan, could have guaranteed the Sens given his year-to-year/'will he or won't he retire?' status.
4) The Shroud of Turris
Here’s a look at Kyle Turris’ numbers with and without Daniel Alfredsson for the past two seasons (note: the top row of numbers indicates the 2013 season and the bottom row corresponds with the 2011/12 season):
TURRIS's Individual Stats With
When on ice Together
Despite frequently being matched up against the opposition’s most dangerous offensive forwards, whenever this duo was put on the ice, they tended to outshoot their competition. They basically provided Paul MacLean with a defensively responsible two-way line that can create offence and prevent the opposition’s best line from dominating the puck possession battle.
One of the media’s favorite adages whenever an out of town media member would ask what line is Ottawa’s top is, was to respond with, “Whatever line Alfie is on.”
Although his game has regressed some as he has aged, I still had some concerns that Alfie’s eventual departure could have some negative impacts on Turris’ production and puck possession capabilities.
As you can see from Alfie’s numbers below, he has seen an increase in his Corsi For % (a shot differential % proxy). Some of this can be directly attributable to the fact that whenever he was removed from Turris’ line, it was usually in a game that was getting out of hand which usually culminated in MacLean moving Alfie to Spezza’s flank on the first line. Taking into account the score effects and the better quality of linemates, it’s easy to understand why Alfie’s metrics took a slightly improved turn away from Turris.
ALFREDSSON when apart
Amazingly, we didn’t see that much of a deterioration in Turris’ Corsi For % away from Alfredsson. By the numbers, Turris didn’t experience that much of a sizeable drop and most importantly, when on the ice, he still managed to outshoot the opposition.
TURRIS when apart
Making Turris’ numbers more impressive is the fact that when injuries befell the Senators in 2013, the loss of Spezza meant Turris line wound up drawing the opposition’s top defensive pairing more often than not. In other words, without this insulation, Turris demonstrated that he was able to maintain an ability to outshoot the opposition. It’s an encouraging sign, and one that lends one to think there’s still room for growth (read: production) now that Spezza has returned to health.
5) No More U2 Being Played at SBP
Let’s be honest for a second, Alfie’s taste in music sucked. From admitting to liking Nickelback to using U2’s Beautiful Day as his goal song, losing Alfie can do wonders for @SenatorsDJ’s playlist.
6) The Legacy Card Goes Out the Windo
If Daniel Alfredsson can submit a price point in negotiations that is unreasonable and isn’t cost effective, legacy players like Chris Neil and Chris Phillips should never be able to leverage their legacy Senator status in negotiations with management or ownership.
If Alfie can go, anyone can and the Senators should apply the same standard to other regressing veteran players when it comes time to re-u
7) Punishment For Wreckless History Now Over
Leafs fans won't boo the home team's captain at the Canadian Tire Centre. You know, until Spezza(?) pretends to throw a stick into the crowd.
8) The 'Jilted Lover' Factor
Whether Alfie was being genuinely sincere when he said his primary reason for leaving the Senators was a selfish decision to pursue a Stanley Cup with a better team, no longer matters.
Like an individual who got too complacent in a relationship and let themselves go. This breakup of sorts should serve as a motivational tactic - the equivalent of spending countless hours in the gym, buying a new wardrobe and getting a boob job -- to push themselves harder and do whatever it takes to stick it to their former captain.
The fact that Ottawa is a divisional rival of Detroit and could very well meet up with them in the Stanley Cup playoffs just makes it that much better.