OTTAWA – There was a sense disbelief in the nation’s capital Friday as news broke that longtime Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, one of the most beloved athletes in the city’s history, had signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
Alfredsson’s departure came as a huge shock as just the day before Senators general manager Bryan Murray told the media he assumed a deal would get done and was waiting to hear back from Alfredsson’s agent J.P. Barry.
In less than 24 hours things took a dramatic turn.
Alfredsson called Senators Murray on Thursday night to tell him of his intentions. Murray says he did his best to change his mind, but in the end it had little impact.
Murray said owner Eugene Melnyk had even given him permission to give Alfredsson whatever was needed to keep him in an Ottawa uniform.
“For me it was a devastating conversation,” said Murray of his conversation with Alfredsson. “Bottom line is he wanted to try it (play for another team) and who could not agree with that decision if he feels it’s the right one?
“We’re going to miss him, there’s no question. We’re going to miss him as a person, as a leader, as a guy in the community. He’s deserving of all the credit he’s gotten here and more. We now have to try to move on and do what we have to do as the Ottawa Senators.”
While fans were still digesting news of Alfredsson’s departure, the Senators softened the blow by acquiring star forward Bobby Ryan from Anaheim in exchange for forward Jakob Silfverberg, prospect Stefan Noesen and Ottawa’s first-round pick in 2014.
The Senators also signed former Toronto Maple Leafs left-winger Clarke MacArthur to a two-year contract, $6.5 million contract.
Melnyk issued the following statement to fans after what can only be described as the biggest news day in franchise history.
“It has certainly been a notable day in the history of our franchise. I am extremely excited to welcome Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur as our newest Ottawa Senators,” said Melnyk. “I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank Daniel Alfredsson for his many contributions to our hockey club and to our community over the past 17 years. I wish Daniel, Bibbi and their family the very best with all their future endeavours.”
While acquisitions of Ryan and MacArthur are certainly a positive for the Senators, the moves did little to reduce the sting of Alfredsson’s departure.
Murray said he began to suspect something was amiss after numerous calls to Alfredsson’s agent Thursday went unreturned.
In a perfect world Murray said he would have preferred to learn of Alfredsson’s decision last week in order to have more time to work on other deals, but in the end he hopes the acquisition of Ryan and MacArthur will help strengthen the team.
“I’d like to think that our team is really growing up here fast,” said Murray. “I’d like to think that we’re going to be very competitive come regular season again. I’d like to prove to Alfie and the rest that we’re right there with them.”
Ryan, who spent the last five seasons in Anaheim, had 11 goals and 30 points last season and is expected to play on the Senators top line alongside Jason Spezza.
“Wherever they put me I’m going to be really happy to play with,” said Ryan. “Jason Spezza is a skating highlight reel. You know what he’s done over the past few years and obviously this year was different with the injury, but if that was the fit they were looking for I would be more than happy to go stand at the side of the net and watch him work.”
Ryan says he has no intention of coming into Ottawa and attempting to replace Alfredsson.
“I don’t think Daniel Alfredsson after what he’s done after the last how many years is ever going to be replaced,” said Ryan. “I’m not going to try and do that. What I’m going to try is to play the style of game that I’m accustomed to and score some goals and bring my ‘A’ game every night.
“It’s kind of a turnover day for the franchise and I got lucky enough to come in under the radar so to speak. Replacing Alfie is not going to happen, I’m just going to play my game.”
Murray said he doesn’t believe it came down to money for either side with Alfredsson, and that in the end it was just a player making a personal decision that he felt was ultimately in his best interest.
“I hope fans can understand this is something that happens,” said Murray.
From teammates to fans few could understand why Alfredsson would want to leave and admitted to being stunned as they learned the news.
“I’m shocked,” said teammate Marc Methot. “I think all of us are. I think all of us would be lying if we said we weren’t.”
Methot played one season with Alfredsson, but raved of the 40-year-old’s leadership abilities both on and off the ice.
“He’s a guy you can just learn so much from,” said Methot. “He handles himself so professionally no matter what the situation. I’m just thankful I had a chance to play with him.”
Methot couldn’t help but wonder if Alfredsson had been convinced to go to Detroit by the Red Wings’ Swedish contingent, including Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.
“I would think he had some guys reach out to him while he’s back in Sweden,” Methot said. “He’s earned the right to do what he wants, but I have to say it sucks from a team standpoint.”
Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad offered well wishes to his Swedish compatriot, but admitted he was saddened by his departure.
“He was a huge help,” said Zibanejad. “Being a countryman I could be more comfortable to ask him stuff and get the help from him. It was an honour to play with him.”
It didn’t take long for fans to take to Twitter and Facebook to express their mixed emotions at the news.
One mother of two young boys posted on her Facebook page “Two very upset boys…Alfie it would have been better if you had retired!!! That would have been easier to explain.”
Reaction on Twitter was similar as one fan wrote, “Still in shock about ?#alfie leaving the ?#sens. Part of me wishes him well, the other part hopes we win the ?#cup and can gloat a bit.”
Another fan blamed management for Alfredsson’s departure with this tweet, “Alfie’s departure is a commentary on the untold direction of the team and the owner. That’s probably the real story.”
On local sports radio reaction was mixed from sadness to anger with some fans going so far as to call Alfredsson a traitor while others blamed the organization for allowing the captain to leave. Various fans threatened to cancel season tickets; others called for Murray’s resignation while others felt Alfredsson was allowing greed to dictate his future.
The general consensus seemed to be that this would likely tarnish Alfredsson’s legacy with the Senators.
In a conference call Alfredsson did his best to explain his actions and said he fully expects “resentment and anger from fans and there should be.”
Alfredsson admitted that his decision was purely selfish in terms of wanting to find the best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. That’s not to say it was easy; he called it a very tough decision to leave Ottawa after 17 seasons.
He admitted that less than a week ago he couldn’t have even begun to imagine such a career change, but as free agency approached things began to change.
“It pretty much came down to a selfish decision in terms that I had not won a Stanley Cup and that was a big priority for me,” said Alfredsson. “It’s a tough decision to make and it still hasn’t really sunk in, but I feel I’m doing this for myself. I feel this is right for me.”
Alfredsson holds the Senators’ franchise records for goals (426), assists (682), and points (1,108) with 1,178 games played.
A decision on who will take over the captaincy is expected to take place during training camp, but the early front runner appears to be Jason Spezza.