The first of December is 108 days away - 108 too many for some people in Ottawa, because that’s the day Daniel Alfredsson returns to the city in a uniform that will look utterly foreign on him. If they could, those folks would drop whatever they’re doing this very second and unload on him for his perceived betrayal.
The moment the former Senators captain and franchise icon chose to leave the only NHL organization he ever knew to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, Alfredsson morphed from treasure to traitor in the eyes of some Sens fans. When he makes his first appearance in Ottawa wearing the Wings’ Red and White rather the Red and White he once wore, it’s more than likely he’ll hear a dull roar combination of anger and derision. People voiced their displeasure when he signed with Detroit and no doubt will want the catharsis of expressing it again when he’s in their presence.
Here’s the thing about that, though: he shouldn’t hear any boos. At all. Departing as he did wasn’t good PR for the pristine image he’d built for himself, but Alfredsson has done right by the Senators in the short and long term by making Detroit his new home.
By leaving, Alfredsson has given the Sens a clean break in a way certain players of his stature did not in similar situations. Look no further than down Ontario’s Highway 401 to see an example of that; former Leafs captain Mats Sundin clung to his comforts in Toronto even when it was apparent he could do the team more good than harm by moving on.
Allowing your personnel decisions to be based on romantic attachment between team and player rarely results in a storybook ending. Sometimes you need to read the book like a roadmap and not swoon over it like you were leafing through an old scrapbook. Smart NHLers recognize the wake-up call Father Time provides and put themselves in the best position possible to win when they’re greybeards. That’s what Alfredsson has done. In choosing Detroit, he’s gambling the Wings will (a) have an easier go of things now that they’re an Eastern Conference squad; and (b) are as much of a lock to make the playoffs as any team in the league.
Just as importantly, Alfredsson knew he was going to a team that has no issues spending to the salary cap ceiling in pursuit of a Stanley Cup. That was not an option in Ottawa, as Senators owner Eugene Melnyk recently said. It came down to Bobby Ryan or Alfredsson – and if I had a choice between those two players, give me Bobby Ryan all day, every day, all of the days.
At 26 years of age, Ryan will be a productive and dependable teammate of cornerstone Erik Karlsson longer than the soon-to-be 41-year-old Alfredsson would’ve been. We know sports are a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, so that’s all that matters. And ask yourself this: would a straight-up Alfredsson-for-Ryan trade been praised or panned? I’m willing to wager most fans unencumbered by an emotional attachment to Alfredsson would say Ottawa wins that deal hands-down.
With Ryan on board and good luck with the injury bug, Ottawa could just as easily finish ahead of the Wings in the regular season and go further than Detroit in the playoffs. Not much separates the two teams. And tell me there’s not a little more fire in the bellies of veteran Senators such as Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Rejection can serve as a powerful motivator and I’m sure they’d love nothing more than to prove Alfredsson was wrong in thinking Detroit gave him a better chance to win a championship.
Come on, Ottawa fans. Even now, you can’t seriously tell me you hate Daniel Alfredsson. You’ve got more than three months to be honest with yourselves about where he was in his career and where the organization needed to go. And you’ve got an opportunity to set yourselves apart from other fan bases that went the knee-jerk raspberries route in the wake of a legend leaving them.
Imagine the scene at the newly renamed Canadian Tire Centre on Dec. 1 if, instead of relentlessly booing Alfredsson, the assembled crowd gave him as prolonged a standing-ovation as they would’ve had he remained a lifelong Senator until the end and it was his first night back in the building after retiring.
It would be a simultaneous tribute to Alfredsson and Sens fans and the classiest of acts in celebration of a man who epitomizes one.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.