Alfredsson, Jagr and the role of veteran leadership

As we prepare for the second wave of free agent signings to land, the number of marquee names to debate has naturally dwindled. One of the biggest fish still left in the pond is Jaromir Jagr and before you point out that he had zero goals in Boston’s 22 playoff games this year, I will counterpoint that it did not matter as much as you would expect.

Jagr is in the twilight of his career and having played for three different NHL teams in the past two seasons, he’s on the cusp of mercenary status. But there’s a reason he keeps finding work and it’s the same reason Ottawa will miss Daniel Alfredsson next year.

Jagr has become a model for teammates when it comes to his fitness routine. At 41, he still trains like a demon and the stories of his late-night skates and weight vests became part of the lore surrounding the 2013 post-season. His speed may not be what it once was, but his skills with the puck were still sharp and it won’t be long before a team signs him (to a one-year deal) because of the combination of puck possession and leadership-by-example that he’ll bring to the dressing room.

“Intangibles” can be a scowled-upon term, but there’s a reason Pittsburgh brought Bill Guerin into the Penguins dressing room one year after losing the final to Detroit. Guerin was 38 when Pittsburgh acquired him from the Islanders (New York being his third team in two seasons) for a conditional draft pick and though the resulting 15 points in 24 playoff games proved he could still create offense, the affable veteran’s biggest contribution may have been his dressing room presence. Guerin is a cut-up and having him in the room took some of the leadership burden off the young Sidney Crosby. The Penguins went on to get revenge on the Red Wings in the final and Guerin had his second Stanley Cup ring.

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Which brings us to Ottawa, the plucky team that overachieved so incredibly in 2013, despite big injuries to Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson. The young Senators would not let excuses slow them down and led by the ageless Alfredsson, Ottawa secured a playoff spot and then upset Montreal in the first round. All told, the Sens were led in scoring by 23-year-old Kyle Turris, veterans Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar and Swedish rookies Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg.

Silfverberg was the roster player surrendered in the Bobby Ryan deal and though he will be missed, it’s Alfredsson whose impact will not be measured until the 2013-14 campaign is well underway.

It’s not as if the Senators are left without leaders. Chris Phillips and Chris Neil both have more than a decade of service within the confines of Bytown and still play key on-ice roles. Gonchar, now a member of the Dallas Stars, will also be missed, but perhaps this is the year Karlsson steps up as a leader as well as the best player on the team.

But make no mistake, Alfredsson leaves a void. He was captain of the Senators longer than everyone else combined in the history of the franchise and the Sens will have to get over the fact his name isn’t framed on one of the stalls in the dressing room. When things go sideways for the first time next season (which happens to every team), will the response be the same as it had been in the past?

This is the burning question that will stalk the Senators until proven otherwise.

Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.

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