OTTAWA – When Senators general manager Bryan Murray looks at Daniel Alfredsson, he’s reminded of another player who became known as the face of a franchise – former Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman.
“That’s an awfully good comparison,” Murray said. “There’s no question that the two of them are two of the top guys that I’ve been associated with.
“I’ve had the chance to coach them both and every night, you know what you were going to get effort-wise and attitude-wise and leadership-wise. If you wrap the two of them together – pretty impressive people.”
When Alfredsson steps on the ice Tuesday night at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., to face the Panthers, the 37-year-old Swede will become the first player in the Senators’ modern era to reach the 1,000-game milestone and the 251st in NHL history.
More impressive, however, is that he’ll be just the 44th in league history to do it with one team.
“It’s been a long time coming and it’s kind of been creeping up more and more on me,” said Alfredsson, who will be honoured for the feat Saturday when the Senators play their final regular-season game at Scotiabank Place against the Buffalo Sabres. “It will probably be more emotional than I care to admit.”
It was against the Sabres, on Oct. 7, 1995, that Alfredsson’s NHL career began as a 22-year-old. Since then, he’s become beloved in Ottawa as the Senators have been through their ups and downs from fledgling franchise to respectability.
It’s a similar path to the one followed by Yzerman, who played 22 seasons with the Red Wings, including 20 as captain.
“I don’t think I can put it into perspective myself,” Alfredsson said. “Sometimes you take things for granted and I know I’ve been very fortunate to be part of one team throughout my career and it’s been a lot of fun playing for the team and a lot of fun living in this city.
“It’s something that I’ll look back at when I retire as a great part of my life.
“I definitely feel appreciated here. There’s no question. You think about that pretty much before every home game you play and what they expect from you and you try to deliver.”
Alfredsson is now in his 14th season with the Senators and has worn the C for 10 of those. At a time when the salary cap is making loyalty between players and teams tough, that kind of long association with one franchise is becoming more and more rare.
“You don’t generally get a lot of players like that,” Murray said. “The guys that I’ve known are few and far between that have made the commitment that Alfie’s made.”
But it’s the way Alfredsson approaches the game on and off the ice that also earns the comparison to Yzerman, who was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and assembled the Canadian team that won gold at the Vancouver Olympics.
“We know now what Steve is and I’m sure Alfie somewhere down the road will end up, if he wants to be, in a management capacity or coaching capacity and will be a similar type of individual,” Murray said.
In Ottawa, fans and teammates alike revere Alfredsson, both for his work on the ice and in the community.
He’s the team’s all-time leader in games played, goals, assists and points during the regular season and playoffs.
Away from the ice, he’s remained approachable and involved, even becoming a public spokesperson for a campaign for mental health.
When the Senators brought highly touted rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson over from Sweden this season, it was Alfredsson who took him under his wing and into his home in order to help the 19-year-old adjust to life in North America.
“Those are big things,” Murray said. “It’s a real compliment to what Daniel’s done here. I’m sure Erik’s not the first guy and won’t be the last guy that he helps along the way and provides verbal direction, but also an example on the ice to.”
Alfredsson was himself an unheralded draft pick, the Senators’ second of the sixth round (133rd overall) in 1994.
Career highlights include: Winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1995-96; being named a five-time all-star and a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy that combines sporting ability with gentlemanly conduct; playing for Sweden at six world championships, two World Cups and four Olympic Games, including winning a gold medal in 2006.
It’s no surprise that when his predecessor as captain, Alexei Yashin, was suspended over a contract dispute in 1999-2000 and Alfredsson assumed the captaincy that he, and the franchise, made its biggest strides.
“He’s been a huge mentor to me,” Senators left-winger Nick Foligno said. “I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s a great guy and I’m very thankful to have been able to play with him. He’s a true leader, a true professional in just the things he’s done on and off the ice. I’ve learned so much how to be a pro.
“The biggest thing that stands out for me is his consistency. He’s just consistently great night in and night out and does the things you need to do to be a good player in this league and that’s something that I’m trying to learn from him. It’s tough, but he’s made a great living out of it and he’s someone that we should all follow as an example.”