DETROIT – Daniel Alfredsson was the face of the Ottawa Senators’ franchise.
Now his face isn’t even among the five featured on signs welcoming Detroit Red Wings fans to Joe Louis Arena.
There’s no longer a letter on his jersey or the responsibility that comes with it. He’s just another player, and he admits it has taken some getting used to.
“It’s mixed emotions,” Alfredsson said Tuesday, the day before facing his former team for the first time since signing with the Red Wings as a free agent in July. “I miss a lot about Ottawa, there’s no questions, at the rink and being the guy. But at the same time I also enjoy not being the guy and kind of worrying about myself a little bit more.”
That’s something he rarely got to do in 17 seasons with the Senators, 14 of which he spent as the captain. He was the de facto first-line right-winger and holds the Ottawa records for most games, goals, assists, points and much more.
Alfredsson’s new team features a couple of other future Hall of Famers in captain Henrik Zetterberg and alternate Pavel Datsyuk. When the Red Wings lost in a shootout Monday to the San Jose Sharks, Alfredsson didn’t have to serve as the team spokesman like he would have for the Senators.
“I don’t mind media at all, but it’s also nice to prepare every day through the ups and downs,” he said. “I don’t think I would’ve played as long as I did if I felt that was a burden for me. I can’t say it’s never been.”
A veteran of almost 1,200 NHL games, Alfredsson earned instant respect from his new Red Wings teammates. The 40-year-old fit seamlessly into the leadership structure that was already in place.
“It’s not like he’s stepping on anyone’s toes or anything like that,” goaltender Jonas Gustavsson said. “He knows when to say something and he knows when to let other people take care of that.”
But it was his responsibility to move his wife and four children to Michigan. He expressed some trepidation about his family settling in to their new life but didn’t express regrets about leaving the old one behind in order to prove himself to a new organization.
“The way I looked at it at the time and still do today is it’s a huge challenge for myself, personally, both on and off the ice,” Alfredsson said. “It’s a big challenge for our family. I think I will look back at this down the road as something that was a stepping stone for me in my life.”
From a pure hockey perspective, Alfredsson also has a different job with the Red Wings. Coach Mike Babcock has moved him up and down the lineup throughout the first three weeks of the season, giving him plenty of different challenges along the way.
Alfredsson recorded a goal and eight assists in his first 10 games, calling his own play “so-so.” And while the Red Wings lean on him for offence, the presence of Zetterberg and Datsyuk means he’s not counted on to do everything.
“I think my role here is more I’m going to do everything I can to make it feel like they don’t have everything on their shoulders, and not the other way around that they should take something off me,” Alfredsson said. “I think if I can stay healthy and play to my abilities I should be able to do that. I think that’s important. We know how good they are, and if we can help out behind them, I think it’s going to make them even better.”
It has been a long time since anyone considered Alfredsson a complementary player. Former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr slid into similar roles last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, with varying degrees of success.
Early this season, Alfredsson is fitting in smoothly in Detroit, perhaps in part because of his unassuming nature and the core that has been around and already won the Stanley Cup.
“The personalities have to fit, the position has to fit, the belief in the system has to fit, and right now it looks like the marriage there is pretty good,” said San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan, an assistant on the Red Wings’ 2008 Cup team.
McLellan pointed to Dallas Drake’s role in 2008 and Jamal Mayers’ with the Chicago Blackhawks as prior examples of veterans integrating well and contributing to a championship. What makes Alfredsson different is that, like Iginla and Jagr, he has been a star and is used to the good and bad that comes with the spotlight.
That star power isn’t going to waste with the Red Wings.
“He’s done excellent work for us, and we just be happy to learn more from these guys like this,” Datsyuk said.
In Detroit, Alfredsson has joined a team with seven fellow Swedes: Zetterberg, Gustavsson, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson, Jonathan Ericsson and Joakim Andersson.
“There are so many Swedes that he’s played with, whether it’s been at the Olympics or world championship or international stage,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “He knows those guys, fellow countrymen. I think it helps right away.”
Though he played with all but Andersson for Team Sweden at some point, Alfredsson said he wasn’t sure how much of a factor that was in his decision.
Still, Babcock wondered if Alfredsson has had some second thoughts.
“Obviously any time you change environment after that long it’s going to be not as comfortable as the old place,” Babcock said. “But I think life’s about embracing change anyway.”
Alfredsson has certainly done that. He called moving on with the Red Wings another stepping stone and an opportunity to “experience new adventures.”
Babcock hopes this team can ensure taking the leap was worth it.
“It’s just a matter of time, but he’s been excellent,” Babcock said. “In the end, depending on how good we become, I think he has a chance to be real happy here.”