SUNRISE, Fla. – It looks like Ottawa’s adopted son is going to remain a Senator for life.
Daniel Alfredsson has signed a US$21.59-million, four-year extension with the only NHL team he’s ever known, putting the Senators captain under contract until the age of 40. The deal includes a $2.09 million payment related to his current deal. Alfredsson will be given the payment because he declined to exercise his 2009-10 option.
Ottawa selected Alfredsson in the sixth round of the 1994 draft and has since seen the Swede appear in more than 950 regular-season and playoff games for the team.
Alfredsson is thrilled to have the chance to spend his entire career with one organization.
“It’s pretty special in today’s pro sports,” he said Thursday before the Senators faced the Florida Panthers. “We’re really rooted in Ottawa, in the community. I really look forward to the challenges ahead both on the ice and off the ice as well.
“Like I said, Ottawa has become my hometown.”
The respect seems to be mutual.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has long promised fans that Alfredsson would spend his whole career in Ottawa. The contract extension helps ensure that he can make good on that word.
“There’s no question that he’s the heart and soul of the franchise,” said Melnyk.
That was never more evident to the team’s management than last year’s playoffs, when Alfredsson played two games with a ruptured medial collateral ligament. He suffered the knee injury late in the regular season and missed the start of a series with Pittsburgh before returning.
Even though the Sens were swept by the Penguins, it was a statement about Alfredsson’s commitment to the organization.
“I don’t even know how he put his skates on, never mind getting out there and actually inspiring a team and inspiring the fans,” said Melnyk.
The core of the Senators is now locked up to long-term contracts. Top forwards Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher all signed lengthy deals last year while defenceman Chris Phillips is in the fold through the 2010-11 season.
Alfredsson’s current deal would have expired at the end of this season if he appeared in 70 games or put up 70 points. Melnyk is happy that his captain’s long-term status has now been cleared up.
“I don’t care who you are, but that’s distracting to a player,” he said of not having a contract. “That’s the last thing in the world I want to do. I want them all focused. There’s no excuses for anybody – not that he needs excuses.
“I can guarantee you that he is very, very pleased that he does not have to worry about that part of his life anymore.”
The most productive years of Alfredsson’s career have come since the lockout ended three years ago. He had a career-best 103 points in 2005-06 and followed that with seasons of 87 and 89. Through eight games this year, Alfredsson had three goals and nine points.
The 35-year-old feels like he can continue to be productive moving forward.
“I’ve been happy about the way I’ve been playing since the lockout,” said Alfredsson. “You always try to improve. As you get older, the biggest challenge is to stay healthy.
“If I can do that, my fitness is good enough that I should be able to play at a high level. I feel enthusiastic about everything.”
His resume is already impressive.
A five-time NHL all-star, Alfredsson won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1996 and was nominated for the 2004 Lady Bing Trophy as the player demonstrating the most sportsmanship and playing ability.
The winger has represented his native Sweden internationally on 12 occasions, highlighted by his Olympic gold-medal win in 2006.
He was also Ottawa’s best player when it advanced to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. Alfredsson had 14 goals and 22 points in 20 games that post-season.
“Daniel is the type of person and player that we want to continue building this franchise around,” said Senators GM Bryan Murray. “We are happy to have him here to lead our team towards the goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Ottawa.”
Both Murray and Melnyk believes it’s possible that Alfredsson could end up playing beyond 2012-13, the season his four-year extension will expire.
Don’t expect him to roam very far when his playing career finally ends. Alfredsson will likely end up taking some kind of role in the organization – although nothing firm has been agreed to.
“We’ve left that open but we talked about it,” said Alfredsson. “I don’t know if there is a position or if there is (a job), if I want to do it.
“But I think obviously I’ll probably be around the team in some capacity.”