With Alfredsson under fire from the public over his and the team’s rocky start to the NHL season, the Senators came to the defence of their captain Thursday – a day after trade rumours circulated linking the 33-year-old with a move out of the nation’s capital.
“I don’t think there’s a guy in the room that will listen to that,” Senators defenceman Wade Redden said regarding speculation the franchise’s longest-serving player could soon be on the move. “He’s a key guy and a leader for us.”
The Senators have gone 5-6-0 out of the gate and Alfredsson has been the target of criticism from fans and the media over his own lacklustre play.
After scoring 43 times and joining Dany Heatley with 103 points to set a franchise record a year ago, Alfredsson has just one goal this season – an empty-netter at that – and five assists through 11 games.
“But if you watch him play and see how hard he’s working, it’s a totally different story,” Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said in offering his support of the franchise’s leader in every offensive category.
Alfredsson said the criticism of his play is warranted, but he remains confident he’ll be able to turn things around.
For the Senators’ next game, Saturday at home versus Carolina, the right-winger has been reunited with frequent linemate Peter Schaefer on his left wing with Dean McAmmond at centre.
“Obviously, it’s a struggle and at times it becomes mental – I’m thinking too much,” he said following Thursday’s practice. “But things can turn around. I still know how to play this game, so it will come.
“Nothing feels different, sometimes you go through difficult times and you’ve got to fight through it.”
On Wednesday, the native of Goteborg, Sweden, was the subject of reports that he was on his way to Los Angeles after members of the Kings organization were spotted taking in the Montreal Canadiens’ 4-2 victory over the Senators at the Bell Centre.
Senators GM John Muckler quickly shot down those reports, although coach Bryan Murray was still trying to quell speculation following Thursday’s practice.
He said a trip to the NHL offices by new members of the Kings’ brass, Dean Lombardi and Jeff Solomon, and who stuck around to take in a game, was misconstrued by the media, even though a Montreal radio station that first reported the story maintained the Kings were there to look specifically at Alfredsson.
“I understand how it works,” Murray said of the speculation. “(But) it’s disappointing from my perspective of (Alfredsson). He’s such a quality guy and he cares so much – so now he has a little bit of a slump at the start of the year and all of the sudden the fingers start pointing at him.”
Since joining the Senators in 1995-96, when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year that season, Alfredsson has gone on to lead the club through its best times.
He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in regular-season games played (717), goals (263), assists (414) and points (677), and ranks No. 1 in all those same categories come playoff time.
However, since taking over the captaincy from Alexei Yashin for the 1999-2000 season, he’s also become the lightning rod for the team’s lack of post-season success.
Alfredsson, who is quiet and prefers to keep a low profile off the ice, has often been criticized for lacking the passion to be a successful leader.
Those in the anti-Alfredsson camp saw their numbers grow last spring when Buffalo’s Jason Pominville went around Alfredsson while shorthanded to score the overtime winner in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference second-round playoff series and eliminate Ottawa.
That led to a renewed call from fans for him to relinquish the team’s captaincy and the slow start this year hasn’t helped matters.
It’s a mindset that Murray and Alfredsson’s teammates don’t agree with.
“I don’t know what he’s done to prove he’s not a good leader,” Murray said. “Maybe just in public he’s not the guy making great speeches, I don’t know that. I just know that in the room, he has a lot of respect.”
Redden echoed his coach’s feelings.
“Daniel’s our captain and he’s trying really hard. Daniel cares,” said Redden.
“Look at his attitude even though people have been on him,” Redden added. “The skill he has, it’s going to turn around for him.”
Alfredsson, who admitted that when he heard the trade rumours, he wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not, is doing his best to keep plugging away despite the heat he’s feeling.
“It’s part of the job,” he said. “Everybody has their right to think what they want to think. I can only the best I can in the room, especially lead by example in practice and in games, and I believe most fans understand that as well.”