It sounds so classy and clean, befitting Daniel Alfredsson’s image as the longtime captain of the Senators and an icon in Ottawa. After 18 years and 17 seasons with the same franchise, Alfie left as a free agent Friday and joined the Detroit Red Wings saying he wants a Stanley Cup before he retires.
But breaking down the timeline and reading between the lines, it wasn’t that simple. It was about money and ego, a messy divorce. The Senators didn’t want to pay Alfredsson’s price, and he was too proud to beg. They took him for granted, and he explored his options. Not only did he leave, signing a one-year deal with a $3.5 million salary and $2 million in bonuses, he left for a team that will be a division rival starting next season and declared it had a better chance to win, a slap in the face.
Even though the Senators acquired Bobby Ryan later – replacing a 40-year-old right winger in decline with a 26-year-old right winger entering his prime at lower cap hit, while adding left winger Clarke MacArthur, too – they screwed up. They cannot patch the hole in the fabric of the community in which Alfredsson was once woven.
Even though Alfredsson said all the right things – that this was “selfish,” that the fans should be angry and resentful, that it would have been easy to retire in Ottawa, that he wanted to be more than a mentor and challenge himself – he screwed up, too. He sacrificed so much goodwill because of a petty disagreement. He risked his legacy when the odds of winning the Cup in Detroit next year aren’t much better than they would have been in Ottawa, if at all.
Alfredsson half-laughed as he started to speak in a conference all with reporters, realizing the understatement he was making in mid-sentence.
“… have made a very difficult decision.”
[Related: Alfredsson makes 'selfish decision,' likes Detroit's Cup chances]
Listen to Alfredsson and Senators GM Bryan Murray break down what happened. Listen closely.
Murray came to his press conference with dates written on a sheet of paper, prepared for the PR battle. He said he met with Alfredsson before his captain went home to Sweden, giving him time and space to make a decision on retirement. He told Alfredsson about the potential Ryan trade. He met with Alfredsson’s agent, J.P. Barry, on Saturday and that was “the one and only time money was talked about.” They talked about one- and two-year proposals.
“One of the numbers that was at me, I said, ‘That’s not really the number we can go to. It’s not a fair number, I don’t think,’ ” Murray said. “In turn, I made a different proposal, and he said he would take it to Alfie.”
Don’t want to make too much out of it, but here that is again: Murray not only rejected Barry’s number, he said it was unfair.
Now here’s Alfredsson:
“I felt a week ago that I was not going to go anywhere,” Alfredsson said. “If I was playing, I was playing in Ottawa. And then our negotiations went a few days, and I just started thinking.”
Murray said he talked to Barry on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. The Senators have an internal budget of reportedly $50 million, below the 2013-14 salary cap of $64.3 million, but Murray said owner Eugene Melnyk was willing to add Ryan’s $5.1 million cap hit and write Alfredsson a blank check. Melnyk told him: “Spend whatever it is and get Alfie done.”
“I was convinced that it was a matter of one phone call,” Murray said. “[Barry] called me the one day and said, ‘Tell me your best price, Bryan.’ And I said, ‘That’s not the way to negotiate this deal. The way to negotiate this deal is, ask Alfie what it’s going to take to play in Ottawa. Tell me the number, and we’ll get a deal done.’ That was my statement to him, and I never heard back.”
Why didn’t Murray hear back? Well, why didn’t Murray offer Alfredsson what he had asked for in the first place? And why didn’t Alfredsson give the same number again or something lower - or decide to test the market with the intention of giving the Senators a chance to match?
Both Murray and Alfredsson knew the Senators had a budget. Both knew the Senators didn’t want to meet Alfredsson’s demands. Neither wanted to be the bad guy. Alfredsson didn’t want to negotiate against himself, had an opportunity to talk to teams during the new two-day interview period and began to look around. His eye started to wander.
“If this is my last season, I don’t want to change anything that’s going on there,” Alfredsson said. “I don’t want to demand Bryan or Eugene to … They’re going to have to make a push for me here to go for it. I think there’s too many good things going on. They stay the course in what they’re doing there. The torch is going to have to be passed at one time pretty soon, anyway, and that’s pretty much my reasoning for deciding to go and look somewhere else.”
[More: Senators acquire power forward Bobby Ryan from Ducks]
Murray said he called Barry four times from his office Thursday. Finally, he sent a text message, saying if he wanted to talk, to call him at a particular number after 8:30 p.m.
“When I got nervous was yesterday,” Murray said, “when I kept calling and calling and there was no answer.”
He walked into his cottage at 8:40 p.m., and the phone rang. It was not Barry. It was Alfie.
“I said, ‘Uh-oh. Something’s going on,’ ” he said.
Murray said they spoke for about 30 minutes. Alfredsson told him it wasn’t about money but a chance to win the Cup, that he was considering the Red Wings and the Boston Bruins, both division rivals next season. Murray argued that the Senators gave him a chance, too, and offered a contract with an out. Alfredsson could pick a date in December or January, and if he didn’t like where the Sens were headed, they would trade him to the team of his choice. Alfredsson said no. He didn’t want to join a new team during the season. He wanted to start fresh. Murray said he told him: “I know I’m being a little selfish, Bryan, but this is what I want to try to do.”
“It was for me a devastating conversation, a disappointing one, hard to swallow like it is for a lot of people,” Murray said. “But I understand a veteran player that hasn’t won and wants to win and sees a better opportunity. Whether we did the right thing or not, we said, ‘Hey, Alfie, I discourage you from doing it.’ I can talk about Ottawa and all that. But bottom line, he wanted to try it, and who can not agree with that decision if he feels it’s the right one. He deserves the opportunity to do what he did.”
The Red Wings have a long history of bringing in older stars at the end of their careers, to varying degrees of success. Alfredsson said he would be more energized by going somewhere new, and he should be comfortable in Detroit, because the Wings have a lot of Swedish players he knows and play the same possess-the-puck, push-the-pace style the Senators do. Sens coach Paul MacLean used to work for Wings coach Mike Babcock.
“With Ottawa, I think they’re getting closer and closer and definitely going in the right direction and have some really bright future in front of them, but at this stage in my career, there’s not much left,” Alfredsson said. “I don’t have the time to wait for that. Tough decision to make, and it still hasn’t really sunk in, but I feel I’m doing this for myself. I feel this is right for me. I really like the fit with the Detroit Red Wings.”
[Also: Bruins finally win Jarome Iginla sweepstakes]
But would Alfredsson really have been less energized in Ottawa? Could he be more comfortable anywhere other than Ottawa? Will he actually have a better shot at the Cup than he did in Ottawa, and if so, why did he pick Detroit over Boston? Who has the best chance to win a championship next season is a fierce debate, at best.
Did an 18-year, 17-season relationship unravel because of a lack of communication about money – over maybe a million dollars?
The Senators will be OK. They paid a hefty price for Ryan, sending the Ducks a first-round pick and two good prospects. Ryan has scored more than 30 goals four times and is signed for two more years at a cap hit $400,000 less than Alfredsson’s will be next season. As Alfredsson said, the torch has to be passed sometime, anyway.
Alfredsson will be OK, too. Lots of icons leave their teams at the end of their careers. It does not change what they did for those teams. Time often heals wounds, and they go back to be beloved again. Alfredsson will continue his charitable works in Ottawa.
But he was supposed to play with Ryan in Ottawa, not against him. He was supposed to retire in Ottawa. He was supposed to transition into the front office in Ottawa. He was supposed to be a Senator forever. Yet he is moving his family to Detroit for one year, and he doesn’t know if he will return, and it doesn’t make much sense.
“Ottawa is always a special place,” Alfredsson said. “I’m not going to commit to anything.”
Those sentences shouldn’t go together. Sadly, they do.
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