Daniel Alfredsson returns to Ottawa on Sunday for the first time since declaring that the Detroit Red Wings have a better shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
Granted, he looks like a soothsayer on that declaration: Detroit has 33 points and is fourth in the Atlantic Division, while the Ottawa Senators are mired in sixth with 24 points, the fifth-lowest total in the conference.
We all know what led him to that decision: The contractual slight from the Senators when Alfredsson made his financial demands planted the seed for his departure; the courtship from Ken Holland provided the push he needed; and then by the time the Senators presented a blank check, Alfredsson was ready to tell owner Eugene Melnyk to stuff it.
Now he’s back in Ottawa for the first time; so what will the reaction be for him?
“I think the biggest thing I looked forward to coming back was probably seeing friends and meeting people and the game is what it’s going to be,” he told the Canadian Press. “It’s a division rival and they’ve handed it to us pretty good two times and obviously coming back to Ottawa and playing here the first game I’m sure will be emotional and I’m not sure how I’m going to react. But it will be a special night.”
The fact is that Senators fans have had two games in Detroit to process Alfie in a Detroit Red Wings sweater. The wounds are already scabbing. The blame long ago shifted from Alfredsson’s selfish decision to ownership for their dithering. One senses this will be a celebration for the former captain, rather than a chance to jeer his decision to leave his only hockey home for a divisional opponent.
The Senators are going to help facilitate the happy vibes with a video montage after the national anthems.. Said Melnyk:
"We're going to do a very nice tribute video before the game starts. Hopefully, everyone gets to their seats early and watches. We now have a new captain, new team and all we can do is wish Daniel the best. I think he'll be happy and the fans will be happy. We're going to give him his due recognition."
Gregg Krupa of the Detroit News sees this as a happy, cathartic day in Ottawa:
… I predict: Long applause, with at least two-thirds to three-fourths of the Senators fans standing, possibly more, and perhaps a small number of boos.
(Ed. Note: That's pretty exact.)
The reason Alfredsson will receive a warm welcome back to town Sunday, for his first game since leaving the Senators, is fairly transcendent. Alfredsson is a really good guy. He also played the game in top form for most of his 17 seasons in the Canadian capital, although he fell short of winning a Stanley Cup. That will overwhelm fans concerns about the cynicism of the business side of sport, or their feelings of abandonment.
Hey, Ms. Conduct is removing her one-season Protest Jersey in honor of the captain's return:
But for many, Alfredsson’s legacy is forever changed for his decision to leave the team, even after showing dedication to the market despite his earning potential elsewhere.
In my heart, Daniel Alfredsson betrayed me. He became a traitor. I now call him Judas. I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Today we can reflect on his time with the Ottawa Senators however we want. If you cheer him, that is your prerogative. If you boo him, that is also your choice. I will be booing at the television because now being 4500km away makes it difficult for me to be at the game. The Church of Alfie hasn't just had its cathedral burned down. The entire religion has been dismantled.
Maybe that was the point of his move to Detroit. Maybe he no longer wanted to be heralded like a deity. Maybe he wanted something different. Maybe he thought he had a better chance at a Stanley Cup. Maybe he really likes hearing Journey six times a game. Only he knows the truth.
I predicted when the incident happened that if owner Eugene Melnyk really had cheaped out on this likely final contract negotiation, that he would regret it. The impact on ticket sales and merchandise revenue would be devastating. There are other reasons why revenue is down, but so far it seems as if my predictions are coming true.
How a player is received by the home fans is one of those personal, local calls that national writers can judge but ultimately can’t influence, like naming captains or retiring numbers.
Alfredsson meant something indelible to that city, and always will. He’ll hear cheers from those who honor his legacy, and protest Melnyk’s lethargy. He’ll hear boos from those who feel he turned his back on the franchise. Perhaps some fans will dabble in both, depending on what happens on the ice.
It’ll be awkward. Not as awkward as it would be to see Alfredsson hoist the Cup in Detroit while Melnyk bemoans the millions he lost in a non-playoff year, but awkward nonetheless. But time will eventually heal all. And by that of course we mean Melnyk will sell the team.
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