Daniel Alfredsson made a selfish decision this week.
That isn't a judgement of character, that's a fact presented by the man himself. The real judgement is over what motivated his decision to leave the Ottawa Senators for the Detroit Red Wings on a 1-year, $5.5 million free-agent contract -- and whether, ultimately, he made the right call.
Do the Detroit Red Wings give him a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup than the Ottawa Senators would have in 2013-14?
Is it the right move for the most important player in a franchise’s history to leave that team for a division rival – hey, remember realignment happened? – when that franchise was willing to do anything to retain his services and improve its standing as a Cup contender?
“It came down to a selfish decision,” said Alfredsson. “I feel with Ottawa, they’re getting closer and closer [to winning a Stanley Cup]. Definitely going in the right direction. But I don’t have the time to wait for that.”
The sports landscape is littered with the broken dreams of veteran players who leave one franchise to win a ring with another. For every LeBron James, there’s a Dwight Howard. For every Ray Bourque, there’s a Marian Hossa, Detroit Red Wings edition. Sometimes these things work out, and sometimes you’re left with galleries of awkward photos featuring players wearing bizarre uniforms.
Whatever the future holds, Alfie’s owning it.
“I’m doing this for myself,” said Alfredsson. “I think this is right for me.”
A week ago, he wasn’t selfish.
Alfredsson was talking with the Senators about a new contract, expecting to return for another season as the franchise’s standard-bearer. GM Bryan Murray said there were some bumps in the road about money, but that ultimately owner Eugene Melnyk presented Murray with a blank check to get Alfredsson back with the team.
“Whatever they come back with, get it done,” Murray recalled his owner saying.
Then something changed. “Thoughts started creeping in,” Alfredsson said. Thoughts about his ultimate goal in his final years in the NHL. Thoughts about how to achieve it.
“It’s been 18 years, and I haven’t won the Stanley Cup. That’s my dream,” he realized.
He began to believe that dream would be unfulfilled if he stayed in Ottawa.
“It would have been a great ending as well,” he said, “but I wouldn’t have felt the same drive, in terms of trying to be the mentor and playing it out. I needed a different challenge. It was an extremely hard decision to make.”
Alfredsson said this wasn’t a lingering thought entering the offseason, despite his infamous “probably not” moment in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he all but admitted defeat against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (And, in fact, Ottawa was eliminated in the next game.)
He simply assessed the opportunities as a free agent, and decided there were teams closer to winning than Ottawa.
Alfredsson began speaking to other teams – the Red Wings and Boston Bruins most prominently – and heard their pitches on winning a championship. Wings GM Ken Holland said he spoke with Alfredsson and agent J.P. Barry to sell them on the Red Wings for about 45 minutes the day before the free-agent frenzy.
Alfredsson was sold on that pitch, as “the culture of Detroit” really appealed to him. Discussions with Wings star and fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg sold him on the team and, more importantly, Detroit as a home for his family.
On Wednesday, as Murray frantically called him from his offseason cottage to discuss contract terms with the Senators, Alfredsson had made up his mind to leave the Ottawa Senators behind.
“I felt a week ago I was not going to go anywhere. My negotiations went a few days, and just started thinking … Ottawa’s in a great spot,” said Alfredsson. “If this is my last season, I don’t want to change anything that’s going on there. I don’t want to demand Bryan or Eugene have to make a push for me here to go for it. There’s too many things going on. They should stay the course. The torch was going to be passed anyway.”
That’s nice and all, but Murray didn’t see it that way.
In fact, he debated Alfredsson on the Senators’ merits as a Cup contender – and based on Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, their goaltending, their coach and their newly acquired star, they’re not exactly miles away from contention – in trying to retain him.
Again, Alfredsson had a blank check from the Senators. “Tell me a number, and we’ll get a deal done,” Murray said he told Alfredsson’s agent, “and I never heard back.”
The captain had decided to leave the ship. “Alfie indicated that winning the Stanley Cup was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up,” said Murray.
So Murray made another, unusual offer: Play half a season with the Senators. If Alfredsson didn’t feel they were Cup contenders, Murray would trade him to the team of his choice. Name the date and the destination, Alfie, and we'll make it work.
Alfredsson declined. (No word if he acknowledged how crafty Murray was in trying to turn an unrestricted free agent into a tradable asset next season …)
He officially became a Red Wing on Friday, in one of the “Free Agent Frenzy’s” most jarring moments. It was followed hours later by another one, also involving Ottawa: The trade of Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks to the Senators for a trio of assets.
Alfredsson knew a Ryan trade was in the works before he decided the Senators weren’t as strong a contender for the Cup as two other division rivals.
It didn’t matter. He was gone.
Personally, I don’t think Alfredsson made the right decision. First, because the Boston Bruins are closer to a Stanley Cup than are the Detroit Red Wings, due to something called “defensemen.”
Second, because it shouldn’t have ended like this for Ottawa and Alfredsson.
He can dress it up with platitudes all he wants, but essentially what he’s said is that the Ottawa Senators aren’t the Cup contender that Detroit or Boston are, just like he said they weren’t the Cup contender Pittsburgh was last season.
Call it "the truth" if you want, but know this: They have one legacy, and it’s an inferiority complex.
Second to the Leafs in Ontario, never the Canadian darlings the other franchises can be when they win, mocked widely when things like Melnyk’s “CSI Matt Cooke” investigation go viral.
It’s not Alfredsson’s intention to denigrate the Senators. Not at all. But he essentially said “I can’t win here, so I’m taking my talents to Detroit.” And that has to sting.
“I’m not worried about my legacy. I expect there will be resentment and anger from fans, and there definitely should be,” said Alfredsson. “But I know what I’ve done in Ottawa. I gave it everything I had, throughout my career.
“This is about me. This is a decision I make for myself. It’s all about trying to get the Stanley Cup.”