New Red Wing Daniel Alfredsson signs autographs during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, last week. He explained why he's starting a 'new adventure.' (Sean Kilpatrick / Associated Press)
Detroit— Daniel Alfredsson did not deserve this.
And there is a good chance that if he played for the Red Wings for 17 years instead of the Senators, he would not have been forced to endure it.
In a public appearance in Ottawa last Thursday that was as stylish and understated as the man who Wings’ fans are about to get to know on an up-close, season-or-two basis, Alfredsson explained his reasons for leaving the Senators.
It was a move that shocked the hockey world on both sides of the Atlantic, if only because the 40-year-old Swede seemed clearly destined to join those NHL greats whose long careers were deservedly with one team.
And you can imagine how it played in Canada.
So bent out of shape was one columnist, Don Brennan, of the Ottawa Sun, that he fell back on the great refuge of rogues, denigrating the poorest major city in North America.
In an embittered piece about Alfredsson on Friday, Brennan called Detroit “DeToilet” and asserted the Alfredsson kids would have their hockey sticks stolen if they tried to play on the street behind Joe Louis Arena.
And that from a guy who writes in the city voted “most boring” in Canada.
It's just sour grapes
The point is that the emotionally overwrought, occasionally insufferable response to Alfredsson’s decision ought to be recognized for what it is: sour grapes over yet another dysfunctional Canadian franchise wetting the bed by failing to properly manage its affairs.
Make no mistake: A classy organization that knew what it was doing would never have relinquished its fans’ all-time favorite player who is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Can you imagine Mike and Marian Ilitch dissing Steve Yzerman like that, just before The Captain’s final year or two?
To ascribe this to a misunderstanding between Alfredsson and his agent — as the Senators attempt to do — is a bit like saying the lives and ships at Pearl Harbor would have been saved if only the U.S. Navy had better binoculars.
So, there was the eminently humble Alfredsson on Thursday, sporting hair nearly to his shoulders, speaking at Royal Ottawa Hospital, the facility to which he and his wife, Bibi, contributed heavily in the hope of serving some of our most underserved fellow humans, the mentally ill, taking the opportunity to bid Ottawans adieu and explaining what happened.
Alfredsson could simply have said good-bye, thanked the fans for their devotion and those toiling at the hospital for their dedication, smiled his soft, warm smile and waved.
But after expressions of gratitude so genuine they brought tears to observers’ eyes, Alfredsson said, “Let me tell you how it turned out that I am at the beginning of a new adventure.”
Several years ago, he said, when he and the Senators negotiated their penultimate contract, the team asked for a favor he granted: adding a year to a three-year deal, at about the same money, to help with the salary cap.
That contract ended at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, and both sides fully expected that Alfredsson would retire.
But the lion remained in his lair.
“I told the Senators I wanted to play another season,” he said. “I also asked if they would look at a possible extension for this coming season at a fairer level to balance out the two seasons for both of us.”
In other words, the greatest player in the history of the franchise, who Ottawans plainly love, conspired to help his club violate the salary cap, took a salary cut to play another year and then asked for some consideration in a second year, which would have been this coming season.
“Sadly, the contract negotiations went nowhere, but I played out the season,” he said.
When Alfredsson came back at the Senators after last season, named a price and was told it was not in the ballpark and that the team also was about to trade for the Ducks’ Bobby Ryan, the gig was up.
Saying, as some in Ottawa do, that Alfredsson’s decision was “all about the money” is like saying the NHL standings is all about the numbers. It is about the money, in other words, to the same extent that the money is an expression of a player’s value to a franchise.
And the Senators told Alfredsson for more than a year that his value was low, after he had cut them slack for the previous four.
Bryan Murray, the respected former coach and general manager of the Red Wings who is the general manager in Ottawa, responded that he had expected Alfredsson’s agent to continue bargaining.
That is like saying he expected to saddle the horse he had been kicking.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said Friday that Murray would never lie.
That was interesting, because no one accused Murray of having done so.
What seems clear is that the Senators either were done with Alfredsson or Melnyk could not afford both the long-time captain and all-time scoring leader and the offensively talented Ryan.
But what the Senators appear content to do is to besmirch Alfredsson’s sterling reputation, rather than admit to their obvious failings.
And, Alfredsson, may God love him, took it all, provided an explanation Thursday to fans he plainly adores and uttered not a discouraging word.
“I have no bad feeling against anybody,” he said. “I can’t say at all I’ve been disrespected.”
Well, I can: Daniel Alfredsson was disrespected.
And one has the sense that, somewhere, Mike and Marian Ilitch might be looking on, shaking their heads and saying, very privately, “That’s no way to run a hockey team!”