Daniel Alfredsson never ceases to amaze.
Weeks after admitting to the world that he selfishly left the only NHL franchise he had known for a better opportunity to chase a Stanley Cup, Alfie took the stage shortly after 11:00 am this morning and delivered a broadside blow to the Senators organization worthy of his hit on Darcy Tucker.
For fans expecting more of the same canned answers, this was not that.
If anything, today was a lesson in PR mastery. From scheduling at the Royal Ottawa Hospital – where Alfredsson did a lot of charitable work to raise the profile of mental health – to having Alfie walk into the press conference with a prepared speech in one hand and his wife’s hand in his other, and a box of Kleenex placed on the podium moments before Alfie opened his mouth.
(As an aside, as much as people may feel compelled to shit on Alfie for using the Royal Ottawa as a venue and possibly using it as a shield, much in the same way that Barry Bonds used to sit his son on his lap while conducting press conferences, there's something to be said about using this instance to bring more attention to mental health awareness. It's a worthy cause that is deserving of more attention.)
And then Alfie spoke, he led with formaltiies; thanking the Royal, the city, the fans. All the stuff one would expect. When things turned to hockey a few minutes later we learned his decision to leave wasn’t about having a better chance to win the cup at all.
Audio via Team1200 here:
"When I did my last contract for four years ending in the 2012 season, I was asked to help the team manage the salary cap by adding on a extra year to my contract. I agreed. each side fully expected I would retire and not play the 2012/13 season. However after the 2012 season, I told the Sens I wanted to play another season. I also asked to look at a possible extension for this upcoming season at a fair amount to balance out the two years for both of us. They agreed. Sadly the contract negotiations went nowhere, but I played out the season as I had promised, and I believe this past season was in my view a very special one. In late June this year, I decided I had it in me to play another season. I told management I was willing to return, and I reminded them of our agreement from the year before. And to my dissapoint the negotiations again quickly stalled. And then only days later several teams contacted me, including Detroit. And I knew the team well, I have friends who play on the team, I like their style of play, and I knew they needed a right-handed shot."
And if that wasn’t bad enough, he then dropped this dagger:
"I was also delighted by their enthusiasm and by their belief in how they saw me fitting into their plans. So that call opened my eyes to a possibility I had never thoughty of – to play another year, maybe even two with another great team."
Therein lies the problem: to remain in Ottawa, Alfie had to fit in within an internal budget, and in Detroit, he fits an on-ice need.
My friend Matt put it best by stating that Bryan Murray should have gone to Alfie and said, “Hey, we love you but Eugene is broke. I’m so sorry we can't re-up. Let's call it like it is and I'll protect you."
Instead, we saw a category 3 shitstorm (Alfie, Murray, Barry) in which each side did their best to get the last word in; leaving little doubt this was a bitter end to Alfie’s Ottawa tenure, but we already knew that.
To hear some tell it, Ottawa’s better today than with Ryan swapped out for Alfie. While fair, it ignores the fact that this team would be even better with Alfie in the fold too and skirts the lingering question about how this team’s finances will affect their ability to augment the roster or retain its current talent. Other players (internal and external) will surely take notice of how negotiations unfolded too, so you have to wonder how much more difficult things have become for the Senators.
We can applaud the Senators for being fiscally responsible and management for putting together a cost-efficient competitive team, but isn’t the whole point of being shrewd with money to ensure that when your best players are eligible for free agency, you can afford to sign them?
That’s the hope that fans invest in and in our case as Sens fans, it’s hard not to be concerned about what the future is gonna look like.
Over the past few years, the organization has done an exceptional job building up equity in the fan base through excellent drafting and player development, and a few trades that worked out in their favour. Not to mention the considerable goodwill Melnyk retained buying the team out of bankruptcy, and in the minds of many, preventing them from ever leaving Ottawa.
Now, a lot of that equity has been burned this summer.
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the organization’s hesitancy to give Alfie the $7M, one-year deal or the $12M, two-year pact that was being reported, but every NHL team overpays players. You minimize it as much as you can, but if you can’t bend the rules to make the budget work for Alfie by giving him an extra million or two per season, who can you bend it for?
Just to be clear, I’m not hanging any of this on Bryan Murray. He has been given strict guidelines to operate under by ownership. The pressure on management to work in an environment with slim margin for error can't be easy. How can you not respect the Murrays and the rest of the hockey ops staff for what they’ve done with this team?
Airing of grievances aside, Alfie did make note in his opening statement to remark that "I respect him(Murray) a ton". Whereas his neglect to thank or even mention the owner at all spoke volumes.
Bravado is how I'd characterize Melnyk's introduction to Ottawa. He talked a big game about how the team’s days of being a have-not were over. Exiting the fragility of the Rob Bryden era, the organization now enjoyed financial stability, and spent alongside the "big markets". At the time, Melnyk declared that his deep pockets could build and preserve a dynasty.
And here we are…
Ten years later we’ve apparently come full circle, the Senators are 28th in spending and apparently have no pennies to spare.