Elliotte Friedman Talks Alfredsson

Not everyone can recover at the same rate as an Erik Karlsson, so maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some fans are still mulling around and investing a substantial amount of time thinking about some potential underlying issues that may have led to Daniel Alfredsson jumping ship to join a Detroit Red Wings team that many would be hesitant to describe as a favoured Stanley Cup contender.

So with that in mind, today’s TGOR interview with Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman should be of significant interest to that sect of a fanbase who wants to hear what one of hockey’s true insiders thinks of the situation. 

When asked whether the comments of Murray and Alfredsson are just public relations spin or whether they can be taken at face value, Friedman picked the latter.

“I think that in a lot of ways, Alfredsson and Murray were pretty honest about it when they spoke about it the day that it happened. I don’t that there is a lot of lying going on here. I think just the one thing here is that you have to read between the lines. And, I did write about it. I wonder if there was a little bit of mistrust between, not Alfredsson, but Melnyk and JP Barry over the whole Dany Heatley thing.”

News that Melnyk could have been a divisive factor is nothing new. Rumours of his troubled finances have started on the interwebs, messageboards and blogs and have begun to creep into the mainstream. And further to Friedman’s inclusion of Melnyk’s name, he is not the only journalist to draw links of discord between Alfie’s camp and Senators ownership.

Perceptions that a constrained budget played a decisive role in Alfie’s decision to bolt may be overblown. This simply could be an instance where Alfie felt disrespected by how the contract negotiations were handled.

“And, I wrote that whole big blog where, when the first request was made by Alfredsson, the Senators kind of just countered and it kind of muddied the waters. And I do believe that’s true, but after I wrote that blog, I got a call from somebody and they said to me, ‘You’re on the right track, but there’s one thing you left out.’ And I said, ‘Okay, what’s that?’ And they said, ‘I don’t know if the relationship between Melnyk and Barry, who’s Alfredsson’s agent, ever got better after the whole Dany Heatley thing,’ and they thought that maybe that kind of played a role in what happened. Now I can’t speak to that for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me because I know Ottawa, especially Eugene, took the whole Heatley thing very personally. So, I think that may have started at the beginning and then when Alfredsson’s initial request was kind of taken to the side and Alfredsson got a little upset, I just think the ball started rolling down a hill and things got out of control.”

Later in the interview Friedman points out that Alfie is a player who told the NHLPA to shove it after they expressed their displeasure with him for taking below-market value back in 2004. So as a player who, to the best of my knowledge, has no problem telling his colleagues or others who have vested interest in his contract negotiations where to go, should we be a little bit skeptical that he would let any hard feelings between his agent and ownership get in the way of a deal with the Senators? I’m skeptical. If we’re being led to believe that this rift affected negotiations, I’d lean towards it affecting the individual who took Dany Heatley’s departure personally.

What’s strikingly odd is how assured management appeared to be in the days leading up to free agency that they’d get a deal done with Alfie, but when Mike Babcock made his pitch to Alfie, he found a player who had already made up his mind.

“It’s funny, we had Mike Babcock on last night on the show I do in Toronto in the summer, Prime Time (Sports), and he said when he and Ken Holland got on the phone with Alfredsson, he got on the phone thinking ‘We’re going to have to do a recruiting job’. And he said, quickly into the call, he realized that Alfredsson had already made the decision that he was coming there. And I just think that’s what happened. I think that at the beginning, Alfredsson was unhappy with how his offer was received and he kind of just sat there and said, ‘Okay, I’m going to see what else is out there.”

Friedman, couldn’t confirm but believed that Ottawa’s contract talks with Alfie were focused on a two-year contract worth $12 million. When asked whether it was a fair number, he explained how Alfie could have felt insulted by how the contract talks unfolded.

 “Look, I think this – if the Ottawa Senators didn’t believe that was a reasonable number, the response had to be something like… and Bryan Murray used the words publically, ‘That’s not fair,” and I don’t know how that was presented to Alfredsson and I don’t know how it worked. And I don’t think Bryan Murray, in any way, shape or form, was trying to insult Daniel Alfredsson. I’m sure that Murray was kind of like, he probably has used that word in 35 years of negotiating contracts has probably used that exact phrase 10,000 times. Sometimes, and I’ve learned this over the years, that sometimes the way you answer a question or even ask a question, your tone and your language – the way it’s conveyed — can be as damaging as anything else. And you guys know Alfredsson as much as anybody, he has always taken below-market (value) in Ottawa. I remember when he timed his extension around the 2004 lockout, the (NHLPA) was angry at him for taking less money because the Player’s Association believes that you should always take or raise the bar – at least before the cap came in –you always have to raise the bar. And I remember Alfredsson getting asked about it and he said, ‘You know what, too bad. I’m happy. That’s it, I like it here in Ottawa like this.’ And I just think that when you have a guy like that, who has always taken less money and he’s your franchise cornerstone, the response has got to be more along the lines with, ‘I don’t know if we can do that, is there another way we can work this that will make you happy?’ And I just think that Alfredsson was put off by that. I just think that in this day and age, it’s so different from 20 or 30 years ago when owners said, ‘Hey, this is what you’re going to get and you’re just going to have to live it,’ and the players didn’t have a lot of leverage. Everybody is different now. You have to be a lot more sensitive to the way that people think and feel. And I just think that when you’re dealing with a guy like that who has done so much for the team and community, there had to be a different response to that.”

Absolutely, and if a grudge against JP Barry from an incident that happened almost four years ago is actually affecting the way in which the Senators conduct business, then shame on them. If anything, Melnyk should be thanking Barry for helping orchestrate Dany Heatley’s exit. Even at the time, it was easy to acknowledge that a one-dimensional player who was leaving his prime would have been deadweight on Ottawa’s roster by the time his contract ended. 

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