From Daniel Alfredsson’s magical retirement ceremony to the team’s recent three-game losing streak to the performance of the team’s prospects at the World Junior Championships, it was quite the up and down week for Senators fans.
As a franchise that takes its share of grief from fans who bemoan the organization’s penchant for their disregard or tradition or for bungling what should be relatively easy marketing or PR decisions, no one can knock the way the Senators do ceremonies.
Once again, they killed it with their pre-game ceremony that not only honoured Alfredsson but it also carried the distinction of having Alfie be the first modern day player to have his number retired by the organization.
From the subtlety of having former GM Randy Sexton hand Alfredsson a jersey in the dressing room prior to Alfie walking out onto the ice, to fashion sense of Alfredsson’s kids including Hugo’s gold shoes, to only allowing Daniel’s brother Henrik and Wade Redden handle the speeches, everything was masterfully executed. (Yes, even the inclusion of U2 as a soundtrack to the event. You don’t even have to say anything, I know.)
The event itself was so good that you didn’t even need to be Alfie’s dad to get emotional during the event because the memories just flooded back.
There was the 1995-95 Calder Trophy, his six All-Star appearances, the 2002-03 President’s Trophy season, Alfie following up his hit on Darcy Tucker by scoring the game-winning goal in game five of the Eastern Conference semi-finals versus the Maple Leafs, there was the franchise defining game-winning goal in the 2007 Eastern Conference Final versus Buffalo, his seven-point night versus the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 25, 2008 and finally, there was his Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award for his 2012-13 season.
It wasn’t all good memories however.
It was difficult sitting there watching it without thinking about how many good teams Alfredsson was a part of or how many the organization’s window of contention was undone by untimely goaltending and John Muckler’s reign as the general manager.
As easy as it was to be flooded with these emotions, it was impossible to ignore the underlying message of, “Hey Erik Karlsson, pay attention because you can shape your legacy and this will happen for you should you choose to remain in Ottawa.”
Now I can’t stand the fear mongering that exists over’s Karlsson’s future because he only has two and a half years remaining on a team-friendly contract that makes him an unrestricted free agent in July of 2019 – with that uncertain future, a lot of fans view Ottawa’s ability to win through the prism that they have to do it during Karlsson’s prime while he’s under contract. (As an aside, his skating and offensive ability is so elite that I imagine he’ll be the sort of player who will age gracefully. Provided the Senators can extend him, there’s no reason to suggest that a window of contention with Karlsson in tow can’t be significantly larger than previously suggested.)
From being mentioned by Dean Brown as the object of adulation for all of Alfredsson’s children to helping raise the commemorative banner, you didn’t have to look too closely to notice that the generational talent was present throughout during the ceremony.
Despite giving unexpected shoutouts to players like Chris Dahlquist and Kerry Huffman, Alfredsson singled out Karlsson in his speech.
“Erik, I am so proud of you being the captain of this team and I know you will continue that Senators tradition of giving it your best every shift.”
Yes, the long standing tradition that took hold since Yashin held out and vacated the captaincy.
May Karlsson remain a Senator forever.
Mendes’ TSN Article on Alfie
In the days leading up to Alfredsson’s jersey retirement, Ian Mendes’ published a thought-provoking article on TSN that discusses how the Senators have seemingly lost their identity since Alfredsson’s decision to sign as a free agent with Detroit in July of 2013. If you haven’t already, give it a read.
Mendes fittingly used 1,111 words to describe how Alfredsson’s departure may have contributed to this fan base’s apathy towards the Senators.
Ottawa’s waning attendance figures have been a well-documented problem, but I believe ticket sales, lukewarm interest in the club despite its modest success this season extends beyond the notion that Alfredsson’s departure created a void or “stalled the progress of this franchise and muddied the picture for three years.”
Don’t get me wrong, Alfie’s departure not only tainted his legacy but left a black mark of this franchise for its part in bungling his contract negotiations, but truth be told, there some unintended benefits that came from Alfie’s departure.
Case in point, the announcement of Alfie signing a token contract in 2014 to retire as a Senator and participating in the team’s pre-game skate before the Senators’ December 4, 2014 game versus the Islanders never would have happened had Alfie remained a career Senator. So even though his legacy was no longer intact, at least this moment and the announcement that the Senators had appointed him as a senior advisor of hockey operations helped mitigate some of the lingering animosity.
For the most part, it’s water under the bridge now, but does that mean that the Alfredsson departure didn’t or doesn’t still hurt?
Fuck no, but Alfredsson’s decision to leave for the Red Wings was never a death knell for this franchise nor was it the predominant reason why some have become disenchanted with the Senators.
For many, it begins and ends with ownership.
The sad reality for many is that they have waning confidence in Eugene Melnyk and his ability to deliver a winner.
This goes beyond the simple focus on Ottawa’s player payroll.
A lot of fans refuse to accept the reality of Ottawa’s internal budget – complaining to no end about how the budget precludes the Senators from papering over their mistakes or having the creative flexibility to upgrade the roster by only spending a bit more money.
It’s a groan-inducing waste of energy.
These fans should know by now who the Senators are and what financial limitations they have, but at times, you can’t help but beyond the fans, I can’t help but wonder whether this organization truly embrace how their limited resources can forge their identity and positively impact the way it operates.
It’s not like having limitless resources precludes teams from certain pitfalls of its own.
Free agency represents one of the most inefficient ways to exhaust finite resources on perceived upgrades.
Big market teams frequently fall into the trap of spending money simply because they have money or because they acquiesce to the pressures of the fans and media.
In Ottawa’s case, the call to win is intense because of the demands ownership places on management to reach the postseason.
Thanks to one of Canada’s smallest season ticket bases and rumours about the owner’s liquidity problems, the belief is that short-term competitiveness and playoff gate revenues are put ahead of everything because Melnyk desperately needs this team to be profitable.
The polarizing owner’s passion has often led to portrayals of him as a meddlesome Jerry Jones’esque figure (just without the money or resources) whose influence and mandate have significantly contributed to Ottawa’s annual playoff bubble team label.
Fortunately, the performance of the team’s prospects — Jonathan Dahlen, Thomas Chabot, Colin White and Filip Chlapik and Filip Ahl — at the World Junior Championships has helped fuel some optimism for the future.
As if the Alfredsson jersey retirement story could not get any better, the Senators announced a scholarship in partnership with Bell’s ‘Let’s Talk’ and Carleton University to honour the former captain’s commitment to mental health awareness.