The Ottawa Senators were both winners and losers on free-agent Friday.
On what was the most bittersweet day in the 21-year history of the franchise, the Senators lost their face-of-the-franchise when captain Daniel Alfredsson did the unthinkable and took his talents to the Detroit Red Wings
. He signed a one-year deal for $3.5-million US and another $2-million in potential bonuses.
The Senators were winners because they landed a perennial 30-goal scorer in 26-year-old Bobby Ryan.
But as Senators general manager Bryan Murray remarked, seeing the 40-year-old Alfredsson skate from the only team he played for in the NHL after 17 seasons, "losing Alfie is a big blow."
So who is to blame for this shocking development? Murray? Alfredsson? His agent J.P. Barry? Senators owner Eugene Melnyk? Each played a part. Barry's part was small. He didn't like the initial offer, did his due diligence and found a couple other intriguing suitors in the Red Wings and the Boston Bruins.
Melnyk and Murray are to blame for not making it clear last weekend that money was not an issue. Alfredsson is an honest player, a good leader. But in the end he pushed aside loyalty for selfishness. He even admitted it.
"It pretty much came down to a selfish decision in terms of I have not won a Stanley Cup, a big priority for me," Alfredsson said.
Weeks of deliberations
So what happened after last Friday, when word leaked out of Sweden that after five weeks of deliberations Alfredsson decided to return for an 18th NHL season
? The next day Murray contacted Barry and the two began negotiations.
Barry asked for a salary figure from the Senators. He didn't like the answer. But Murray felt this only was a starting point felt something could be worked out. Murray also informed the Alfredsson camp that they were working on a deal to bring Ryan to Ottawa.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday went by without a word. Then on Thursday, Murray called Barry a handful of times, but the agent was silent. Murray made one final call to Barry and left a message for the agent, saying that the Senators GM would be available any time after 8:30 p.m. at his cottage. Alfredsson called Murray at 8:40 p.m.
Alfredsson informed Murray that he had talked with Boston and Detroit, and wanted to move on for an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. In the meantime, Murray said he had been given permission from Melnyk to now offer Alfredsson a blank cheque for a one or two-year deal.
Alfredsson didn't budge. Murray tried to convince the Swede that the Senators had just as good a chance as the Red Wings or Bruins. Alfredsson didn't agree, even though both the Senators and Red Wings finished with 56 points apiece, and both teams exited the playoffs in the second round.
Murray then asked his former captain if he would agree to sign with the Senators and if he didn't think the team was a contender in December, January or near the trade deadline, the Ottawa GM would move Alfredsson to a team of his choice. Alfredsson didn't like that option. He didn't want to join a team midseason.
"For me it was a devastating conversation, a disappointing one," Murray said.
As he said during his Detroit conference call, Alfredsson didn't want to be a mentor and play his career out in Ottawa. He wanted a chance to win it all.
In hindsight, it was clear that Alfredsson had been swayed after a few conversations with Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, general manager Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock.
The right-shooting forward was convinced he would be more productive playing alongside left shooting forwards in Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Stephen Weiss, who was signed by the Red Wings on Friday
. Senators centres Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris shoot right-handed.
Alfredsson will move his wife and four sons to Detroit for the season, but keep close ties to the Ottawa area through his charities there. Down the road, who knows what will happen with Alfredsson's connection to the Nation's Capital. Still, Alfredsson appeared to be a man comfortable with this "difficult" decision.
"I'm not worried about my legacy," Alfredsson said. "I expect there will be resentment and anger from the fans, and there definitely should be. I had my favourite sports teams too. I didn't like it when a decision was made that affected my team.
"I gave it everything I've had in Ottawa throughout my career. I've have so many people to thank, they've been too good for me. This decision is purely about me. This is the decision I made for myself, not for anyone else. This is about trying to win a Stanley Cup."
The Red Wings did take the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks to a seventh game in overtime in the second round. But are they better than Senators, especially with the addition of Ryan? The Red Wings are better with Alfredsson, but so are the Senators with Ryan?
The Ryan-to-Ottawa deal hit a snag because the Ducks wanted more than a second-round pick, Jakob Silfverberg and 20-year-old prospect Stefan Noesen. The Senators had to sweeten the pot with a first-round selection instead of a second to consummate the trade and soften the blow of losing their captain.
"I think we got a star in Bobby Ryan," said Murray, who found out at 9:30 a.m. on Friday that unrestricted free-agent David Clarkson was going to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs and not in Ottawa. "We're younger, but it's hard for me to say we're better. I think we're equally good."
With Detroit moving to the Eastern Conference, which team winds up going further in the playoffs will be a major subplot next season.
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