Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alfredsson Signs Extension

In a wholly anticipated move, the Ottawa Senators locked up captain Daniel Alfredsson to a four-year contract which will likely see him play out his final days in the same uniform he has worn through the entirety of his NHL career. Taking in $21.6 million, for a cap hit of $5.4 million, Alfredsson will remain the third highest paid player on the team, after linemates Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. The actual structure of the deal is a little complicated as it includes signing bonuses and payoff for old bonus clauses, but he will essentially make $9.1 million the first year, $7 million the next, then $4.5 million, followed by $1 million in the final deal. [late edit: numerous sources are now reporting the bonus payoff might not count against the cap, so the tentative cap hit is now in the region of $4.8 million]. The deal also includes a no-movement clause, which not only prevents the Senators from trading him, but also from placing Alfredsson on waivers or in the minors. Effectively, unless Alfredsson says otherwise he will remain an Ottawa Senator through his fourtieth birthday (at the minimum).

Alfredsson and his agent J.P. Barrie had been in negotiations with Bryan Murray since September, with both sides agreeing a deal would get done, the delay was simply a matter of determing how long Alfredsson wanted to continue playing, and how to manage the cap hit to best serve the team. In the end, Alfredsson's cap hit will be just $1.1 million more than his current one, when it kicks in at the beginning of the 2009-10 season.

Drafted in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL entry draft, Alfredsson fell far down the priority list of prospects with a nascent NHL franchise whose hopes initially rested on Alexei Yashin and Alexandre Daigle. While the former enjoyed extended success in his early years with the Senators, culminating in a Hart trophy nomination in 1998-99, it was Alfredsson who emerged as the heart of the franchise, even in the shadow of two far more talented players. Alfredsson was awarded the Calder trophy in 1995-96 as the rookie of the year, leading the last-placed Senators in scoring. The following year, Alfredsson recorded 71 points in co-leading the Senators to a seventh place finish and their first playoff berth in franchise history. In the playoffs, he recorded a remarkable 5 goals and 2 assists in a 7 game defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres.

The mid-nineties saw Alfredsson struggle with injuries, missing 100 games over a 4 year stretch, and despite his solid post-season production he was unable to lead the Senators to any playoff success, as the Senators won just one series over the time.

In 1999-00, following a heated contract dispute with captain Yashin, the Ottawa Senators named Daniel Alfredsson the fifth captain of the young franchise, officially handing the reigns of the team to the 27-year old Swede.

Years of playoff disappointment followed, with the Senators unable to defeat the rival Toronto Maple Leafs despite excelling against other teams, most notably the Philadelphia Flyers. The Senators seemed to finallly make their mark when, amid bankruptcy, relocation uncertainty and an ailing Roger Neilson, they won the President's Trophy as top team in the league and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002-03. The team was eventually defeated in the 7th game by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils. The team, and Alfredsson, returned ignited in 2003-04, but were again defeated in the first round by Toronto.

Following a lockout season in 2004-05, Alfredsson and the Senators became the hottest post-lockout team, thanks to the acquisition of Dany Heatley and the emergence of Jason Spezza. Despite Alfredsson's advancing age, the trio excelled and earn countless nicknames, the most popular of which were the "Cash line" and the "Pizza line". Despite missing five games to a rib injury, Alfredsson cracked the 100 point mark for the first time in his career, and recorded a career high 43 goals, and lead the Senators to first place in the Eastern Conference. He also enjoyed international success, leading the Swedes in scoring as they triumphed with a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics. However, the Senators season would not end so jubilantly, as they were defeated in the second round by the Buffalo Sabres.

The 2006-07 season began difficultly for Alfredsson. He recorded a single goal in the first month of play, into an empty net no less. As the Senators struggled with offense, defense and goaltending, rumours swirled about potential moves. One particularly egrerious suggestion, begun by a Montreal radio station and picked up by the Toronto media, had Alfredsson all but signed, sealed and delivered to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Craig Conroy. Thankfully, no such insanity ensued, Alfredsson eventually picked up pace and, after a meeting with the team leaders, began a mad dash toward the playoffs. He was far and away the best Senator from Christmas on, ending the season with 29 goals and 87 points. His hot streak continued in the playoffs, recording 14 goals and 8 assists as the Senators demolished the Eastern Conference before meeting the end against the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final. Despite the unfortuante end, Alfredsson established himself as one of the premier all-around players in the NHL, capable breaking up a highlight reel play in his own zone, storming up the ice with the puck, and completing the play at the other end.

The Senators did not miss a beat at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, recording the best start in NHL history. Though they faltered as the season wore on, it was no fault of Alfredsson, who lead the NHL in scoring at the all-star break and despite playing through injuries that would hospitalise a mortal, finished the season with 40 goals and 89 points. His legend was only increased when, after suffering a 3rd grade torn MCL just two weeks prior, Alfredsson took the ice in game 3 of a first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, trying in vain to save the Ottawa Senators season. From January on, Alfredsson played through a tweaked hip flexor, cracked vertebrae, torn MCL, whiplash, and a probable concussion. On one notable shift, his leg split open while blocking a shot on the penalty kill; Alfredsson shook it off, went to the dressing room for "repairs" and returned minutes later to kill off another penalty.

Alfredsson's legend continued in 2008-09, as the Senators faced off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in his native Sweden, but first journeyed through the captain's hometown of Gothenburg for a tilt against the Frolunda Indians. Before the home opener against the Detroit Red Wings, Alfredsson announced he would miss the game to undergo arthoscopic knee surgery, as a result of a hit suffered late in the second Sweden game. He was expected to be out two weeks, though some sources predicted as much as a month. Instead, Alfredsson missed a mere six days and one hockey game. He returned October 17th against the Phoenix Coyotes and recorded two assists; through the young season, he has 9 points in 8 games, and is just 5 points shy of a point per game average over his career. As of today, his career numbers are 861 games, 334 goals, 522 assists, 856 points, and one city and team who could not wish for a better, more dedicated or more exemplary captain.