Daniel Alfredsson has never really had a reputation for being the most skilled player in this city. Since his rookie season, Alfie has only finished the regular season as the Ottawa Senators leader in points three times. (Ed. note: This season would be his fourth.) Whether it Yashin, Hossa, Havlat, Heatley or Kovalev, Alfredsson's offensive talents have always drawn fewer accolades than those surrounding him.
While his past and present teammates have enjoyed greater statistical seasons, no other player in the history of this organization has had a more profound impact upon his teammates or fans than Daniel Alfredsson. I have no reservations when I say that Alfredsson is the greatest player that this city has ever known.
It just took awhile for us to realize it.
On a night when Senators fans will celebrate his 1000th career game, it's a tad ironic that I can't recall watching any of the aforementioned skilled players for the first time. But I can vividly remember watching Alfredsson when he suited up for an exhibition game at the Civic Center in September of 1995. Sitting in our seats during the pre-game skate, I can recall my father making an explicit point for me to keep a mindful watch on the two Senators rookies -- Antti Tormanen and Alfredsson. (Ed. note: It should be noted that I do remember Alexei Yashin's first exhibition game in Ottawa but it wasn't for his play. With a bird's eye view from the Civic Center luxury suites, my mother remarked how cute it was that Alexandre Daigle and Yashin had mirrored numbers -- 91 and 19. In retrospect, I should have known right then that neither of their careers would turn out for the better. The 'cute' factor was the kiss of death.)
After Alfredsson had put up a pair of points, I remember leaving the arena via Queen Elizabeth Drive and getting excited talking with my dad about the performance we had just witnessed. As a moment, it stands out just as memorably as watching Alfie win the Calder Trophy later that season as the League's best rookie. It's almost like it's the hidden beauty about looking back on Alfredsson's career, everyone seemingly has their own story about watching number eleven for the first time. And it's not a phenomenon that's exclusive to Senators fans.
Just this past February, Tim and I were fortunate to have our podcast graced by an appearance by the former Senators General Manager, Randy Sexton. When the topic of Alfie was broached, he fondly mentioned that the first time he saw Alfredsson skate at training camp in Arnprior, he knew that he was watching a future Hall of Famer.
Think about that for a second, you have two individuals describing their first Alfie live experience: one from a NHL executive and the other from an adolescent hockey fan. One praising Alfredsson as a future Hall of Famer while the other was reserved enough to describe Alfie only as infinitely better player than his rookie teammate, Antti Tormanen. Had you not known, it's almost hard to believe that the fanboy response didn't emanate from me.
So when Alfredsson won the Calder in 1996, why didn't more fans gravitate towards him like Randy Sexton did? For one thing, the early portion of his NHL career was marred by injuries. Following that 1995-96 season, Alfie played 76, 55, 58, 57, and 68 games for the next five seasons. It also didn't help matters that this city's headlines were often reserved for Alexei Yashin's production and public contract squabbles.
By the time that he had finally rid himself of the injury bug in 2001-02, the Senators had augmented their roster and identity through trades and the NHL Entry Draft. With players like Mike Fisher, Marian Hossa, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips and Martin Havlat, Ottawa's blueprint for success had finally manifested itself. As Ottawa continued to win, Alfredsson was often just seen as one part in the whole. For years, he had developed a dressing room reputation as a leader who set an example for others through his play. Off the ice, he came across the same way. Content just to stay out of the public eye and let his younger teammates enjoy the limelight that came with being a winning team in a Canadian market. Ottawa quickly became regarded by pundits as a model small market franchise that had built itself the right way. (Ed. note: Remember, this was before the days of Eugene Melnyk's financial certainty and the NHL salary cap. Without the finances to buy a winner, Ottawa was at a competitive disadvantage.)
It was this disadvantage that eventually lead to Alfredsson doing the most selfless thing that he could do. With the team on the verge of financial ruin in 2003, the captain deferred the remainder of his salary to allow the team to add some pieces at the trade deadline and improve their odds at a Stanley Cup. Even when his most recent cap friend contract expired, he has continued to embrace his unselfish role. By signing another cap friendly extension and using his own home as a hotel for Erik Karlsson, Alfredsson continues to demonstrate that he's willing to do whatever it takes to make his team and teammates better.
And maybe that's what makes Alfredsson so special. For a franchise that has repeatedly been let down by players over the years -- Yashin, Hasek, Redden vs Chara, and Heatley -- I appreciate watching a player who genuinely looks as though he cares about something other than his statistics, ice-time or paycheque.
So on the night of your 1000th game Daniel Alfredsson, I'd just like to say thanks. Over the course of your career, you've given me more than my fair share of memories that I've relived numerous times with my family, friends and readers. Whether it was watching you live for the first time or watching you score the game winning game goal against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, it's been a delight.
Oh, one more thing: I forgot to thank you for drilling that smarmy piece of shit known as Darcy Tucker into the boards. That hit... was superb.