It was May 2007, days after Daniel Alfredsson’s overtime goal put the Ottawa Senators into the Stanley Cup final. The Eastern Conference champions would have eight days off, awaiting the winner of Anaheim/Detroit.
Hockey Night in Canada asked to spend a few hours at Alfredsson’s home for an in-depth feature. He agreed, but the shoot started hilariously badly. Upon arrival, we ignored a chalked outline on the driveway.
Alfredsson bought one of his sons those toy cars children can sit in and drive. It turned out this was his “parking spot,” adjacent to the family’s real vehicles. The young man was not thrilled and his disappointment delayed the start of our project.
The captain thought it was hilarious.
Later, after we finished a conversation at one location and began to set-up at another, we started talking off-camera about Alfredsson’s future. He was 34 at the time, and I asked him how much longer he wanted to continue playing.
“If we win, I’m retiring,” he said. “There are other things I would like to accomplish with my life.”
That’s a paraphrase. I did not have a notebook in my hand, and the camera wasn’t running. Slack-jawed, my reply was something like, “Wut?”
He didn’t say much more, and, when I asked him to discuss it on-camera, he politely declined. We had agreed, since we were in his home, that anything off-camera was off-the-record. So this bombshell he dropped, I couldn’t do anything with it.
Ottawa lost the final to Anaheim, rendering his surprise admission moot. We didn't speak again about that exchange, and I’ve never discussed it until now. The history books say Alfredsson played seven more seasons.
With the benefit of hindsight, I think that 2007 statement was a test. He was asking: “Can I trust you?” Hopefully, he doesn’t consider this a breach. Or maybe he was just screwing with my head.
I wouldn’t call us friends, but there aren’t many athletes with whom I’ve had a better professional, working relationship. When speaking to kids or doing question-and-answer sessions, you get asked who the best guys are to deal with. He was always on my list.
And, yes, I would get booed if the audience was from Toronto.
Alfredsson was armed with a great sense of humour (he laughed when one of his old hairdos got him labelled “Krusty the Clown”) and no fear of any question. Most importantly, he never hid. No matter how painful the loss or controversial the moment, he would ask the Senators’ media staff, “When do you need me?”
When his mistake allowed Jason Pominville to score the shorthanded overtime goal that eliminated Ottawa in 2006, we asked for him live on-air. He came out and faced the music, even though the team’s dressing room was still closed.
In 2007, when the Senators consoled each other as the Ducks celebrated, we asked for him again. We needed him quickly because I had to go help on the ice. Again, he came out, while the room was still closed.
As news broke that he wouldn’t play this season, several sources said some variation of, “He will announce this on his terms.” A few added they thought it got out because Ottawa is in Detroit on Monday, and he was considering that time to let everyone know.
Now, word is the Senators’ organization wants to bring back Alfredsson for the special goodbye that avoided everyone 16 months ago. So, this may take a little longer, as Ottawa goes on a road trip after Saturday afternoon’s matinee. There’s also the question of his post-retirement plans and whether or not they include front-office work.
In 2010, he attended the World Hockey Summit, sitting in the crowds, listening to the speakers. Asked why, he said he was thinking about a management career and wanted to learn everything. He could also write his own ticket as a broadcaster.
Whatever the case, here’s hoping he sticks around. When he was considering retirement two years ago, he joked his kids wouldn’t let him because they liked to use the players’ hot tub. Being an executive still gets them that access.