“Alfie’s back” is the rejoice of Ottawa Senators fans and no longer the source of Daniel Alfredsson’s frustration, for the youthful 39-year-old captain announced his return for one more season, and probably more, on Tuesday.
While one might be tempted to hastily link age and health into one factor, for Alfredsson it’s been about how his body feels and not what his birth certificate says.
“I think I had the intention of playing from the beginning but had to go through the process to really know for sure,” Alfredsson said Tuesday during a conference call.
It’s been four years (or one Olympics ago, for those of you stricken with the fever) since Alfie has been able to train properly in the off-season and have his muscles respond the way he wants them to. A bad back, bouts of rehab and last summer’s surgery left him at a crossroads.
His 54 games played in 2010-11 were the fewest in his 16 seasons as an Ottawa Senator, and discomfort from his sports hernia injury lingered. And yet he scored 27 goals for a surprisingly dangerous Sens squad in 2011-12, his highest goal output since a 40-goal campaign in 2007-08.
“I wasn’t sure where I stood, both physically and mentally,” he explained.
But this is the best Alfredsson has felt since, well, his mid-30s. He feels strong and believes he’s ready to contribute to a playoff contender in the best league in the world. He credits the mix of veterans and young, energetic players in the Sens’ dressing room for creating a “fun working environment, no question.”
Plus, his four sons would have been disappointed if Dad had hung up his skates.
“Surround yourself with greatness,” once advised American motivational speaker Earl Nightingale.
But what if you were already are pretty great, as an Olympic gold medal and 1,082 NHL points would suggest?
The addendum to that quote should be “and if you have the greatness thing covered, surround yourself with youth.”
Alfredsson attended the NHL Awards in June with teammate and countryman Erik Karlsson. The two Senators stars at opposite ends of their careers partied with each other, and both left Vegas as big winners. The captain’s friendship with the 22-year-old phenom was carried into the gym this summer.
Alfredsson has been following a workout schedule — “a fun and challenging program,” 15 minutes from his home — under the guidance of trainer Peter Froberg, a track-and-field coach who helped mold Karlsson into a Norris winner last summer.
“And I jumped in with them this year,” Alfredsson said. “It’s been a lot of fun training with both of them.”
It also doesn’t hurt that despite entering his 17th NHL season, the 39-year-old Alfredsson doesn’t even crack the top five of the NHL’s oldest active players.
Currently holding seniority over him are Teemu Selanne (42), Jaromir Jagr (40) and Ray Whitney (40), all top-six forwards whose production refused to fall off a cliff when they hit the milestone birthday that Alfie will reach this December.
And 40-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur, who recently signed a new two-year deal with New Jersey, just led his Devils to the Stanley Cup Final.
“We’ve seen other players do it, coming up on 40 and 40-plus: Whitney, Jagr, Selanne. Maybe it is a new trend that’s starting,” said Alfredsson. “That if you look after yourself and take care of yourself, you can play. Who knows what the limit is? That’s the intriguing part for me, to see how hard I can push myself and how good I can be.”
Alfredsson says he’s spoken with a couple players who may have retired a year or two too early.
He has put himself in their skates.
“You kinda look back and (think), maybe I could have played another year or two.”
But as much as 2011-12 would have been a wrap-it-with-a-bow last stand — the classiest of All-Star Game hosts, a long-awaited return to the post-season, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy honouring his leadership and devotion to both game and community — the man simply feels too good to quit now.
“I’ve had issues with my back for a few years, and now that I’m finally starting to feel healthy again, I want to see how good I can be,” Alfredsson said, adding he will play out the final year of his current contract and reevaluate whether he will continue beyond 2012-13. “I should be able to push myself and be better than I was, especially better physically than I was last year.”
So for one more year, at least, Alfredsson won’t enroll in management courses in preparation for an off-ice career.
“That’s what I’d be interested in,” he said.
“I’m not going to say that this is my last year,” Alfredsson added, leaving no reason to believe he won’t play in 2013-14. “If I feel good and feel I can play, I’ll continue.”