There may still be a day where Daniel Alfredsson’s ailing back allows him to play hockey again and if you’ve spent any time around the classy Swede that’s the outcome you’re rooting for.
But it’s impossible to ignore the seeming lack of progress and extended deadlines on the decision and not wonder if the opposite might be true as well.
Alfredsson is two months shy of his 42nd birthday and has a lot of hard miles on the odometer. He missed the final two games of Detroit’s playoff series against Boston last spring because of back issues and occasionally had to dial back his off-season training for the same reason.
Now Red Wings training camp has come and gone without him and that makes the mountain he has to scale seem even larger.
At least the veteran winger has been skating. The main issue for Alfredsson is strength-sapping numbness in his right leg — a problem that originates with a disc in his back. He had it operated on while with the Ottawa Senators a few years ago and wants to be absolutely sure he can handle the rigours of a NHL season before committing to a return.
Over the weekend, Detroit general manager Ken Holland said that nothing with the Alfredsson situation had changed from his perspective in a month. He’s patiently waiting to see how things play out and won’t force the winger into a decision.
Alfredsson had hoped to make the call in late August or at least prior to the start of camp. His body — and mind — haven’t yet allowed it.
What does seem clear is that an NHL season will start this week without Alfredsson for the first time since 1997, when a contract impasse saw him sit out Ottawa’s first six games. That’s so long ago that most people probably don’t remember that it even happened.
Hope for a return is not completely lost. Multiple people close to the situation insist that Alfredsson remains determined to continue playing and he’s coming off a solid first season with the Red Wings.
He was put in a position to generate offence last year with 56 per cent of his shifts starting in the offensive zone and delivered by tying for the team’s scoring lead with 49 points in 68 games. Detroit also controlled 51.3 per cent of even-strength shot attempts while he was on the ice.
Alfredsson has done just about everything during his career but win a Stanley Cup. That was one of the main driving forces behind his decision to leave Ottawa for the Red Wings in the summer of 2013 and it remains a goal today.
Should he have to retire, Alfredsson would walk away with the second-highest career NHL point total among Swedes behind Mats Sundin.
The reality is that there are more of his contemporaries working in NHL front offices right now than those still playing the game. Just three players from his 1994 draft class remain active — Patrik Elias, Bryce Salvador and Evgeni Nabokov — and the fact Alfredsson is among the final handful is made even better when you consider that he was already 21 when the Senators took a flier on him in the sixth round.
Jaromir Jagr is the lone remaining 1990 draftee (Martin Brodeur still hopes to join him) while Sergei Gonchar is the last player left from 1992. Nobody taken in 1991 or 1993 remains in the NHL today.
I was in Detroit last October when Alfredsson faced the Senators for the first time and one thing that stood out then was his revelation about how important former teammate Erik Karlsson had been to his career. He credited the young defenceman for helping rejuvenate his career.
Now Karlsson is well on his way to veteran NHL status, having been given the “C” by the Senators last week, which underscores an inarguable fact: In sports, as in life, time waits for no one.