Johnston: Sens ready to forge ahead without Alfie

Jason Spezza will assume a major leadership role in Daniel Alfredsson's absence. (CP/Fred Chartrand)
September 8, 2013, 5:47 PM

LONDON, Ont. — To put on the Ottawa Senators sweater that Daniel Alfredsson wore for nearly two decades is to accept that you’ll probably be asked about the departed captain.

Even at a prospects tournament that featured only a handful of guys who have played a NHL game, some of the Senators players were questioned about the franchise’s current leadership situation and how they might plug a hole in the lineup.

That discussion will reach a whole other level when the Sens officially set about moving on from Alfie at training camp later this week.

“We have to fill that void,” general manager Bryan Murray told sportsnet.ca on Sunday.

“Our business is one of change,” he added. “There’s not a team in this league, whether they win the Stanley Cup or otherwise, that doesn’t have to make a change or two. Sometimes you want to do it; a lot of times you’re forced to do it.

“In this case, we were somewhat forced to do it.”

Alfredsson’s decision to leave the only NHL franchise he had ever known and sign with Detroit this summer caused a stir in the nation’s capital.

His former teammates expect it to become a major talking point again during training camp and are eager to put it to rest. Jason Spezza, who is considered the front-runner to replace Alfredsson as captain, believes it will take about a week to do that — at least before interest spikes again when Ottawa visits Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 23.

Spezza is confident that the team won’t have any trouble carrying on without its longtime leader.

“For us, the one thing is that Alfie is an older player and there’s been a lot of talk of retirement over the last couple years,” he told sportsnet.ca. “So we’ve kind of come to grips with the fact that we’re going to be without him anyways — we just didn’t think he would be moving to another team.

“That’s the part that surprised everybody but we knew the day would come that he was going to be out of the room.”

There will have to be adjustments made throughout the organization.

Alfredsson wore the “C” for 14 seasons — an eternity in pro sports — and became an important resource for head coach Paul MacLean and the team’s management staff in recent years. MacLean has already declared that everyone has to move on without No. 11, but that will probably be a little easier said than done.

“Alfie was included in a lot of decisions we made,” explained Murray. “He was a good sounding board for management and coaches, we took advantage of that and we’ll see (what happens now). But we do think we have some strong people in the room and he wasn’t the sole leader by any means.”

In addition to Spezza, the team’s core includes longtime Sens Chris Phillips and Chris Neil — not to mention veteran goaltender Craig Anderson.

Murray thinks the franchise has enough quality prospects to draw from when filling out the lineup. Centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau followed up his surprising playoff performance last spring with a strong showing at the prospects tournament and fellow forwards Mark Stone, Curtis Lazar and Shane Prince aren’t too far behind him.

Pageau is intent on forcing the Senators to keep him out of training camp and believes Spezza is ready to handle more responsibility inside the dressing room this season.

“(He) has been there for a couple years now and I think he shows that he has good potential to be a good leader,” said Pageau. “He’s real nice with everyone and every time he’s on the ice he gives everything he has.”

There are a few similarities between Alfredsson and Spezza: Both were drafted by the Sens and grew into elite NHL players with the organization. They also spent a fair bit of time as linemates over the years.

Spezza has spoken with Alfredsson about his decision and harbours no bad feelings about how the situation played out.

“I think I understand his reasons,” said Spezza. “When you get to that point of your career you’re allowed to make your own decisions and he’s obviously thought things through. Do I agree with some of the reasons? Not really.

“But I really respect that it’s his decision.”

There also isn’t any ambiguity for Murray, who made a few pointed comments about Alfredsson’s agent, J.P. Barry, after the player’s departure.

“Whether it was the debate over finances or the debate over anything else, the bottom line was I think he felt that going to Detroit gave him a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup,” said Murray.

With the Red Wings moving into the realigned Atlantic Division alongside Ottawa, it won’t be very difficult to measure whether it was a wise choice or not.

It also guarantees that the Senators will continue to be asked about their former captain throughout the season. They are willing to oblige, but only to a point.

“I imagine we’re going to talk about it through the first week of training camp and we’re going to talk about it when we meet Detroit, but I can’t imagine we’re going to want to talk about it too much more after that,” said Spezza.

“We’re not going to have too much time to be talking about a guy that’s on another team.”

No matter how much he once meant to this one.

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