THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA — Daniel Alfredsson has been the face of the Ottawa Senators for the better part of the past 15 years.
However, it’s the 38-year-old’s back that’s being talked about most at the opening of training camp.
Alfredsson took part in the team’s first on-ice sessions Saturday after undergoing off-season surgery and came through in good shape, which is good news for a team and player looking to put a disastrous 2010-11 season in the past.
"I felt better than I expected," said the veteran right-winger, who hasn’t played since February. "It’s a good first day and I’m real happy with it."
The Senators organization will be, too, after Alfredsson was limited to a career-low 54 games last season — many of those played with a persistent back injury that eventually forced him to shut it down for good.
After dealing away a number of veterans before the trade deadline and clearing room for fresh faces to crack the lineup from Binghamton, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, a healthy Alfredsson will provide a big boost to new coach Paul MacLean and the rebuilding process.
"That’s real good news for all of us if Daniel can come and play on our team every day," said MacLean, who takes over from the fired Cory Clouston. "He’s still a National Hockey League player with super abilities and the players have a ton of respect for him, the league has a ton of respect for him, and that just makes us a way better team right away."
Alfredsson managed just 14 goals and 31 points last year, his lowest total in the league since he broke into the NHL in 1995-96 by winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
The Senators also struggled, slumping to their worst finish since his first year after recording just 74 points and missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Despite the fact he’ll turn 39 in December, the NHL’s longest-serving captain (Alfredsson took over the Senators’ captaincy for the 1999-2000 season) still feel he has a lot to contribute and that served as motivation to get back into the lineup.
"That’s the deciding factor if you’re going to retire or not," he said. "I still feel when I look back at last year that the most frustrating thing for an athlete is playing half-injured or injured. And for a long period of time where you’re not able to play at the level you want, so I wanted to give it a chance and come back and hopefully find my game where I think it can be and hopefully have a lot of fun doing it."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray thinks Alfredsson also has plenty to offer to the rebuilding team, not just in goals and assists.
"I think Alfie being in the room, I think Alfie dressing for games, being part of the leadership core which he’s a very important part of, is critical, in particular with a young group," Murray said. "He brings a credibility to the organization and obviously more than that. He has words for (the younger players), he demonstrates every day that he goes on the ice that you have to work hard and be competitive and I think that rubs off on young people."
Alfredsson tried to avoid surgery over fear of it leading to other problems down the road, but when his back didn’t respond to rest and non-invasive types of treatment, he wasn’t left with any other options.
Although he always intended on coming back for a 16th NHL season, there was still the fear that his back may not stand up to the rigours of playing. He returned to the ice for informal workouts with other members of the Senators and other Ottawa-area pros in late August and was further encouraged by Saturday’s workout, which included a scrimmage.
"I was at the point where even if I was playing or not I’d have had to have the surgery, just for everyday life," Alfredsson said. "So I was still comfortable and if that would have been the case, that I wouldn’t have been able to play, I would have been fine with that, too. But I’m obviously happy to be able to be here and still standing after the first day."
Alfredsson said the muscles below his back still need to regain strength and he’s got to be careful about things like stretching.
He plans on playing at least three of the team’s seven exhibition games and the presence of the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (1,056), goals (389), assists (634) and points (1,023) didn’t go unnoticed by the newcomers.
"You’ve got to pinch yourself on the arm every time you see him on the ice," Swedish forward Mika Zibanejad, the Senators’ first pick (sixth overall) in June’s NHL entry draft, said of taking to the ice with a player and compatriot he grew up idolizing back home. "It was a dream come true for sure."