Johnston: Alfredsson airs Senators’ dirty laundry

It was almost certainly not Alfredsson's intention to create any more controversy - he was merely attempting to lay out the facts (as he saw them) that led to a divorce from the only NHL team he has ever played for. (CP/Sean Kilpatrick)

The danger in picking through the rubble of any failed relationship is that you’re bound to unearth some uncomfortable truths.

Daniel Alfredsson did just that when he met reporters on Thursday to once again discuss the circumstances behind his decision to leave the Ottawa Senators and ended up revealing that he and the team circumvented the salary cap with the contract they agreed to in 2009.

It was almost certainly not Alfredsson’s intention to create any more controversy – he was merely attempting to lay out the facts (as he saw them) that led to a divorce from the only NHL team he has ever played for.

However, it was hard to ignore the larger implications of Alfredsson’s words as he reflected on a favour he once did for his former employer.

“When I (signed) my last contract, for four years ending in the 2012(-13) season, I was asked to help the team manage the salary cap by adding on an extra year to my contract. I agreed,” said Alfredsson. “Each side fully expected I would retire and not play the 2012-13 season.”

The last part of that statement is in direct violation of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, especially since the season in question saw his salary drop dramatically.

Any side agreements or understandings – particularly those designed to get around the salary cap – are strictly forbidden in a league that sacrificed the entire 2004-05 season to get a hard cap system in place.

While Alfredsson’s admission didn’t come as a surprise to NHL executives – deputy commissioner Bill Daly told on Thursday that he believes the practice was “rampant” under the last CBA – it did mark the first time a player has come out publicly and declared that he’d taken part in cap circumvention.

However, at this point the league has no intention of going back and trying to punish those who might have broken the rules no matter what evidence surfaces now.

“We certainly believe that clubs and players are violating the terms of the collective bargaining agreement when they talk about ‘mutual understandings’ relating to retirement and ‘adding on a year’ for salary cap purposes,” Daly said. “And we advise our clubs accordingly.

“Having said that, I don’t think it would necessarily be a productive exercise to go ‘back in time’ on these – my guess is the practice was rampant and we have taken steps in the new CBA to try to address it in a more meaningful way.”

Indeed, new rules on salary variance would have prevented Alfredsson’s previous deal from being approved now. The breakdown of that four-year contract was $7-million, $7-million, $4.5-million and $1-million, and all current back-diving contracts can only be reduced by a maximum of 50 per cent from the highest-paying year to the lowest-paying one.

The NHL also created a salary cap recapture penalty that essentially punishes teams with players still under long-term, back-diving deals who retire early. That appears to be the extent the league is willing to look in the rear-view mirror.

On Thursday, the Senators front office was understandably upset with the latest version of events presented by Alfredsson.

In an exclusive interview, general manager Bryan Murray told Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun that he felt as though the former captain had thrown him “under the bus.”

While Murray disputed some of the details about how Alfredsson’s 2009 contract was drawn up, he agreed with the assertion that everyone involved expected him to retire before the final season kicked in.

“He said we asked for another year to make it cap friendly? He asked for a four-year deal with up-front money,” Murray told Garrioch. “It so happened there was the fourth year at $1 million. Both of us talked and he certainly didn’t anticipate playing and (agent) J.P. (Barry) didn’t anticipate him playing so I said: ‘That’s fine.”‘

For a player that has carried himself with as much class as Alfredsson has over the years, it must be a little uncomfortable seeing how messy and public this breakup has become.

The fact he even had to hold Thursday’s press conference at the Royal Ottawa Hospital, after already speaking on a conference call when he signed a $5.5-million, one-year deal with Detroit, was a little unusual.

Alfredsson himself admitted that he regretted some of what he said on the July 5 conference call – most notably that the Red Wings have a better chance to win the Stanley Cup this season than the Senators – and there is bound to be even more remorse now.

More than anything, it’s clear the 40-year-old felt slighted by the Sens when the free agency period opened last month.

After giving a couple hometown discounts to the team during his career and playing for a pro-rated $1-million last season, Alfredsson believed he was in line for a nice financial sendoff before retirement.

He had to go to Detroit to get it.

“At the end of the 2012 season, I told the Sens I wanted to play another season and I also asked if they would look at a possible extension for this upcoming season at a fairer level to balance out the two years for both of us. They agreed,” Alfredsson explained.

“Sadly, the contract negotiations went nowhere.”

The relationship has been severely damaged as a result.

Both sides would be better off if they chose now to focus their energies on the future and refrained from getting into all of the little details that drove them apart.

Once these type of situations go sour, there’s very little to be gained by airing all of the dirty details.

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