Mendes on Senators: Time to prove Alfie wrong

Daniel Afredsson (CP/Adrian Wyld)

Let’s make one thing very clear: Daniel Alfredsson’s ex-Ottawa teammates respect his decision to go to Detroit.

After spending 17 seasons in this city, Alfredsson has earned the right to make his own decision — especially after being the consummate leader and teammate inside the dressing room. You will never, ever hear a negative story about Alfredsson from one of his old teammates. And that includes players and staff going off the record.

But while the Sens players respect Alfredsson’s latest choice, they do not agree with his decision. They were initially shocked when they heard the news. That shock turned to disappointment when they heard Alfredsson’s public explanation that the Red Wings were closer to a Stanley Cup than the Senators.

And while Alfredsson had no intention of slapping his old teammates in the face, that’s exactly what he did. He admitted his decision was “selfish”, so he honestly meant no disrespect to Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil. But thru a strange and backhanded way, the manner in which he left town could be the best thing that ever happened to this group that remains in Ottawa.

Instead of wallowing in the departure of their captain, the Sens players can view this as a galvanizing moment. Someone who was inside their locker room believes he has a better chance of winning with Detroit than he does in Ottawa.

In the world of professional sports, there is nothing more satisfying than proving the doubters wrong. And when the doubter just happens to be your ex-captain, it makes the motivation all the more intriguing.

If Alfredsson had made this decision two years ago, when the on-ice product was in a state of disarray, nobody would have questioned his thought process. After the 2010-11 season, it was clear the Senators were at least three years away from contending. If he signed with Detroit or Boston in the summer of 2011, the prevailing sentiment from the nation’s capital would have been “Good luck and we understand.”

But we’re now in Year 3 of that re-build. The Senators have made the playoffs in each of the last two years — showing a marked improvement with Paul MacLean behind the bench. They have the goaltending. They have arguably the best defenseman on the planet. And they have a decent group of forwards in their prime — including Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris and now Bobby Ryan. This is the best the Senators have looked since reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2007.

In his post-season news conference in May, Bryan Murray boldly told the media that his team should be viewed as a contender for next season. The general manager then proceeded to tell Alfredsson about his plan to acquire Ryan from Anaheim — and yet that was not enough to sway the decision for the captain.

So when Alfredsson decided to leave Ottawa for Detroit, the sentiment around here was not “Good luck and we understand”, it was more of a collective “Umm…what just happened?”

If he had chosen Boston as his destination, that would have been easier to swallow. The Bruins are clearly the class team of the Eastern Conference, with two trips to the Stanley Cup final in the last three years. Alfredsson could have convinced all of us that the Bruins were his one final chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. That would be a tough one to argue with.

But the Red Wings do not appear to be any closer to a championship than Ottawa and that’s what makes this situation so hard to digest for the players inside the room.

Both teams finished the regular season with the same number of points and both were bounced in the second round. Detroit’s core of players is older and hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since George W. Bush was in office. You can call the Red Wings a lot of things, but a team on the rise isn’t one of them. If you think the Senators trip to the Stanley Cup final is a distant memory from 2007, just remember that Detroit’s last Cup win came the following year. In hockey terms, that’s ancient history.

Some have also argued that it would have also hurt less if Alfredsson made his decision to leave earlier, so Ottawa could have received some sort of compensation for him. But in reality, Alfredsson didn’t leave the Senators empty-handed when he chose to sign in Detroit on Friday.

By leaving them early, Alfredsson may have given his teammates the best gift of all — the desire to prove him wrong.

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