Mendes on Sens: Time for Alfredsson to retire?

Let me preface this blog entry by saying I really don’t want Daniel Alfredsson to retire. He’s an absolute pleasure to deal with on a daily basis and after watching him score 27 goals this season, it’s clear that he can still play this game at a high level.

But we need to acknowledge that Thursday night could mark Daniel Alfredsson’s final regular season home game at Scotiabank Place. The fans have realized this, and once again, they are planning to chant “Alfie!, Alfie!” at the 11-minute mark of each period against the Boston Bruins.

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Last year at this time, Alfredsson seriously contemplated retirement when he was sidelined with an injury that required season-ending surgery. At the start of this season, he told me that he was going to approach this season like it was his last in the NHL, so you have to acknowledge that retirement is a very real possibility this summer.

While the prevailing hope amongst Senators fans is that their captain will return for one more season, here are five reasons why it might be a good time for Alfredsson to retire this summer:

Nobody could have scripted this season to go any better for Alfredsson and the Ottawa Senators. They’ve been one of the feel-good stories in the NHL, so wouldn’t this be a great way for Alfredsson to go out?

The Ottawa fans have had plenty of opportunities to shower their captain with love this season. The All-Star weekend was basically a three-day celebration for Alfredsson. And when he scored his 400th goal on Dec. 30, his post-game curtain call created one of the most memorable regular season moments in Ottawa history.

If Alfredsson comes back next season, it will be almost impossible to top the magical moments from this past year. I honestly feel that Alfredsson came back to play this year because he didn’t want his career to end the way it did last season — with the team in disarray and his production and health diminished. He always struck me as a guy who wanted to leave the game on his own terms and it’s hard to imagine a better finish than this season.

When Alfredsson scored his 400th goal, the first two players to come over and congratulate him were Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. The three of them were hugging for a few seconds before any other teammates arrived; almost like a frozen moment in time. And as soon as it happened, I felt like it was a passing of the torch.

Spezza and Karlsson are set to become the new faces of the franchise and they proved they are ready to handle the load this season. The big fear in Ottawa used to be that when Alfredsson retired, the team would no longer have any direction or identity. I think that problem has been solved and I really feel like Spezza has done enough to earn the captaincy when Alfredsson does decide to retire.

I don’t anticipate there will be a leadership vacuum in Ottawa and Alfredsson has done a tremendous job in grooming Karlsson for a lengthy career in the NHL. From that standpoint, Alfredsson is leaving the Senators in capable hands.

This might be a factor that nobody is really talking about, but could be something that plays a significant role in his decision.

If there is a prolonged labour dispute, would Alfredsson want to wait through it to play in a shortened season? He’s gone on the record to say that one of the decisions he needs to make is whether or not he’s prepared to put his body through one more summer of intense and grueling workouts. Doing the off-ice exercises for three months is one thing, but what if this potential work stoppage lasts until January? Does Alfredsson want to be riding a bike, skating with a handful of players and doing core exercises for six months?

There was a time in November when I thought that Alfredsson had played his last game — and not by his choice. He was sidelined by a concussion after he was taken out on a blindside hit from Wojtek Wolski on Oct. 30. In the days that followed, Alfredsson complained of dizziness, even when he tried to do something as simple as play with his sons.

In the past few years, the Senators captain has narrowly escaped major injury from similar hits (Mark Bell caught him at the end of the 2008 season; Craig Adams nailed him in Pittsburgh just before Christmas in 2009). Walking away with your health is so important for a veteran like Alfredsson, who appears to have plans to have a post-retirement career. All you need to do is look at a player like Chris Pronger and you see the dangers of a late-career injury — and sadly, it doesn’t take much to cause a concussion these days.

All of us who have dealt with Daniel Alfredsson over the past 15 years want nothing more than to see him retire as a happy and healthy individual.

I wanted to list his contract as the last reason for retirement on my list, because I honestly don’t think money is a motivating factor for Daniel Alfredsson. But it should be pointed out that his salary next season will only be $1 million. If you’ll recall, when he signed a long-term contract extension in the fall of 2008, it seemed like that last year of the deal was tacked on to simply lower the cap hit of the contract. We all wondered if it was basically a throw-away year; where both sides had agreed he probably wouldn’t play.

His cap hit next season will be $4.85 million regardless of whether he plays or not, but I don’t think Alfredsson will lose any sleep over leaving such a big empty hole in the payroll. For starters, the Senators have almost $27 million in projected cap space for next season, so they won’t be right up against the ceiling. And if you’ll recall, when the team went into bankruptcy in 2003, Alfredsson willingly deferred some of his salary to help ease the financial burden on the club. So in short, if Alfredsson wants to leave a $4.85 cap hit on the Sens payroll for next season, I think it would be acceptable for both sides.

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