You may recall the fan-made "Alfredsson Rises" video (which has since been taken down) from last season right before the All-Star break. It used the audio from this The Dark Knight Rises trailer. Many of the film's quotes fit surprisingly well with Daniel Alfredsson's career at the time, and now even better after his signing with Detroit.
In one scene there is a conversation between Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake and a child from the orphanage.
Child: "Do you think he's coming back"
John Blake: "I don't know."
This was the question posed twice by Ottawa Senators fans this past summer. Firstly whether Alfredsson had another year left in him, which he confirmed on June 28th. This was met with much fanfare from Sens Nation. As the days passed with no contract signed, the question came back. Was Alfredsson going to return to the only NHL team he's ever known, or in his 18th season would he finally make a change? Despite free agency day looming, nothing prepared fans for the event to come on July 5th.
The immediate reaction in the city was shock. How could the Ottawa Senators have let their franchise player leave in what is likely to be his final season? Why would Alfredsson ruin a legacy that's taken almost two decades to achieve? Rumors persisted over the coming weeks, with nothing concrete about either side's motivation coming to light. That changed on August 15th, with Alfredsson's first media session in Ottawa since signing in Detroit. In the end it simply came down to money. That left the majority of Ottawa Senators fans in one of two camps. Either Alfredsson was being greedy in demanding such a high salary for a player past his prime or Eugene Melnyk being too cheap to ensure this team's only franchise player remained for entire career.
Many in the former camp came hard on Alfredsson, saying he was no better than Dany Heatley or Alexei Yashin. They would boo him on his return to Ottawa and show no mercy. He was worthless now, seventeen years of history wiped away. He had forever ruined his legacy. Flashback to the release of the "Alfredsson Rises" video. One conversation between Catwoman and Batman stuck out in particular to fans
Catwoman: "You don't owe these people anymore. You've given them everything"
Batman: "Not everything, not yet."
This summed up Alfredsson's career perfectly at the time. He had given this team and city everything. His performance on the ice exceptional, his loyalty to the team unquestionable and his off ice charity work inspiring. There was only one thing missing from his resume, the Stanley Cup. Even so, fans had already come to grips that it was likely not going to happen in the short time left in Alfredsson's career. The All-Star game was likely going to be Alfredsson's last big achievement and moment for fans to show their appreciation towards their longtime captain. After that, there would only be the retirement ceremony which would undoubtedly be a huge event, involving the retirement of #11. How could all these fans who were celebrating his career just over a year ago now turn their backs on him?
Unfortunately, Alfredsson probably brought this upon himself. His continued loyalty towards the team involved numerous and significant hometown discounts. In his career, he has only played four seasons in which his salary has surpassed $5 million (2003-04, 2006-07, 2009-10, 2010-2011). When you compare against some of the top salaries in the league right now, it's clear Alfredsson should easily have made more in his career. He opted not to in order to keep the team competitive. In fact, the NHLPA expressed displeasure back in 2004 when Alfredsson signed for below-market value. Also, recall back when Rob Bryden declared bankruptcy in 2003, Alfredsson was willing to defer his salary to ease the financial burden the team was under. He had always put the team first.
If Alfredsson is to be believed, the team promised to make up the final year of his previous contract where he only made one million in salary. This implied the Sens should have offered him $7-8 million to balance the previous year. That was the least the team could do for a player of his stature. When the team's offer came it was apparently in the $4.5 million dollar region. Not chump change, but still breaking their original promise. Now Alfredsson could have signed the contract and remained a legend in this city. He didn't. Instead he likely felt insulted and his pride took him to Detroit to prove a point. Will he regret this decision down the road? I would like to think so.
Now why is it that so many fans were upset at Alfredsson's decision. Why didn't he just take the Senators' contract offer and leave the extra million on the table like he had in the past? Why was he being just another greedy player looking to make a paycheck? That's exactly it. Over the years, we had begun to take all of Alfredsson's decisions for granted. There are very few players in the league who have done what he has. We expected him to take the hometown discount, bite the bullet, and remain a Senator for his final season. All this because of what he has done in the past.
Will we be this critical of Jason Spezza or Bobby Ryan if they were to leave if the Senators don't offer them market value when contract negotiations roll around. Likely not, we would just accept it and wish them the best. If a team broke a promise causing a player to leave, most fans wouldn't blame them. If a team tried to sign one of their players to below market value and he opted for a larger contract from a different team, fans would understand. It's just business. Not Alfredsson though, he was supposed to be different from all the other guys. He had set himself on a pedestal so high it was bound to crumble down. Like Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight.
"You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."