To call Daniel Alfredsson's exodus the end of an era is an understatement. For the team it was the loss of the longest-serving Senator, the arguable face of the franchise. For fans, it was the loss of its most popular player in history. For myself, it was the end of my childhood innocence.
Amelia wrote yesterday about Alfredsson the man contrasted with Alfredsson the myth. Alfredsson the myth was untouchable, a bona fide deity in a town desperate for some sort of genuine history. Alfredsson the man was never untouchable. Anyone who listened to what is now TSN 1200 in the early 2000's heard fans calling in and demanding Alfredsson be traded every day. This was a player who selflessly deferred salary to bring in a trade deadline acquisition of Vaclav Varada. That wasn't good enough for most people. He was a figurehead who represented constant playoff failure in one of the most fickle marketplaces in professional sports. Instead of "what have you done for me lately?" Ottawa is a city where what you've done lately defines your entire history as a member of a team.
For me, this was never the case. Daniel Alfredsson was my favourite player as a child, from 1996 through July of 2013. During a fan event in 1997, Daniel Alfredsson was posing for photos with people, Calder Trophy sitting next to him. A 10-year old Ryan posed for one of those photos. The young child, starstruck next to his hero, told Alfredsson the man that to him, he was already Alfredsson the myth. "You're my favourite player ever." Daniel Alfredsson smiled, and simply replied "Oh, really?"
During recess at school back when I lived in Almonte, kids would go play road hockey using the little plastic souvenir sticks. Everyone would claim a player they'd pretend to be. Everyone wanted to be Alexei Yashin or Alexandre Daigle, and one kid who wanted Radek Bonk. I always chose Daniel Alfredsson, even though I shot left handed and my mother would never let me curve my stick (she didn't want me putting plastic over a stove element, probably for good reason).
I also once had a shutout pretending to be Ron Tugnutt. Take that, Rhodes!
When fans demanded Alfredsson be traded, I never once agreed. He was my hero. My favourite player. Untouchable in my mind. He was the myth. It seemed that like Joe Sakic in Colorado and Steve Yzerman in Detroit, that myth would never be challenged. Not in my mind.
The myth, and my childlike reception, was a curious one. Most grow out of such things. I didn't. I had such a passion for the team that I wanted to believe in them despite annual failings. As the leader of the Ottawa Senators, never disputed in my mind. A 13-year old rarely questions captaincy decisions, and my connection to Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche made the captain seem infallible.
And then I moved away from home. For the past nine years I've lived on the west coast, primarily in Vancouver. The Senators were my connection to home, and the Senators were represented by Daniel Alfredsson. Countless debates with locals over the qualifications of captains (see Luongo, Roberto) built up the legend. Ottawa was the place of my childhood. The Senators were the embodiment of Ottawa. It wasn't just my connection to home, in truth. It was a connection to my past.
Enter July 2013. The unthinkable happened. Daniel Alfredsson sold out for 5,500,000 silver. He turned his back on the city that loved him, on the fans who now cherished him, on his own legacy and the legend he had become. There were many reasons for this and many people at fault. But for me, this was the shattering of my hero. The childhood innocence that professional hockey wasn't always a business at its core ended abruptly. In an instance, everything I'd believed was over.
I think many fans, especially those who like myself grew up with the Ottawa Senators as their only team, experienced the same thing that I did that day. I'm lending my voice to them, hopefully expressing what they feel. I'm also letting out my own feelings. In my heart, Daniel Alfredsson betrayed me. He became a traitor.
I now call him Judas. I don't see that changing anytime soon.
Today we can reflect on his time with the Ottawa Senators however we want. If you cheer him, that is your prerogative. If you boo him, that is also your choice. I will be booing at the television because now being 4500km away makes it difficult for me to be at the game. The Church of Alfie hasn't just had its cathedral burned down. The entire religion has been dismantled.
Maybe that was the point of his move to Detroit. Maybe he no longer wanted to be heralded like a deity. Maybe he wanted something different. Maybe he thought he had a better chance at a Stanley Cup. Maybe he really likes hearing Journey six times a game. Only he knows the truth.
I predicted when the incident happened that if owner Eugene Melnyk really had cheaped out on this likely final contract negotiation, that he would regret it. The impact on ticket sales and merchandise revenue would be devastating. There are other reasons why revenue is down, but so far it seems as if my predictions are coming true.
There are many villains in the history of the Ottawa Senators. Nobody expected Daniel Alfredsson to become one. People never expected him to become Judas.
I never expected my childhood to end this way.