Did the Senators actually play hardball with Daniel Alfredsson?

All that talk about a "blank cheque" to re-sign Daniel Alfredsson seems like revisionist history, based on what's being revealed as the dust settles.

On the morning of July 5, when the reality of Daniel Alfredsson leaving his team of 17 seasons in order to sign with the Detroit Red Wings truly became clear, Ottawa Senators fans were told that it wasn't because of money. The storyline was that Alfie left Ottawa in order to pursue a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings.

The fact that the Red Wings have an equal (at best) chance at winning the Stanley Cup this season as Ottawa seemed piqued the curiosity of many, myself included. It didn't make much sense, especially since the Stanley Cup wasn't something that Alfredsson had seemed desperate to win in the past, so this revelation was pretty much out of left field. The fact that he's moving to Detroit with his entire family, lifting virtually all of the very deep roots he'd established in Ottawa and severing the relationship with the city he'd long said was to remain his home post-retirement, certainly caused a few eyebrows to lift as well.

Well, things are getting clearer, and a lot of the frustration--at least in my books--is shifting away from Daniel Alfredsson and towards the strange and aggravatingly stingy new direction of the Senators organization. The developments are chronicled nicely here by Travis Yost, but I'll go over them a bit here, as well.

The first inclination that the "blank cheque" refrain might not have been fully honest came during Bryan Murray's free agency press conference on Friday. In the conference, it was revealed that when J.P. Barry (Alfredsson's agent) stated Alfredsson's initial ask, Murray replied that it wasn't "a fair number" and wasn't one the Senators would be able to "go to." Here's a video of the press conference; the comment is at the 1:20 mark:

Initially, you might attribute this to typical negotiation; Alfredsson's camp offers a high number, the Senators counter with a low number, and the two sides meet in the middle. But I don't buy it. I doubt Alfredsson came in high, and even if he did I don't think it would have been unfair; if Alfie's initial ask was $6M, that would have been fair compensation for a guy who's been paid well under market value for virtually his entire career. That $6M wouldn't have come close to matching the money Alfredsson's left on the table in 18 years in Ottawa.

Later on Friday, Darren Dreger of TSN offered the Ottawa perspective on Alfredsson's contract:

That $4-4.5M might be about market price, but it's not fair value for Alfredsson. He's always been a proud person, and he knows full-well what the Senators' financial picture is; there's no reason he should take a $1-2M discount in order to sign with the Ottawa Senators. When he made his first offer to the Sens and they balked at it, it surely left a bad taste in his mouth. Daniel Alfredsson is not at a point where he's going to nickel-and-dime for a contract extension, and he shouldn't have to do so.

The fact that the Senators played hardball with their all-time best player, their captain, and a player who'd become a legend in this city shows that they took him for granted. They assumed that Alfredsson, because of his deep roots in Ottawa, would never consider leaving the Senators. They fulfilled the cliché about what happens when you assume, Alfredsson called their bluff, and by the time Murray had been given the blank cheque to "get a deal done," the damage had been done. No one wants to feel they're being taken for granted, competitive athletes like Alfredsson least of all. If this is how it played out, it's hard to blame Alfredsson for being less than impressed by Ottawa Senators management and for deciding to move on.

And he is moving on; Alfredsson has left no vestige of links in Ottawa. He was set for life in Ottawa and would have had any front office or coaching job he wanted with the Ottawa Senators organization. But he's obviously decided that if the Senators will take him for granted as a player, they'd take him for granted as a front office staffer, too.

Alfredsson has experienced what it means to be in a cash-strapped organization. Earlier in his career, he missed paycheques when the team was bankrupt, deferred paycheques in order to keep the team competitive, and had to deal with the uncertainty of potential (at times seemingly probable) franchise relocation. It's hard to blame him for not wanting to risk going through a similar experience again, not for his last NHL season and certainly not for his post-retirement life.

So Alfredsson chose the Detroit Red Wings. In my opinion, it wasn't as much about choosing a Stanley Cup contender because, quite frankly, they're not a realistic Cup contender. If they are, they're not much closer than the Senators. He likely chose that team and chose to bring his family there because they're known as an organization that takes care of their people, and they offer him an option for his lifestyle post-retirement. They'll also spend to the salary cap in order to have the most potent contender they can put on the ice.

If this is indeed the case, I'm nervous for the future of this organization as an up-and-coming Cup contender. Young players on entry-level and early-career contracts will only take this team so far. Team management needs to have the willingness and freedom to retain its elite talent and bring in more in order to be a true competitor.

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