Daniel Alfredsson said he always thought he would play for the Senators in 2012-13. He just needed a little more time to be sure.
He made the decision official Tuesday -- the Ottawa Senators announced their longtime captain will return for a 17th season.
"I think I've had the intention of playing from the beginning," Alfredsson said on a conference call from his home in Sweden, "but had to go through the process to really know for sure."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray had told Alfredsson to take as much time as he needed to decide whether he would retire or return this season, but Alfredsson said as he's increased the intensity of his training the past two weeks, he noticed his body responding the right way. That made it easy for him to make his decision to return.
"I could probably have made my mind up a little quicker if I felt the team needed to know for whatever reason, but I also feel this is a good time," he said. "The training the last two weeks has gone into another phase, more heavy lifting, and that's gone well. I probably could have waited for another month [to decide], but this feels right."
The Senators, obviously, were thrilled to see Alfredsson return.
"Daniel's contributions to this hockey team cannot be understated," Murray added. "He is a leader and a mentor to many of our young players. Daniel is also a great hockey player and we expect him to return and continue to be one of our best players as we look to improve on last year's accomplishments."Alfredsson agrees that he can be better. He had 27 goals last season, the most he's scored in a season since he had 40 in 2007-08. However, he said having put the back problems that plagued him the past four years in the past has him expecting an even better season.
"My goal is to improve," he said. "My health is better than it's been in a while. I feel I can come into camp much more prepared than I was last year, which should help me. I should be more consistent. I'm not looking to be close to where I was last year, I would like to improve and be better."
Alfredsson certainly knows what it takes to play at a high level. He's the franchise's all-time leader in games played (1,131), goals (416), assists (666) and points (1,082). He's been team captain since Oct. 2, 1999, and is the NHL's longest-serving active captain.He'll return to a team that finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last season thanks in part to the way first-year coach Paul MacLean blended a mix of older players including Alfredsson and Jason Spezza with younger players Erik Karlsson, Colin Greening and Kyle Turris.
"We had a great group last year," Alfredsson said. "I think we had a lot of fun as a group, we were able to push each other as a group throughout the year. … It does make for a fun working environment, no question. Also I think it's a big challenge for us. I think we did a lot of great things last year but we're still a team that's developing and I don't think we'll hit our peak for a few more years. At the same time, we've proven to ourselves we can compete with anybody in the League, we can be pretty consistent and we should be fighting for a playoff spot again. Everyone knows in today's League how tough it is to make the playoffs and we're going to prepare and do everything we can to improve on last year."
Alfredsson said he hopes to be assisting in that improvement beyond the 2012-13 season. Though he said he isn't ready to sign an extension to his current contract, which expires after the upcoming season, he said if his health stays where it is now, he can envision playing beyond this season.
"I had issues with my back for a few years, and now that I finally feel healthy again, I want to see how good I can be," he said. "You see players at 40 and 40-plus like [Jaromir] Jagr and [Teemu] Selanne, and maybe it's a new trend that's starting, that if you look after yourself and take care of yourself, you can play. Who knows what the limit is? That's an intriguing part for me -- how far I can push myself? How good can I still be? I feel like I can get better, especially looking back at the health issues I've had, feeling that I've corrected that. I should be able to push myself and be better, especially physically, than I was last year."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK