Ottawa Senators fans everywhere were no doubt excited by captain Daniel Alfredsson's announcement that he would be returning for his 17th season. But there's another team wondering how long he'll be playing.
As captain of the Swedish national team at the World Championship in April, 39-year-old Alfredsson partnered with a new generation of Swedish stars, including Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog and Senators teammate Erik Karlsson. Sweden finished a disappointing sixth at the Worlds, and the team and ensuing retirement of legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom from the Detroit Red Wings marked a changing of the guard in Swedish hockey.
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"There's always going to be new players and always going to be older guys stepping down. It's unfortunate," said Landeskog, a 19-year-old who served as an alternate captain at the Worlds despite being the team's second-youngest player. "Playing against Alfie and Lidstrom [in the NHL] was a dream come true. At the same time, there's always going to be a generation shift. There's always going to be new younger players coming up. That's what makes it so exciting."
Perhaps no national team represented that transition better than the one captained by Alfredsson at the 2012 Worlds held in Sweden and Finland. After years of fielding veteran-heavy teams in international tournaments, the 2012 Swedish team was noticeably youthful.
With some players still competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sweden was led by the veteran line of Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Loui Eriksson. But eight of the team's 22 skaters were 21 or younger.
Slightly more than six years after Sweden's gold-medal win at the Turin Olympics, a high point in the country's athletic history, eight of that team's 22 players remain on an NHL roster. A ninth, 39-year-old Tomas Holmstrom, is unsigned and looking for a new contract.
If the Swedes hope to recapture gold at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, they might have to do it without Alfredsson.
"The Olympics are not part of the plan at all," Alfredsson said Tuesday when he announced his return to Ottawa. "If I'm still playing at that time and playing at a high level enough, I'm sure I would be interested. But it's not in my thoughts right now."
It is unclear, though, if NHL players will even play in Sochi. The NHL has not yet committed to sending its players in 2014 and the participation of NHL players in future Olympics will be determined through negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA expires Sept. 15.
The new generation of Swedish stars will get a chance to shine before the 2014 Olympics, starting with the 2013 World Championships, which will again be held in Sweden and Finland. And if Sweden's big win at the 2012 World Junior Championships is an indicator, that legacy appears to be in good hands.
"We have a lot of young talent in our country. That's a big asset that we're going to have for years to come for the Olympics and World Championship. We are going to have a younger team now," said Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, a 21-year-old who played for Sweden at the 2012 Worlds. "We have tremendous leadership coming with the younger players. We're not just satisfied to be on the big stage. We want to be the best."