The opening day of NHL free agency should have been a joyous one for Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray.
After all, it's not very often you add a young, proven, top-line goal-scorer to your lineup the way Murray did Friday when he acquired Bobby Ryan in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks.
It should have been hailed as a coup, and Murray's meeting with the Ottawa media at the end of the afternoon should have afforded him that rare opportunity for an NHL general manager to bask in the praise a transaction like that was sure to bring.
Instead, Murray had the exact opposite sentiment when he met with reporters and had to explain how, despite his and the team's best efforts, the greatest player in franchise history walked away to join a new division rival.
Daniel Alfredsson's decision to leave the Senators after 17 years in Ottawa and 14 as captain to join the Detroit Red Wings caused shockwaves throughout Canada's capital Friday, and Murray candidly spoke of how difficult it was for him to digest the loss.
"To me it was a devastating conversation, a disappointing one, hard to swallow like it is for a lot of people," Murray said. "But I understand a veteran player who hasn't won and wants to win and sees an opportunity."
Alfredsson called Murray on Thursday evening to deliver the bad news. It was the culmination of a week of back and forth conversations between Murray and Alfredsson's agent, J.P. Barry, that began June 27, when Alfredsson met with Murray and was told of the plans to improve the Senators for 2013-14, including the possibility of Ryan joining the team.
Alfredsson told Murray he needed a week at home in Sweden to decide on his future. That decision came exactly seven days later.
Though Murray was devastated by the news, he couldn't have been more effusive in his praise of Alfredsson.
"He deserves the opportunity to do what he did," Murray said. "He was a great guy here. It was more than a player-general manager relationship. I regarded him as a friend and a guy I can sit and talk to as a friend. He had great insight into the game. We're going to miss him. There's no question we're going to miss him as a person, as a leader, as a guy in the community. He's deserving of all the credit he's gotten here, and more."
Alfredsson signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings reported to be worth $5.5 million with bonuses included. Murray admitted there was disagreement over the financial terms in his initial conversation with Barry, but that ultimately Senators owner Eugene Melnyk gave him the green light to sign Alfredsson to whatever amount he wanted.
"Just get it done," Murray said he was told by Melnyk. "Just pay him."
However, the discussion never progressed to the point where it could be called a negotiation, and Murray said money never came up again after that first talk with Barry.
"This is not a financial thing in Alfie's mind or my mind," Murray said. "I think it's totally the desire of a player to try something different and have a better shot in his mind to win the ultimate goal. If that's part of the history, that's part of the history, but we have to turn the page. After the fact I hope someday he'll come back and live in Ottawa and be a respected part of the community. I hope our fans understand this is what happens sometimes."
By the end of the day Friday, the Senators' website opened to a page thanking Alfredsson for his 1,178 games played in an Ottawa uniform, setting franchise marks for goals (426), assists (682) and points (1,108).
"I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank Daniel Alfredsson for his many contributions to our hockey club and to our community over the past 17 years," Melnyk said in a statement. "I wish Daniel, Bibbi and their family the very best with all their future endeavors."
Right Wing - OTT
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 30
SOG: 101 | +/-: 3
The sadness surrounding Alfredsson's departure completely drowned out the feel-good story of acquiring Ryan, a 26-year-old who crossed the 30-goal mark in each of the four full seasons he played with the Ducks.
"I think we got a star in Bobby Ryan," Murray said. "He's an over 30-goal scorer each and every year, he's a big, strong guy. He's played behind two very good players in Anaheim in [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry. I think now he gets the chance to come in as a No. 1-line player for a team. He scores goals, he plays big minutes, he's good around the net with and without the puck."
Murray also signed forward Clarke MacArthur to a two-year deal worth a reported $6.5 million to play on Ottawa's second line with Kyle Turris. The GM traded away promising young forward Jakob Silfverberg along with prospect Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to get Ryan.
Two top-six forwards left (Alfredsson and Silfverberg), and two came in (Ryan and MacArthur).
"We're younger," Murray said. "It's hard for me to say we're better today because we haven't started to play yet, but I think we're equally good."
Murray also was in discussions with free agent forward David Clarkson, but he fell out of the running to sign him at around 10 a.m. Friday morning, with Clarkson eventually joining the rival Toronto Maple Leafs (from where MacArthur came). That's when Murray went back to Ducks GM Bob Murray to rekindle the talks on Ryan and the trade that was first discussed two weeks ago but which laid dormant for a bit.
That was because Murray's main targets Friday were Clarkson and Alfredsson, and instead he wound up with a pretty good consolation prize of Ryan and MacArthur.
It just didn't feel all that good.
"We wound up getting two players today, two we're very happy about getting," Murray said. "But losing Alfie is a big blow."