Daniel Alfredsson isn't ready just yet to say goodbye to the game he loves.
After taking three months to ponder his future, the Senators captain has decided he'll return to Ottawa this fall to play out the final season of a contract he signed in October 2008. It will be his 17th National Hockey League campaign in a Senators jersey.
"I'm excited to get ready for another season," the 39-year-old Alfredsson said from his hometown of Goteborg, Sweden, where he's spent more than a month vacationing with his family. "I've been training for about a month and a half and my body feels a lot further ahead of where it was last year at this point. I expect to come into camp fitter and stronger than I did last year."
When the Senators' 2011-12 season ended with a 2-1 setback at the hands of the New York Rangers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series, Alfredsson said he needed time to determine whether he still had the fire to do the necessary off-season training to prepare himself for one more year.
Clearly, that answer is yes and it's a decision that also sits well with his wife, Bibbi, and his four sons, who Alfredsson says were leaning on him to keep playing.
"My kids have (had) me playing the whole time," Alfredsson said with a chuckle. "They've been bugging me and I think they would have been really disappointed if I didn't play. And my wife and I, we feel that our family situation will be easier this season coming up than it was last year, with a newborn baby (William Erik) and sleepless nights.
"We have more of a routine now. She's kind of been hoping, too, that physically I would feel fine and play another year and postpone everything that comes with retirement and starting a new chapter in our lives. We've got pretty good control of what to do when I'm playing and how to handle me being away and whatnot, so she's been extremely supportive, too. That's makes me feel a little less guilty, I guess, about playing another year because I know how much time it takes away from family."
The NHL's current longest-serving captain, Alfredsson is the Senators' all-time leader in games played (1,131), goals (416), assists (666) and points (1,082). He also tops the franchise in playoff games played (111), goals (47), assists (43) and points (90).
Senators management was also hopeful Alfredsson would return to help mentor young Swedes Jakob Silfverberg and Mika Zibanejad, who could join the Ottawa lineup in the season ahead. His guidance is credited with having a major influence on Erik Karlsson, the 22-year-old blueliner who developed into a Norris Trophy winner last season.
"I think I've had the intention of playing (next season) from the beginning, but I had to go through the process to really know for sure. With my back problems ... I haven't really been able to work out as I would have liked for the last probably four years. With the surgery last summer, having to do a lot of rehab and I didn't get the proper training in. I didn't know where I stood physically and mentally. It took some time, but the training has been going well. I've really enjoyed it, so I'm really happy that I feel this way in the process of getting ready for another camp." - Daniel Alfredsson
"I'm very, very excited," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. "We hoped for this all along but to get it confirmed, I think, is great for the franchise and great for the city. Certainly, I know it’s going to be great for our young players because he’s a leader and a mentor for a number of them. If they’ll follow his work ethic, we know we’ll be a competitive team.
"I’ve talked to Alfie a number of times and I had a feeling he was still excited about playing. He was looking forward to playing, but it wasn’t absolute until he basically told me (Monday) afternoon. It made my day, there’s no question about it."
Added Senators owner Eugene Melnyk: "Daniel is an exceptional captain whose commitment to his teammates and to the great city of Ottawa is second to none. Daniel expects a lot out of himself both on and off the ice, so I fully understand how important a decision this was for him and his family. I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome and look forward to Daniel having a great year and adding to his long list of extraordinary achievements with our hockey club."
While Murray had a "Plan B" in place if Alfredsson didn't return, he's happy he didn't need to use it.
"What he brings to the room, what he brings to the work ethic and character of our team ... we weren’t going to be able to replace that," said Murray. "Maybe from a skill point of view, we could fill some of the goals, but I just think having him back is a huge improvement over anything I could have done."
A year ago at this time, Alfredsson was recovering from off-season surgery to repair a nerve issue in his back that he would later call career threatening. Not quite certain what to expect in 2011-12, the Senators captain produced 27 goals — his highest total in four seasons — and 59 points. In Game 7 against the Rangers, he was arguably the team's best player on the ice.
"I think I've had the intention of playing (next season) from the beginning, but I had to go through the process to really know for sure," said Alfredsson, who's been working out with his former Swedish club team, the Frolunda Indians, and a trainer (Peter Froberg) he shares with Karlsson. "With my back problems ... I haven't really been able to work out as I would have liked for the last probably four years.
"With the surgery last summer, having to do a lot of rehab and I didn't get the proper training in ... I didn't know where I stood physically and mentally. It took some time, but the training has been going well. I've really enjoyed it, so I'm really happy that I feel this way in the process of getting ready for another camp."
His determination in battling back from that injury made Alfredsson a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy, presented annually to the player best exhibiting perseverance and dedication to hockey. While he didn't win the award, Alfredsson did become the Senators' first winner of the King Clancy Trophy, which goes to the NHL player displaying leadership qualities on the ice and in the community.
Alfredsson, who turns 40 in December, was a sixth-round pick (133rd overall) by the Senators in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. He earned the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1995-96.