|Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson is one of three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, along with Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty (Matthew Healy/OSHC).
Only Daniel Alfredsson truly knows what it has taken to get him back to this point.
But the appreciation level for the Ottawa Senators captain and his achievements this season continues to grow. Further evidence of that arrived from the National Hockey League today, when Alfredsson was named one of three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
The winner will be unveiled June 20 at the 2012 NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas.
Local chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association each submitted a nominee for the Masterton earlier this season, with the top three vote getters being named finalists.
"It was a (happy) surprise this morning and I'm really honoured and humbled about it," Alfredsson told reporters earlier this afternoon after receiving the news. "I'm thankful about getting nominated first and then getting to the final three. It's pretty neat."
After undergoing surgery in April 2011 to relieve a nerve issue in his back that had shortened his 2010-11 season to 54 games — the lowest number of his 16-year NHL career — Alfredsson has enjoyed a renaissance campaign. He scored 27 goals this season, his best total since recording 40 in 2007-08, and finished with 59 points in 75 games.
The biggest highlight came on Dec. 30, when Alfredsson's 400th career NHL goal capped a Senators rally from a three-goal deficit in a 4-3 overtime triumph over the Calgary Flames. As well, the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend turned into a veritable "Alfie love fest."
Ottawa's surprising run to a Game 7 showdown with the New York Rangers in their first-round Stanley Cup playoffs — considered a longshot by many at the season's outset for a team just starting into a three-year rebuild — merely added icing to the cake. Best of all, Alfredsson has been relatively healthy throughout, his back woes now a thing of the past.
"I've said it throughout the year," said the 39-year-old Alfredsson. "It feels really good to come back and play at a level that I think I could after a couple of frustrating years. The doctors did a great job with my surgery. I feel like I've been skating much better this year and I'm having more fun playing.
"Putting the work in rehabbing and getting ready, and us having the success we've had this year ... it's been a great year and a great group to be a part of, and a lot of fun."
Alfredsson admitted the toughest part of that journey was enduring the back pain that hampered him so badly last season. He finally shut it down for good in early February.
"The most difficult part was last year, going through that," said Alfredsson. "Once I had the surgery ... even on the day I had the surgery, I felt a lot better. That was really encouraging. Once I started rehabbing, it was fun to even work out again, instead of being limited so much (in terms of) what you can do in the gym. It's been hard, but it's been fun."
Senators head coach Paul MacLean called Alfredsson, the NHL's current longest-serving captain, "a very worthy candidate" for the Masterton award.
"The other two guys (Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens) are also worthy, but I know Alfie's been a real good player in this league for a long time and gives a lot to the community. He's been through a lot as a player and we're real proud that he's the captain of our team and that he's a legitimate nominee for the Masterton. We think that's great."
Alfredsson is the only Senators player in the modern era to win an individual award, taking the Calder Trophy in 1995-96 as the league's rookie of the year. But he could have plenty of company in the nomination area this season.
The NHL will announce the finalists for the Norris Trophy — presented to the league's best defenceman — on Thursday and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, the NHL's top scoring blueliner by a whopping 25 points, is widely considered to be a frontrunner for the award.
MacLean, who orchestrated the Senators' unexpected rise to the playoffs, is believed by many to be a strong candidate for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the NHL's coach of the year. Finalists in that category will be named on Monday.
"I think he's done a phenomenal job with our team," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "In our mind, he should be the coach of the year. He's turned our club around real quick and given us a chance to win the first round against the No. 1 seed in the East. He's put us in a good position and empowered us as players."