|Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson will take some time to decide whether he'll return for a 17th season with the team in 2012-13. His teammates made it clear they want to see him back (Photo by Matthew Healy/OSHC).
Even Daniel Alfredsson doesn't know the answer — at least not yet.
Saying he needs to 'take a step back' from the disappointing finish to an emotional first-round playoff series, the Senators captain said today he remains undecided about whether he'll return for a 17th National Hockey League season.
Less than 48 hours after their heartbreaking Game 7 elimination at the hands of the New York Rangers, the Senators returned to Scotiabank Place one last time to clean out their lockers and say their goodbyes for the summers. If it was also a final farewell for the 39-year-old Alfredsson will be the biggest question hanging over the team in the weeks to come.
Whether he has the fire to go through another 82-game grind — and, just as importantly, the summer training that it takes to get ready for it — will largely determine that answer for Alfredsson, who has one year remaining on his contract with the Senators.
"I don't know myself," Alfredsson said, making it clear the decision won't be an easy one. "I know I really need to have that desire to get ready for another year. If I don't, it will be a very frustrating year for me personally, going through the motions. You have to bring everything you have to the table to be honest with the team and yourself.
"The league is way too good to just go out there and go through the motions."
The fierce pride that burns inside Alfredsson simply wouldn't allow him to accept anything less than the lofty standard he had held himself to since joining the Senators in 1995-96, when he earned the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. His health will play into the decision, though he hopes the two concussions he suffered this season won't impact the final call.
"It's been a great year but a long year, physically and mentally," said Alfredsson. "Now, when you've had more than one day (since the end), you feel you are worn down. So that's one factor. And do I have the motivation to get ready for another year? I know I can't just take the summer off, come to camp and hope I do well.
"If I want to play, I want to play at as high a level as I can. That means you've got to go through hard workouts in the summer in getting ready to play the full season."
Alfredsson, who scored the lone goal in the 2-1 loss to the Blueshirts in Game 7 and was the best Senator on the ice, did anything but that in a renaissance season. After undergoing off-season back surgery, Alfredsson notched 27 goals — his highest total in four seasons — including the 400th of his illustrious NHL career. Both Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Paul MacLean are convinced there is still plenty left in the classy Swede's tank.
"I've told him that I don't think there's any question that he's one of the best players on our team, if not the best forward," said Murray. "He showed that in Game 7 again ... I'm trying to discourage him like all heck from retiring. I think he's also a great mentor for the (young prospects) we have coming. But he smiled and said 'we'll talk later.'"
Said MacLean: "All I told him is that he's a real good player and he can play as long as he wants to play. Whenever he decides he's had enough, I'll be one of the first guys to stand up and clap. All of us in here will be (clapping for him). But that's a decision that he needs to make on his own over time and we're going to give him the time that he needs."
The decision will also involve his wife, Bibbi, and his four sons, Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William.
"I'm sure the kids would like to see me play another year, there's no question," said Alfredsson, a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player best exemplifying perserverance and dedication to hockey. "They love being a part of it here, in the locker room and coming to games."
The kids who play alongside him every night would surely miss their leader, too.
"I don't want him to quit," said defenceman Erik Karlsson, a fellow Swede for whom Alfredsson has been a huge mentor. "I don't think it's his time to hang them up yet. He's been so good for us and I really think he can (still) be a good player for us for a number of years ... I hope he'll keep going, but a lot of things have to work for him.
"He's still a great guy. All the guys on this team have so much respect for him and everybody loves him and loves having him around. He's done a lot for our team this year and I still think he has a lot to bring. If he plays next year, I think he's going to be even better."
Alfredsson will tell you the young players that now surround him on the team have done just as much for him in terms of putting an extra bounce in his step.
"Mentally, they do bring a lot of energy," said Alfredsson. "It is a great working environment in there, it really is ... If you don't have fun, that kind of makes the (retirement) decision for you. It's been a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. There were some tough seasons before this one, but playing the way we did and coming together as a group the way we did was great ... A lot of good things about it, I'll always remember."
Added veteran forward Chris Neil, a longtime Alfredsson teammate: "He was rejuvenated this year and it was fun to see. In practice, he's one of the first guys out there. He's always trying to get better and make the guys around him better. That's what a leader does and that's what your captain does. To be able to be with him and be a part of this with him for so long ... I hope he comes back."
His season might not yet be done. With the IIHF World Hockey Championship being held in Sweden and Finland this year, Alfredsson is pondering the idea of playing for his homeland on home soil — something Murray believes is "a possibility," at the very least.
"A little part of me wants to go but at the same time, I'm not sure," said Alfredsson, a member of Sweden's Olympic gold-medal winning team in 2006 in Turin, Italy. "I'll know after today."
Some of Sweden's stars of the future, such as Jakob Silfverberg and Mika Zibanejad, could possibly join the Senators' ranks next season, and Neil knows just the right guy to help guide them along.
"He's got four kids at home (and) he comes to the rink and he's got lots of other kids as well," Neil said of Alfredsson, the Senators' undisputed leader. "With Erik and Mika ... you can go down the list with all the Swedes. Silfverberg comes in (during the playoffs) and he takes him under his wing. That's what he does, he takes guys under his wing and he matures them as players. You can't say enough about the guy."