He is, in just about every possible way, the Ottawa Senators’ unquestioned leader.
Most appropriate, then, that Daniel Alfredsson
would make this kind of history – first Senators player to be named a starter for the Eastern Conference in the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game. And with fan balloting complete, that’s exactly where the Sens captain will find himself on Jan. 27 at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
“He’s a first for a lot of things for this organization, so it’s fitting he’s the first guy to be named to (be a starter) in the all-star game,” Senators forward Chris Kelly said Tuesday when asked about the latest honour for Alfredsson, the Senators' franchise record holder for games played (823), goals (316), assists (497) and points (813).
“The way he’s been playing this year, he’s been our best player every game. To be named to the all-star game is just a great tribute to him and this team.”
Alfredsson finished third among Eastern Conference forwards with 224,483 votes, behind only Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (507,274) and NHL scoring leader Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning (224,661). It will be his fifth all-star game appearance, but Alfredsson said earning the starting nod in the fans’ eyes adds a little extra to this one.
“I’m very humbled by being recognized (by the fans) as a starter,” Alfredsson said during a league conference call Tuesday afternoon. “The all-star weekend is a lot of fun, no matter how you get into it. I’ve always enjoyed mine and it’s been a pleasure to mix with the best players in the league.”
He’s especially looking forward to lining up alongside Crosby and Lecavalier, two of the NHL’s brightest young stars.
“I’m pretty spoiled waking up every day and going to the rink and having (Jason) Spezza in the middle and (Dany) Heatley on the other side. There’s not a lot of players who are that fortunate,” said Alfredsson. “But it’s going to be a lot of fun to play with Sidney and Vincent, no question, especially with the kind of years they’re having.”
Senators assistant coach Greg Carvel called the all-star recognition “long overdue” for the 35-year-old Alfredsson, the team’s captain since 1999-2000 – tied for the third longest tenure in the NHL with Montreal's Saku Koivu, and behind only Colorado’s Joe Sakic and Toronto’s Mats Sundin.
“The fact that we’re a small-market team and he’s still voted in … that says a lot about how he’s perceived around the league and how important he is,” Carvel said Tuesday after an optional Senators practice at Scotiabank Place.
“He’s a unique player in this league … You combine his excellent hockey sense, his abilities, his skill and his competitive edge and there are really no shortcomings to his game. When you have that combination, it’s easier to lead. He also has leadership abilities, and he holds guys to higher standards.”
Alfredsson’s profile was no doubt elevated by his standout performance last spring, when he led the Senators to the first Stanley Cup final in modern franchise history.
“It’s a good time to get noticed,” said Spezza. “Alfie had a great playoff last year and our team had a good playoff and because of that, more and more guys in our locker room have a little more respect. There’s not many teams playing at that time of the year and everybody’s watching, so it’s a good time to make a reputation.”
The rest of the Eastern Conference all-stars, who’ll be coached by the Senators’ John Paddock, will be named on Friday. Alfredsson said if he had his way, Spezza, Heatley and defenceman Chris Phillips
would be joining him in Atlanta.
“I don’t know if (Phillips) would be appreciated in an all-star game as much as Spezza and Heatley,” said Alfredsson. “He just a guy who comes to work (and) works hard every day. You don’t hear about him much but we definitely know how much he means for us.”
Carvel went one step farther, suggesting gritty centre Mike Fisher also deserves a chance to display his wares among the league’s best.
“The intangibles that (Fisher) has will probably never get him to an all-star game,” said Carvel. “But he’s the kind of guy you win Stanley Cups with, so I’d rather have that kind of guy rather than a guy who goes to the all-star game all the time because he’s flashy.”