|His NHL All-Star Weekend experience in Ottawa has been part of a "special season" for Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who has overcome back woes to return to his familiar form in 2011-12 (Getty Images).
Perhaps only the teammates who are inspired by him every day can truly appreciate what Daniel Alfredsson
brings to the Ottawa Senators.
They marvel at the renaissance season he is enjoying at age 39, and the long, often difficult path that brought their leader back to this point. Who better, they'll tell you, to represent the Senators as the nominee for an honour that recognizes a player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey." Alfredsson has been all of that — and then some — during his remarkable journey over the last 12 months.
No doubt the members of the Ottawa chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association didn't have to think too long and hard before choosing Alfredsson as the Senators' nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which was made official today. His is a story that couldn't fit the annual National Hockey League distinction more perfectly.
"It's very worthy," said Senators head coach Paul MacLean, whose admiration for the native of Goteborg, Sweden, has grown throughout his first season behind the Ottawa bench. "It's an award that goes to people who have persevered and given a lot to the game at the same time. I don't think there's probably a better choice in Ottawa or in the league than Daniel Alfredsson
, as far as what he's done for the game and how he's persevered to come back and play the number of games that he's played.
"So he'd be a very worthy candidate and a worthy winner."
Alfredsson, a 16-year NHL veteran who is the league's current longest-serving captain, was humbled when told of his nomination for the Masterton. A year ago, his season was over, cut to just 54 games by debilitating back pain that required off-season surgery to repair a nerve problem. He wondered at times whether he might be able to come back at all, let alone become a key contributor to the Senators' surprising drive for a playoff berth in what was considered a rebuilding season.
"I didn't think this was possible at this time last year," said Alfredsson, who ranks third among the Senators in goals (22) and fourth in points (49). "I was hoping I was going to be able to come back and play okay, but the surgery I had worked better than I thought it would and now I realize how much (the back problems) hampered me last year.
"It's been an incredible season and, at this stage of my career, to come back and to be able to be on a good team feels unbelievable ... To be able to come back and play at a level where I feel I can contribute feels great. Whatever happens in the future, whether I continue to play or not, it feels great to have this season to look back on."
Indeed, it has been a season for the ages for Alfredsson, who has one year left on his current contract. On New Year's Eve, his 400th career goal — scored in overtime — capped the Senators' rally from a three-goal deficit to edge the Calgary Flames 4-3 at Scotiabank Place. A month later, he was the toast of the town during NHL All-Star Weekend in Ottawa, his many adoring fans making him the highest vote-getter among forwards for the game, then showering him with emotional, thunderous ovations every chance they got.
"I didn't think this was possible at this time last year. It's been an incredible season and, at this stage of my career, to come back and to be able to be on a good team feels unbelievable ... To be able to come back and play at a level where I feel I can contribute feels great. Whatever happens in the future, whether I continue to play or not, it feels great to have this season to look back on." - Daniel Alfredsson
"It's been a very special season," said Alfredsson. "Hopefully, the best is yet to come."
That his teammates have relished sharing these moments in time with their beloved captain speaks volumes about the respect he commands in the Ottawa dressing room.
"He's a core guy, he's our leader and he's been here for a long time," said Senators centre Jason Spezza
. "He brings lots of experience and also a lot of composure, too ... he's a guy for (teammates) to talk to if they need to. A lot of intangible stuff goes on around the dressing room that doesn't get seen on the ice, and he's a big component of that."
Alfredsson and his wife, Bibbi, are the parents of four young boys and maintain an active role in the community. As the face of the Royal Ottawa Hospital Foundation's You Know Who I Am
campaign, the Senators captain has taken the lead in creating awareness and improved treatment for those struggling with mental health issues.
"He's the right guy to get nominated for that kind of thing," Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson
, a fellow Swede who has benefited greatly from Alfredsson's mentorship, said of the Masteron nomination. "He puts a lot of time into this community and this team and has been doing it for a very long time.
"From what I know, he's been doing as much as he possibly can (to play at a high level) and giving his all every day. He's just a pure, nice, good guy."
When it's suggested to MacLean — a former Red Wings assistant — that Alfredsson shares the qualities of Detroit legend Nick Lidstrom, the Senators coach heartily endorses that thought.
"They're of the same vintage," MacLean said of the two Swedish captains. "The respect and the esteem with which they're held by their fellow Swedes speaks and fellow countrymen speaks volumes about the kind of guys they are. They're good hockey players — that's a byproduct of it — but they're good human beings, they're good fathers, they're good husbands and they're just good guys.
"That's a big reason why a lot of us like them as much as we do."
Alfredsson is the only player in Senators modern franchise history to win an NHL individual award. He was presented with the Calder Trophy in 1995-96 as the league's top rookie.