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Daniel Alfredsson: I Said, He Said, They Said

Daniel Alfredsson gives something back to Senator fans - whether he means to, or not.

Originally published at TheHockeyTalk

I laughed when I heard  Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski call the former Ottawa Senators Captain, Daniel Alfredsson, a "serial disparager" on Conor McKenna's TSN 690 (Montreal) radio show today.

He was making a reference, in the context of an interview Alfredsson gave today regarding how it was that he came to leave the Senators, to Alfredsson's rather pessimistic interview as the Senators faced elimination heading to Pittsburgh in the 2012-2013 NHL playoffs.

When asked if his team had any chance of coming back from a 3-1 series deficit, Alfredsson replied, "Probably not."

Although that has been dissected, discussed, debated and deliberated, to within an inch of its shelf life, the general consensus seems to fall into one or more of the following catch-alls.

  • Alfie was tired and depressed right after a loss. Give him a break. And besides, he was right.
  • Alfie is an honest, straightforward fellow, and he spoke what he saw as the truth. And besides, he was right.
  • Alfie, as team captain, was supposed to toe the party line. He should have kept his negativity to himself because that just psyched his team out. Even if he was right.
  • Alfie needs a haircut, that bandanna or hair ribbon or whatever it is that he wears looks ridiculous. But he was right about that business with the Pens.

I remember watching that interview, having just watched the game. Part of me applauded the honesty of the comment; living in a world of PR department approved sound bites tends to make an actual bit of raw truth stand out like a daisy in the orchids.

I like daisies.

And a part of me cringed; visibly, physically cringed. Like when someone says "Well, you'll never be a model." Well, of course, I won't be a model. But I don't particularly want to hear that, do I? No one expected the Senators to make a come back. Apparently, not even the Senators.

But we're supposed to be treated to PR-speak and told about the plucky (or "pesky", in the case of the Sens) nature of the underdog team, about how no one is quitting, about how it isn't over until it's over. A few weeks later Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins was in an identical spot (facing playoff elimination, down even more low at 3-0 against the Boston Bruins than the Sens had been at 3-1 against them), gave an interview and reminded us of the Canadian Olympic team's 2010 gold medal victory which had come after four must-win, elimination games.

"In the Olympics to win a gold medal for Canada, they've got to win four games, four elimination games," Bylsma said and rattled off the teams the Canadians had to beat, tapping his finger with each name, "Germany, Russia, Slovakia and the U.S."

And then, as if he had a PR lady stuffed in his hankie pocket, he concluded with, "And that's what we're at right now."

Now, that's how it's done. Hidden in that was the rally cry, "If they could do what they did, we can do this."

Hidden only a little farther in was the Sidney Crosby nugget. It's not a large leap across the logic chasm to conjure up the image of who scored that game winning goal. The PR lady approved subtext was, "And that guy plays for us."

Thing was, we all knew that was a load of horse-poo. We all knew the Pens were done. Well, anyone who had ever watched a playoff series before knew. But there is an accepted script for these moments and Bylsma followed it like a boy scout. And as hopeless as most Pens fans were, they allowed themselves to drink the magic kool-aid (just a sip, mind you) that coach Dan was handing out in little paper cups.

Because there is the possibility. Always the possibility. And if that is true, and it is, a positive mind set is a very important thing. So, the bottom line is: not all truth is important to speak. Some truths should, in fact, not ever be spoken. Like that time you told your spouse that those pants did make them look fat. How did that work out for you?

So, Alfie was right. There wasn't much of a chance, really, was there? Public relations is one of those wonderfully inconsistent areas where the truth rarely ever sets you free. In this case, it boxed up poor Daniel Alfredsson who is, after all, a hockey player, and not a public relations maestro. He spent weeks, weeks, punching his way out of that mess of cardboard. In the world of Google, where the "front page" news changes faster than most people blink, any news that sticks for weeks is either important, controversial or prurient.

Only John Tortorella could have possibly said anything more controversial or just plain wrong. At least Alfredsson didn't say something like, "Well, if that slacker Spezza hadn't gone AWOL on the back check, we might be in better shape."

Really, he just said it like it was. His idea of the truth.

Alfredsson's little PR faux pas would be long forgotten by now, only to be brought up by trollish non-Sens fans and other types whose last recourse is usually a "your mama" insult.  Except that in July UFA Alfredsson shocked EVERYONE and signed a one year contract with the Detroit Red Wings rather than return to the Senators for his final season(s). Ottawa was the only NHL team he had every played for and he had been the captain for fourteen years.  

If the comments during the playoffs were strike one, what followed was strike two.  In a phone interview following the announcement,  Alfie indicated that he and the Sens couldn't work out a deal and that he went to Detroit in order to have a better chance to win the league championship.

"It pretty much came down to a selfish decision," he said. He wanted to win a Stanley Cup.

"Ouch," said every Senators' fan and every standing member of the Senators team.

Alfredsson has apparently decided PR is for the birds. That speaking the truth is more important than speaking the other feel-good, inspiring sort of stuff we prefer in our sports heroes and politicians. Alfredsson, apparently, is very fond of saying things like they are.

And today, he said some more things "like they are". At least as they are from his perspective. If you believe him to be an essentially honest human being, and evidence points to that fact, then whatever Daniel Alfredsson said today, he believed was the truth.

Who Said What To Whom ... Wait ... What?

When Wshynski commented that Alfredsson was something of a "serial disparager" he was not engaging in hyperbole.

Alfredsson is either batting a thousand or he just struck out, depending upon your perspective. He's either the most steadfastly honest and straightforward human being who ever lived (and one who can't seem to get the whole idea of soft-shoe) or he is really angry at the Ottawa Senators. Or both.

In his third brush with the Ottawa media in the last three months Alfredsson, typically, stepped right into the thick of it with his opening statement, "When I did my last contract for four years ending in the 2012-13 season, I was asked to help the team manage the salary cap by adding on a extra year to my contract."

He paused for a breath and the gathered media went "uh oh". Eyebrows shot up. People stopped texting. Expecting a somewhat generic "it was great, sad to leave, will always have a soft spot" prepared announcement, it seemed the sort of thing where the real good information came in the media scrum that follows.

But Alfie was not going to pass on this breakaway.

He went on to say, "I agreed. Each side fully expected I would retire and not play the 2012-13 season."

Did he just admit to an act of "bad faith" inside of the NHLPA-NHL CBA? Did he just out himself and the Senators for cheating? For conspiring to circumvent the cap? Did he just air a bit of dirty laundry? Did he just stick it to the Ottawa Senators?

Why, I think he did.  Whatever his good intentions, whatever his desire to be honest, that sounded a little more like the "he said, she said" that happens in divorce courts. He didn't want the fans, his fans, to think he had simply abandoned them. He wanted them to understand that he wanted to come back.

He admitted that it had been a mistake to have said that he thought it was more likely he could win a Stanley Cup with Detroit. He said that the real truth of the matter was that he had not been able to conclude a business arrangement with Ottawa and, furthermore, this was a situation that had been going on for two years. He, essentially, said he'd been fucked around and that his response was to head out to pastures where he felt wanted and appreciated.

The bottom line was two-fold.

  1. The Sens did not want to pay him enough money or make good on their "debt" to him - that he had played a year for the Senators longer than either of them expected and had not been paid properly for that last year.
  2. When he asked for an amount that would balance that out ($7 million per season), they countered with an offer that was insulting to him ($4.5 million)

It's all very under-the-table and shadowy and tells us that the same things that have always gone on are still going on. What Alfredsson admitted to, publicly and on record, amounts to circumvention of a ratified CBA and is one of those truths we might all be better off not knowing.

Like a lot of people, Tyler Dellow, @mc79hockey, agrees that it's a circumvention and has a very interesting take on a similar case involving Calgary.

Wrote this on circumvention when Keenan said the Flames did it with Kipper. Applies equally to Alfie: http://t.co/GnBLN68GGM
— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) August 15, 2013
The NHL, as it turns out, is not terribly interested. According to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly agrees that the agreement between Alfredsson and Ottawa is, in fact, circumvention, but that the practice was "rampant" under the last CBA, and that the league doesn't think looking backward is productive.

There was more. It got a little strange after that, with Bryan Murray of the Senators responding publicly, blaming it all on Alfredsson's agent not giving him all the information.

TSN has a very good report of the matter of who said what and where the fingers are pointing.

As Wyshynski said, "What upset me was how Ottawa decided to hit back."

Apparently the Senators are taking a page from Alfie's book and are going to speak their truth. Much more of this "telling it like it is" and we'll all need an aspirin and a long nap.

Hearts and Minds

Now they're just battling for hearts and minds. Aflie doesn't want the Senators' fans to think badly of him, to lose faith in their team, to lose the goodwill he has spent nearly two decades of his life earning.

He wanted them to know it wasn't about a Stanley Cup. That it had been about honour and respect. That he had felt abused. That he left because the had not been dealt with fairly.

The Senators don't want their fans thinking they're shady, dishonest characters who mistreated a beloved Captain. So their side of the story must be told. The tilt must be adjusted.

The fan reaction seems mixed.

From TSN:

Glad to see! Alfie moves on, Murray and Melnyk are spurned and deservingly so!
Wow! Murray is honest to a fault in all his dealings and so it is no surprise he is 'disappointed' to hear what Alfredsson said today. I would think disappointment plus. Maybe this is another agent smoke and mirrors like what Eagleson did to Bobby Orr. Points to consider: Looks like J.P. Barry needs to answer some questions.
From NHL.com's coverage titled "Alfredsson: Contract impasse led to Ottawa departure":
i actually think melnyk is the one who screwed up and does not want to take the fall. he keeps going back and forth and what could have been done. earlier, stating that they could not have afforded both and now saying they could. guy needs to keep his emotions in check. he is losing credibility.

Would, Shoulda, Coulda

Alfredsson had more to gain than a clearing of his reputation amongst his loyal fans. Despite the actual result where the Senators look a little wiseguy-ish, I doubt very much Alfredsson's intentions were punitive. I doubt very much he was interested in risking their reputation in the course of saving his own.

In fact, I don't think he said what he said to aid his own reputation.

In case it was missed in the first go-around, he wanted to make sure everyone knew that he thought well of the Senators, that he thought they could win a Stanley Cup, that they had, in his estimation, a bright future.

He wanted to set the record straight, not so much to make the Senators' management look bad, but to make the team itself look better. He wanted the people who had supported him for the past fourteen years to know that it had been "just business". Nothing to do with the quality or prospects of the team.

As much, one expects, for the teammates he leaves behind, many of to whom he was a long-time mentor, as for himself. As much for the fans who had felt disheartened at his remarks about going to Detroit, not disparaging in themselves, but disparaging in implication, as for himself.

It is impossible to know, of course, what motivated Alfredsson to be so honest when a little less detail would have served the same purpose. It is hard to know why he chose to be so very specific in his explanation when something more superficial and PR-correct might have been said.  One suspects that Daniel Alfredsson simply doesn't know how to split the fine hairs on the truth like the PR people do.

The only way to lend credibility to the soft-shoe phrases about the future of the Ottawa Senators, about how he still believes in them, if you're a fundamentally honest human being, is to tell the truth.

Maybe, in his mind, it was his final "captainly" act.

Or maybe he simply couldn't stand the reality of one comment posted to NHL.com.

You either die a hero... or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
As the NHL has gone on record as saying they are interested in pursuing it and each of the Alfredsson and Ottawa Senators camps have had their say, let's hope this whole issue dies an unceremonious death. Unless the NHLPA wants to make an issue of it, and I doubt they will, it has nowhere else to go that isn't just about pointing fingers and playing the blame game.

Don't Scratch The Rose Colored Glasses

Everyone should hope it gets over with soon. While there's still talk on the major hockey boards about "hometown discounts" and playing "for the love of the game" that get's pooh-poohed pretty quickly.

As one fan noted:

Why make this whole situation into a big deal. We all know, from the lockout, that hockey is mostly about business.

These situations force the cold-hard realities onto fans who don't really want them. They want to believe their hockey heroes do things because of an all consuming passion for the game, for the love of their team, for the satisfaction of their fans. They want to believe that team owners are evil overlords with stacks of gold bullion in every closet.

In the big scheme of things, it's better for the Senators that people blame management. They're the unfortunate necessities. The suits in the press box. The "team" is the players and the ice surface. The jersey and the logo. People can hate the management and love the team. Daniel Alfredsson was the team and  he can be forgiven for having had enough of the evil overlord.

Although the Senators have been known to carry things to a bizarre extreme, they should let this dog lie. Take their lumps and move along. If they pursue a course that seems bent on discrediting Alfredsson or anyone connected to him, they will lose a lot more than the time wasted doing it.

In a strange and convoluted way, Daniel Alfredsson gave the Senators and their  fan base something back today, however ill-advised or unnecessary. He endorsed them.

And the Pollyanna in me thinks that is exactly what he intended to do.



Originally published at TheHockeyTalk




Previously
 James Neal has Sidney Crosnby's Back: He Skipped the Line, Too

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