'Time's running out'

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

As the roadies for the Red Hot Chili Peppers set up for last night's show at Scotiabank Place yesterday, the Senators were wandering back from practice at the Bell Sensplex.

There was a thundering crash just down the hallway from the Senators dressing room.

"Now it's the Red Hot Chili Pepper," cracked somebody in the media scrum waiting for Senators coach Bryan Murray.

The timing of the big noise was off. Doesn't The Big Thud come at the end of a much-hyped and promising Senators season, not before it's even begun?

A few minutes later, Daniel Alfredsson, facing questions about his team's playoff failures and his own leadership, said the Senators have been their own worst enemies when it comes to the crushing weight of expectations.

"Sometimes we brought high expectations on ourselves when really we should have downplayed it," he said. "It's so tough to win in this league, you can't go out and say it before, 'we're going to (win the Stanley Cup).' I think this year we're going to have a good chance, we should be one of the teams at the top, I believe."

Maybe they've learned a lesson.

Senators GM John Muckler has been fond of saying you can't win a Stanley Cup if you're afraid of talking about it.

Alfredsson, in the spring of 2004, guaranteed the Senators would rebound from a 3-2 series deficit and beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He was half right. They won Game 6, but lost Game 7.

Yesterday, Alfredsson, a guy who has taken as much heat as anybody for the Senators' post-season struggles, was taking a much more pragmatic approach to the Senators' chances this season.

Maybe it's maturity. Maybe it's the painfully gained knowledge that it takes much more than being favourites to be champions.

He's 33 now, not old by any stretch, but sometimes it seems like Alfredsson has been around forever.

In terms of the Senators, forever is 10 years and encompasses a decade where the disappointments have always managed to outweigh the successes.

SOFT UNDERACHIEVERS

Alfredsson has been at the epicentre of most of it, been there from the time when the Senators were a scrappy bunch of overachievers to a soft collection of underachievers.

Now they are perhaps somewhere in the middle as Alfredsson, much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, prepares to enter his seventh season as the Senators' captain.

Like the Senators' own Portrait of Dorian Gray, he bears the criticisms, wears the disappointments and answers for the shortcomings.

He knows, in this salary-cap era which has seen the Senators part with winger Martin Havlat and franchise defenceman Zdeno Chara because of salary constraints during the off-season, that now, more than ever, nothing is guaranteed.

Alfredsson is coming off his best season ever and the Senators remain in a group of elite teams, but the window, inevitably, is closing.

"Time's running out," said Alfredsson yesterday. "At the same time, you can't force it. You just got to take what you have. There's a lot of 'what-ifs?', but it's like that your whole life. You take the cards you're dealt and you do the best you can with them. That's the way I approach whatever I do.

"You're not going to get any free points. We've had a lot of regular-season success and people take for granted that we're already in the playoffs. We know there's a lot of work to be done and we don't look too far ahead."

Alfredsson has had his leadership questioned, mostly by those who point out no European NHL captain has raised the Stanley Cup.

Like the team he captains, Alfredsson's post-season play has rarely been up to the standard he sets during the regular season.

He unflinchingly absorbs the criticism and made no apologies for his leadership style.

"Until you win, the criticism is always going to be there. It's part of pro sports. I know myself and my abilities and the way I judge myself and what I think of my own play carries more weight than what anybody writes or thinks. I think it's fair and until we win ... we've had good chances and haven't been able to do it. Most of (the criticism is) fair.

'QUIET LEADER'

"I believe I don't have to be a big motivator. I'm more of a quiet leader, not just vocally, but I don't want a lot of attention for it because I don't think it's that big a deal being a captain in the NHL. I think we have a lot leaders in this room and I get a lot of great help. It makes my job fairly easy."

To say he isn't a winner is not correct. He won Olympic gold with Sweden at the last Winter Games, fulfilling his childhood dream.

"Then once I came over here, (it was) to win the Stanley Cup and that dream's never going to die as long as I play," he said.

"You can talk about making it to the conference finals or even if we make it to the final, if you don't win ... when I look back at my career, nobody cares if you made it to the conference finals or the finals if you didn't win. That's all that matters. That's what drives you. I'm going to keep trying until I can't try anymore and I'm done. That's not going to discourage me."

No promises this time, just resolve. It sounds better in the echo of The Big Thud.


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