Playoffs in Alfie's sights

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

This time next year, Daniel Alfredsson expects to be gearing up for the playoffs, not packing up his gear.

As the players cleaned out their lockers yesterday, Alfredsson was already looking forward to next season, when the Senators "should be in the top half" of the Eastern Conference.

While the captain stopped short of guaranteeing a return to the playoffs -- after the Senators missed the post-season for the first time in 12 years -- Alfredsson pointed to the strong finish this season as reason for optimism.

"We beat a lot of the good teams down the stretch. You can say that we had nothing to lose, but at the same time, we felt that we weren't consistent," said Alfredsson, who is missing the playoffs for only the second time in his NHL career.

STRONG FUNDAMENTALS

"There were a lot of nights we didn't play great, but we won, and there were nights where we played well and won easily. The fundamentals we had at the end were strong and something to build on. I'm not going to guarantee us winning anything, but we should be in the top half of our conference."

Before leaving for the summer, the players met with GM Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston and had physicals.

Murray's message to the players was simple: Come back ready to start winning from Day One.

"This may be the greatest opportunity and the greatest lesson learned ever," said Murray. "(The players) all feel that we're a good hockey team and a contending hockey team that didn't contend and that we had a dreadful first part of the year.

"There was a great deal of frustration and disappointment and a number of players thought they had dreadful years. They have to leave here understanding the commitment that we expect of them. We can't live with what happened again. The core, for the most part, is good."

Murray doesn't want to hear any promises from the players. He wants action.

JUST 'DO IT'

"Don't talk about what you're going to do ... do it," said Murray. "(In the past), I've listened to some of the players talk about what they're going to do in the off-season and how they're going to be stronger and quicker and better. They came back and a lot of them were the same.

"I want them to go out and prepare themselves and work hard. I want them to come in to camp and have a much better beginning. To a man, I haven't had one guy say otherwise, and that the approach since Cory took over is exactly what we needed. They're all excited to see it from the beginning of the year and I like hearing that."

Alfredsson said the harsh reality of missing the playoffs hasn't quite hit home, but it will quickly.

"It's very disappointing. It's going to be tough watching playoff hockey. That's when it will sink in that we're not there," said Alfredsson. "At the same time, I'm positive going into next year and into the summer with the way that we finished. We started something to build on and we all know how tough this league is. I strongly believe we should be in the playoffs next year."

Clouston said the Senators simply ran out of time at the end of this season, but "we definitely created something we can build on.

"There needs to be some changes, that's just the nature of the beast with free agency and what-not, but we feel we've got a real good group of guys here."


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