Will Alfredsson still be available should his team surprise the hockey world and remain in the running for a playoff spot come March, when opponents are at their toughest and points are hardest to come by?
To ensure that he is, this young team needs to pace its most polished veteran.
Alfredsson, whose 2010-11 season was ended because of a bad back after just 54 games, finally had surgery to correct the problem in June. Meeting the media at the Kanata Golf and Country Club Thursday, he stopped short of declaring himself as good as new — or at least as good as a new 38-year-old.
Are you 100%, Dan?
“I don’t think anybody’s going to camp 100%,” Alfredsson said to at least one pair of raised eyebrows. Huh? That’s a reply given by a player returning from a mid-or late-season injury. The guy says “I don’t think anybody is 100% at this time of the season” and you get that. But in September, most if not all of them should be unblemished.
“But I feel good, and obviously excited to start off,” he continued. “Training has been going good so far. I’m happy where I am.”
Are there any restrictions or concerns with the back?
“Not right now, no,” said Alfredsson.
Are you good enough to play pre-season games at the start?
“Yeah, I should be,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll play all the pre-season games. But hopefully I’ll get a few in.”
Just two or three of the seven, to get his timing back, is plenty.
Alfredsson has heard the suggestions that he be given games off through the course of the season, to prevent too much wear and tear on his body, his back. Asked his opinion, Alfredsson joked that the subject has been broached with Paul MacLean, the first-year coach who would be making a tough, bold decision to give his best player a night of rest when he’s able to play.
“I talked to Paul,” said Alfredsson. “Maybe I can fit in a couple of Florida trips, January and February especially.”
On a serious note, Alfredsson admitted he doesn’t know for sure how long the back will hold up.
“I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’ll take it as it comes. Listen to the body. But as any athlete, I hope I can come back and play fully. As you get older, that’s going to be tougher and tougher, but we’ll assess the situation, how I feel, as we go along.
“Starting off, I expect to play a lot.”
Alfredsson was well below the point-a-game pace he has maintained throughout his career when he disappeared under the exit sign in February. But with 14 goals and 17 assists, he was still leading the team in scoring. The best of the bad, if you will.
He can still be one of Ottawa’s top two or three scorers again. He just has to be used properly.
Didn’t hear much, if anything, from Jason Spezza over the summer. What was he doing? “Stayed in Mississauga all summer, lot of time watching my daughter grow,” he said of 15-month-old Sophia. “And being around my parents and stuff. You realize how important family is to you when you have a child.” ... Who caught MacLean’s eye most at the rookie tournament? “I thought (Mika) Zibanejad was a very good player. (Stephane) Da Costa was a very good player. Robin Lehner was very good in the net. I thought David Rundblad really showed he was a quality player. Derek Grant and Corey Cowick played very well. Stefan Noesen played very well and Shane Prince also played very well. The team played very well as a whole, but those players kind of stood out.” ... Alfredsson says consistency might be problem for the 2011-12 Senators. “It’s going to be a tough year for us, I think,” he said. “The expectations are not as high as we’ve had previously, but I think we’ve got a good group of guys that can play to a really high level, obviously. Who knows how far it’s going to take us? We’re going to be a team that’s going to work really hard. I think we’ll be exciting to watch. Come February or March, I hope we’re in a good position to give a push for the playoffs. Most important, hopefully we’re seeing a lot of progress with the team.”