OTTAWA - Daniel Alfredsson nearly called it quits last season.
His back was bothering him that much.
“Finally, I got to the point where it was getting to interfere with my family life,” the Senators captain said earlier this week. “Playing with the kids was harder and harder. I tried to take some time off, and it got better, but not to the point where you could play professional sports. The way I felt, especially after Christmas ... you start questioning ... the way I was playing, too. It’s not worth it because it’s no fun.”
So why not retire? At 38, and having played more than 1,000 NHL games, he had accomplished a lot from a personal standpoint. He didn’t want to get traded to a contender, and the Senators weren’t going to be in that position again for a few years, so why not hang them up when the only option that would allow him to continue was surgery?
“I love to play. Simple as that,” said Alfredsson. “Obviously it was no fun last year, the way I felt and the way the team went. But I knew if the surgery went well and rehab went well, it would obviously be a lot of fun to be back.”
And such has been the case.
“If things wouldn’t have got better, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “But I feel good, camp has been fun, and I’m looking forward to the season to start and having a good year.”
Logic dictates that Alfredsson is slowing down, but his teammates haven’t noticed.
“It doesn’t look like it at all,” said Chris Phillips. “He’s moving great, he hasn’t been complaining or anything like that, that he’s fighting through it. He seems healthy. He looks great. Such a huge part of his game is thinking, knowing where to be. He has a great advantage there, where it’s not all physical for him.”
Alfredsson doesn’t feel like he’s lost a step, at least not the last couple of years.
“Obviously, I’m not 22 anymore, but I feel like I have good enough stuff to keep up,” he said. “I feel good.”
He also relishes the opportunity to be a mentor to a group of young men who should develop into contender after he has retired.
“For sure,” said Alfredsson. “Every time I try to get better, to see how far I can push myself and see how good I can be. It’s always a challenge every year, to try and get better. We know the kind of team we have here. We think we can be competitive every night, but it is an exciting feeling compared to the last few years we’ve had. There’s much more optimism going forward than what happened last year.”
As for the present, well, the Senators need No. 11 to score.
Two questions involving Alfredsson are linked closely to discussions about what, if any, success the Senators will have this season:
A) How many games can he play? and B) How many points can he produce?
In the past, if the first number was high, the second would be as well.
Only three times in the last 11 seasons has Alfredsson’s points total not matched or exceeded his number under the “GP” category. In 2001-02, when he had 71 points in 78 games, in ’08-09, when he had 74 points in 79 games, and last season, when the whole team stopped scoring and a gimpy Alfredsson managed just 31 points in 54 games.
His best campaign was 2005-06, when Alfredsson’s 103 points left him tied with teammate Dany Heatley for the fourth in the league scoring race behind Joe Thornton, Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin — and one point ahead of Sidney Crosby.
Now, to expect him to challenge for the Art Ross Trophy is unrealistic. But as proud and competitive as he is, Alfredsson isn’t ready to admit to any such defeat.
“Who knows?” Alfredsson said when asked if he should have still been considered a first-rounder in hockey pools. “We’ll see.
“If I stay healthy, I think I can have a productive year,” he added of his expectations. “But the way the last few years have gone I’m not going to put any expectations I have of myself, what I think I can do.
“If I stay healthy I think I can put up some good numbers.”
Don’t doubt it.