The greatest player in Ottawa Senators’ history will have to wait at least another year for the Hockey Hall of Fame to come calling.
In his fourth year of eligibility, Daniel Alfredsson was again locked out of this year’s Hall of Fame class. Alfredsson’s former Senator teammate Marian Hossa, along with Jarome Iginla, both made it in their first attempt. Alfredsson’s four-year wait pales in comparison to Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson, two excellent NHL defencemen who both retired in the 1990s. Lowe and Wilson will enter the Hall this fall with former Team Canada goalie Kim St. Pierre and longtime NHL GM Ken Holland (builder).
For most hockey fans and media in Ottawa, Alfie’s inclusion has always seemed like an easy decision. But we obviously see something the 18 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame Committee do not. Alfredsson’s playing resume seems to hold up pretty well against his peers:
- The face of the franchise: arguably the best player in Ottawa Senators history
- Holds franchise records for career goals, assists and points
- NHL career stats: 1246 games played, 444 goals, 1157 points (54th all-time)
- Senators’ captain from 1999-2013
- 14 international tournament appearances for Team Sweden
- 5 Olympic appearances: gold and silver medalist
- From 2000-2009, 3rd highest NHL scorer
- Co-leader in scoring in 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs
- Already in the International Hockey Hall of Fame (inducted in 2018)
- Elite defensive forward
Alfredsson’s selection this year would have been extremely well received by a fan base that desperately needs something to cheer about, even if it’s just a celebration of memories. Alfredsson has provided more of those great memories than any other player. As we dig into what certainly appears to be a Hall of Fame past, it’s hard to believe he arrived in Ottawa with very little fanfare.
In the early days of the franchise, the Senators definitely had more faith in the future of this young Alfredsson kid than anyone else, but that’s not to say they had any real certainty about him. In the 1994 NHL draft in Hartford, Alfredsson wasn’t chosen by Ottawa until early in the 6th round. Anyone with even a vague suspicion that Alfie had high-end potential would never have waited that long to take him. They never would have taken players like Mike Gaffney and Bryan Masotta – guys with no NHL future at all – while their future legend was still sitting there, fully available to any of the other 25 teams.
In fact, Alfredsson could have been chosen at any time in the previous three years. But the Sens were the ones who eventually made the pick and, for that, they deserve nothing but credit.
Most of the top draft picks that year were 1976-born players, so very few people were appraising Alfredsson, a 1972 model. Former Senators scout John Ferguson Sr. fought for that selection, every bit as hard as he fought for his old Montreal Canadien teammates in the 1960’s. In the final stages of his battle with cancer in 2007, Ferguson famously told a Postmedia reporter, “Do me a favour? Don’t ever let people forget I got Daniel Alfredsson.”
In the fall of 1995, Ferguson was probably the only person interested in seeing Alfie arrive in Ottawa for training camp. The priorities were younger players, first-rounders like Alexei Yashin, Alexandre Daigle, and Radek Bonk. Donning one of those bowling-ball shaped Jofa helmets, a popular but ugly 90’s trend, Alfie had a solid camp and made the team. But making a team that had won a grand total of 33 games in three years wasn’t exactly a sign of future excellence. That hint would come later that season, leading the team in scoring, and winning the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
Alfredsson has had his detractors, many of whom live in Toronto – the self-proclaimed centre of the hockey universe – where Alfie was booed every time he touched the puck. A standard rebuttal to Alfredsson’s candidacy is often the absence of Stanley Cups. Winning titles definitely gives your case a boost, as it did for Hossa, but not winning one should never hurt you and it certainly didn’t for Iginla. The zero cups argument perhaps held water when the NHL had only six teams.
If the selection committee put any stock in intangibles like character, then Alfie brought gifts to that party as well. He’s been a major supporter of so many charities – particularly ones that advocate for mental health issues like the Daniel Alfredsson Scholarship in Mental Health and the Royal Ottawa Foundation’s “You Know Who I Am” campaign, which won him the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross. He’s helped with the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club and the international organization, “Right to Play,” that provides sporting opportunities to underprivileged children. Alfie also happily plods around local minor hockey rinks, helping out the kids, looking (and behaving) like any other good hockey dad.
Spend five minutes with the guy and Alfredsson will give you no clue that he’s arguably the most popular, accomplished athlete in Ottawa’s history. He is polite, unassuming, and thoughtful. None of his success ever changed him – not in his prime, not in retirement. During my time on TSN Radio, I tapped into Alfredsson’s popularity, creating the fictional church of Alfie, just for some on-air fun. It was a big hit with listeners, and came complete with a reading of Alfie scriptures, T-shirts, placards at games and a regular bellowing of, “Praise Alfie!” I was thrilled when I bumped into Alfie at the golf course and hearing that he thought the church thing was pretty funny.
After hockey, Alfredsson opted to raise his family here and has tried to work with the club in the front office on two different occasions. It didn’t work out either time. With everything he’s meant to the hockey community here, on and off the ice, many fans find it both telling and frustrating that Alfredsson isn’t with the team in some capacity. It really is astonishing. Maybe one day that fence can be mended and the team will start lobbying for Alfie, helping him take his rightful place in the Hall. Fewer negative national headlines about the franchise won’t hurt either.
It should have been a big day. Ottawa fans should have been looking forward to November (almost 30 years to the day after the NHL awarded the city a franchise) and a celebration of their first modern-day Hockey Hall of Famer (Hossa only played a third of his career in Ottawa). It won’t be this year but his day will come. The Hall will eventually make room for Ottawa’s greatest player and properly “Praise Alfie.”
By Steve Warne