New challenges fuel Alfie's enthusiasm to return
He's pushing 40, but Senators captain sees no reason why he can't keep improving
In Daniel Alfredsson's mind, 40 is the new 30.
Okay, so it's not exactly a novel concept. But the Ottawa Senators captain, who is now committed to a return for the 2012-13 National Hockey League season, is far from seeing the coming campaign as a retirement tour.
"I'll make that decision after next year," Alfredsson said in a conference call with reporters earlier today from Goteborg, Sweden, as he discussed his decision to play out the final season of his current four-year contract. "I'm going to play this year and when the summer is over, I'll re-evaluate it again. But I'm not going to say this is definitely my last year because if I feel good and I feel I can (still) play, I'll continue."
Indeed, as he's worked out through the off-season back home in Sweden — he and his family plan to return to Ottawa on Aug. 22, a few days before minor hockey begins for his eldest son, eight-year-old Hugo ("I can't believe his hockey starts three weeks before mine") — Alfredsson has begun to ponder the idea of extending his career beyond next season. While he says he doesn't "fear retirement," the Senators captain doesn't want to have any regrets when he finally hangs up his skates for good.
"Once that day comes, I'll look forward to that challenge, no question," said Alfredsson. "When I feel as healthy as I do ... I still love to play and I still love the competition, especially when you're in the best league in the world and you feel you can hold your own and contribute to the team.
"Talking to a lot of people, (I've heard) if you retire too early, you kind of look back and think 'maybe I should have played another year or two.' "
After enduring a 2010-11 season that was cut short after just 54 games by a nerve issue in his back, which eventually required surgery, Alfredsson enjoyed a renaissance campaign a year ago. His 27-goal total was his highest in four seasons and, with 59 points in 75 games, he ranked fourth on the team in scoring behind Jason Spezza (84), Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (78) and Milan Michalek (60).
But Alfredsson, who turns 40 in December, wants even more in 2012-13.
"I'm confident I can stay at that level, but that's not my goal," he said. "My goal is to improve. My health is better than it's been in awhile and I think I can come into camp much better prepared than I was last year, which will help me. So I should be able to be a little more consistent.
"But I'm not looking to stay where I was last year. I would like to improve and be better."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray has no doubt Alfredsson can remain an elite NHL player.
"I don’t think I have any hesitation (in saying that)," said Murray. "I thought two years ago that he was slipping a little bit, simply because of more injury factors than maybe I knew about. He was hurting at that time and it was hard for him to practise every day and be involved in the activity every day. But after surgery and watching him play last year ... it’s not only performance, but just attitude.
"I said to him I don’t know many times during the year ‘why don’t you get off the ice after practice and rest a little bit?’ But he said ‘that’s what I love doing.’ ... It tells me that no only is he having fun, but he’s got the ability to play at a good level for quite some time."
Alfredsson has seen players such as Teemu Selanne and Jaromic Jagr continue to prosper in a big way after passing their 40th birthdays, and doesn't see why he can't do the same.
"I've had issues with my back for a few years and now that I feel healthy again, I want to see how good I can be," he said. "You see other players at 40 and 40-plus like Jagr and Selanne, and maybe it's a new trend that's starting. If you look after yourself and take care of yourself, you can still play and who knows what the limit is?
"So that's kind of an intriguing part of it for me, too, to see how much can I push myself and work. How good can I still be? I feel that I can get better, especially when I look back at the health issues I've had and, feeling that I've corrected that, I should be able to push myself and be better, especially physically, than I was last year."
Alfredsson is also enthused about seeing how far a young Senators team — which surprised many around the National Hockey League be landing a playoff spot in 2011-12 and pushing the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers to the seven-game limit in the first round of the playoffs — can keep growing in the season ahead.
"It's a big challenge for us," he said. "We did a lot of great things last year, but we're still a team that's kind of developing and I don't think we'll hit our peak for a few more years. At the same time, we've proved to ourselves that we can compete with anybody in the league. We can be pretty consistent and should fight for a playoff spot again. But everybody knows in today's league how tough it is to make the playoffs, and we've just got to prepare and do everything we can to improve on last year."
Should Alfredsson choose to play beyond his current contract, the opportunity to represent Sweden at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics could enter the picture, although he's not looking that far ahead just yet. National Hockey League participation in those Games also has yet to be confirmed.
"The Olympics are not part of the plan at all," said Alfredsson, who's taken part in all four Winter Games that have included NHL players and was a gold-medal winner in Turin, Italy, in 2006. "If I'm still playing at that time and playing at a high enough level, I'm sure I would be interested. But it's not in my thoughts right now."