OTTAWA - Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson won’t be returning to the ice this season but the 38-year-old still feels he has more hockey left in him next year.
Tuesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place will be the 26th straight contest Alfredsson will have missed because of a back injury.
He tried returning to practice last week, but hasn’t done so since. On Monday, he confirmed he’ll take no further part in the Senators’remaining three games.
“The progress has been going pretty good, but skating has been the one (thing) that has troubled me the most,'' he said. "I felt OK on the ice, but not good enough to justify playing in a game.''
Alfredsson endured the worst of his 15 NHL seasons after finishing with just 14 goals, 31 points and a plus/minus rating of -19 in 54 games.
Alfredsson, whose last game was a loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 7, has thus far avoided surgery and said he prefers not to go down that road.
The injury has limited his leg strength and he has trouble putting any power into his stride.
He’ll be 39 in December and questions have been raised about how effective he’ll be with another year under his belt. But Alfredsson aims to report to training camp fresh and ready to help the Senators move on from missing the playoffs the playoffs for the second time in three years.
“Obviously, (the injury) has been dragging on for a while and it has been limiting to a lot of exercising and so forth, but I expect to be back next year,”he said.“It feels a lot better than it did a month ago and we’re going to continue this (rehab) and in another month, hope I’ll feel good enough where I can start with a heavier off-season program.
“It’s not something anybody wants to go through, but it’s been a frustrating year for a lot of reasons. We all try to get back as quick as we can and I think by not playing now, I’ve done myself a favour and will be better off for it.”
The Senators and their fans can only hope so.
Since arriving in Ottawa with a Calder Trophy-winning season as the NHL’s top rookie in 1995-96, he’s been the club's undeniable leader.
Alfredsson didn’t look quite right from early in the season as he and the team both struggled. That prompted many observes to suggest he had lost a step but the revelation about a nagging injury explained some of the problem.
Now it’s a question of how he recovers, with the fear, no matter how unlikely, that he’s already played his last game.
“I guess that’s a possibility, but we’ll see how the summer goes and see how his back responds,”said Senators coach Cory Clouston.
But Alfredsson isn't the only Senator shutting it down. Clouston said Monday defenceman Sergei Gonchar and winger Marek Svatos won’t play again this season because of concussions while blue-liner Erik Karlsson (leg laceration) is also unlikely to be back.
Alfredsson is approaching the age where similar players, such as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, had trouble staying healthy for long stretches.
Some fans and local media have even begun addressing the need for the team to identify the successor to Alfredsson to wear the captain’s C, should the need arise. Centre Jason Spezza’s name has been linked with the job.
Right now, that talk is premature.
Spezza has endured his own back troubles in the past and underwent surgery to repair the issue. He said the decision for Alfredsson to shut it down for the year is a good one, as is Alfredsson’s preference to avoid surgery.
“There’s no need for him to come back and risk further injury,”Spezza said.“As a player, whether it’s back, shoulder, knee, anything, if you can rehab it first and think you’ll similar results, it’s a route you’d rather take because, once you start cutting, then there’s scar tissue and it can become a little bit more of a lingering problem.”
After being limited to the role of observer for the past two months, Alfredsson is already looking forward to returning to training camp in September.
He’s seen some positive signs out of the team in recent weeks, ones that provide hope the worst is behind the club. He's also hoping the worst of his back injury is behind him.
“Going through this year and how tough it’s been,you look forward to coming back and obviously going in another direction next year,”he said.“When you have such a long period of layoff as we do until the season starts, there’s a lot of time to get excited and ready for next year.
“I believe we have seen a lot of the draft picks that we’ve had in the last few years come in and play well and some new young guys coming over next year and who knows what’s going to happen with our picks this draft, as well. It’s definitely a direction where I think a lot of players and fans feel good about.”
Note to readers: Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Alfredsson trying to practise two weeks ago instead of last week.