Senators’ support for Alfredsson’s HHOF bid signals cultural shift in organization

Ottawa Senators co-founder Cyril Leeder was 6,000 feet in the air piloting a hot air balloon in France as former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was announced as a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.

Leeder’s anecdote, which he noted on Twitter with a ‘Where were you when Alfie entered the Hall?’ segment, seems like an apt metaphor for the Senators’ recent cultural shift.

It’s like the sky is the limit where these good vibes can lead. What’s next, general manager Pierre Dorion signs a marquee player to propel Ottawa into the playoffs for the first time in six seasons?

Anything seems possible when you consider the change in mood around the Senators franchise in recent weeks.

Some changes:

• On June 23, the Senators and their new corporate partners (as Capital Sports Development Inc.) were cited as the preferred bid to build a new NHL arena on LeBreton Flats west of the Hill of Parliament, a concept that was declared dead in 2019.

• This week, Alfredsson is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after being inducted since 2017 – and for the first time in five years, the Senators franchise has officially endorsed Alfredsson as a nominee.

• On June 1, the Senators displayed a rainbow theme on their team logo while announcing their Pride Month initiatives – something club staff might not have sensed at the time. a year ago. Since becoming owners of the club, Anna and Olivia Melnyk have made it known that they want a more progressive approach to the team’s website and content channels.

• In early April, the Senators partnered with OSEG, owners of the CFL’s Redblacks and OHL’s Ottawa 67’s to launch a bid to host the 2023 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Ottawa. Although the bid was unsuccessful, it was the first joint initiative by Ottawa’s two professional sports organizations in years.

It continues. No wonder Ottawa fans are engaging with his team in a way they haven’t in years.

Other than the progress and excitement around young Senators players like Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Tim Stützle and Drake Batherson, etc., fans aren’t very proud of their franchise. In fact, the gallows humor that being a Senators fan entails gave rise to the “Sickos” campaign, which took a kind of perverse pleasure in remaining a Senators fan despite the darkness surrounding it. of the team.

Bright sunshine is bursting through these dark clouds today.

Not only was Alfredsson welcomed into the HHOF, he was also symbolically welcomed into the franchise family.

For about five years, Alfredsson and Leeder were separated from the hockey club, an agonizing scenario that unfolded under Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. Leeder, who had served as the hockey team’s chairman and chief executive, was fired by Melnyk in early 2017, the same day former general manager Bryan Murray was honored in the club’s “Ring of Honour.”

For a very long time, Alfredsson barely set foot in the Canadian Tire Centre. In February 2020, when longtime teammate Chris Phillips had his No. 4 retired at CTC, Alfredsson attended, but stayed in the background and left the arena without speaking to reporters. Everything was so terribly awkward.

A week after Melnyk passed away in late March, Alfredsson was back on the ice with members of the Swedish Embassy to mark Swedish heritage night at a Senators game. The pictures said it all.

During a Zoom call with Ottawa media on Tuesday, Alfredsson spoke about how important it is for Bryan Murray to form a bridge between Alfie and the property. Murray died in August 2017, but a few years earlier he allowed Alfie and Melnyk to be in the same room again, despite the 2013 contract standoff.

“When I left for Detroit, I think it wasn’t the best relationship,” Alfredsson said of leaving the Sens in 2013 for Detroit, where he spent one final season as a player.

“Bryan Murray really allowed me to come back and work for the team again, and to retire as an Ottawa senator (2014), which I think healed a lot of injuries, but we We weren’t at the stage yet where, you know, it was an open relationship.

“But sometimes that’s life and we’re where we are today – it’s different and I’m very happy that it is.”

Alfie once again takes the high road. He thanks his father, Hasse, and his mother, Margareta, for holding him down. Hasse told him, “It’s not enough to be a good hockey player, you also have to be a good person.

Giving back to the Ottawa community came naturally to her. He calls the connection with fans and residents here “organic”, but in Sweden it was not common to do charity work and support a cause. He learned it here.

He can feel much more comfortable being the face of the franchise again.

Melnyk was rightly credited with saving the Senators franchise in 2003, and he did some good things as an owner. But the sense of liberation since ownership passed to his two young daughters and a board of directors is palpable.

Managers feel freer to run their business as they see fit, without worrying about being questioned or challenged.

President Anthony LeBlanc made regular radio and television appearances and, along with chief financial officer Erin Crowe, helped clean up the Senators’ bid for LeBreton Flats. To his credit, Eugene Melnyk ensured that the Senators submitted this nomination to the National Capital Commission before his death.

Not only did LeBlanc help orchestrate support for Alfredsson through the team’s official website, but the Senators also backed the #AlfieToTheHall campaign, launched by superfans Corey Meehan and Stephen MacDonald.

In their bid to bring more attention to Alfredsson’s Hall of Fame credentials, Meehan and MacDonald reached out to Leeder, who not only supported the initiative but called on the former member of the Sens staff, Craig Medaglia, to create compelling videos and online content.

Now, many Ottawa media — including this writer — have been sounding the horn over Alfredsson’s bid for Hockey Hall for several years. But the timing of this campaign was appropriate, and it meant as much to the people involved as it did to what it achieved.

Did the campaign ultimately make a difference? Alfredsson himself said he was unsure and felt his own career was enough to get him in. But he was more than touched by the feeling of the effort, something of a crescendo to the decades of support he’s received in Ottawa from fans – who appreciate his efforts in the community, particularly in the area of ​​mental health. , not just his hockey resume.

They could all come back into the fold, to some extent. Alfredsson said he’s open to the idea of ​​a position with the team, although he’s not sure what that might entail.

“Before it was always like that, I don’t want it to take too long with a young family (wife Bibi and four sons), but now the kids are growing up,” Alfredsson said on Tuesday.

Medaglia, who created such brilliant content for the Senators during some of their toughest times, should be given a red carpet to return to his old job with the team.

Leeder is happily engaged in local business, but belongs to the Senators family in some ways, if only as a figurehead.

Regardless of how these important ties from the past are rekindled, it is inspiring to see them be a part of the present and future of this organization as it hurtles towards its 30th anniversary as an NHL franchise.

“There’s a different perspective on everything now than I would say five years ago,” Alfredsson said, “so who knows?”

Who knows indeed. Whether it’s 6,000 feet in France or boots on the ground in Ottawa, the sky is the limit for the Ottawa Senators and their fans.

About Wanda Reilly

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