Daniel Alfredsson knows there’ll be animosity in Ottawa. He’d be mad, too, if the heart and soul of his favorite team decided to leave after 18 years.
It’s a trade-off Alfredsson felt he needed to make. The 40-year-old has one year left to win an elusive Stanley Cup, and he thinks Detroit is in a much better position to do that than Ottawa.
After the Red Wings won big on the fast-paced opening day of free agency, it’s hard to argue.
Detroit added two of the marquee names on the NHL’s shopping list Friday, signing Alfredsson and former Florida forward Stephen Weiss. They join a team that took Chicago, the eventual Cup champion, to overtime of Game Seven of their playoff series.
“It’s an exciting day in Detroit,” General Manager Ken Holland said. “I think Daniel can make plays and Stephen can score some goals. Both players provide leadership and character.”
Both players will make the Buffalo Sabres’ life tougher in their revamped division. As expected, the Sabres stayed mostly quiet during a league-wide spending spree that topped $360 million. Detroit, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Montreal and Ottawa added pieces that should make the suffering worse in Buffalo when it joins the new division that also features Boston and Florida.
Late Friday evening, the Sabres signed defenseman Drew Bagnall in a depth move to help Rochester. Bagnall, 29, played 47 games last season for Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Houston, where he was the captain. He collected one goal, five assists and 88 penalty minutes in 47 games.
The biggest move and surprise was Alfredsson leaving the only team he’s ever known. The longest-tenured captain in the NHL joined the Senators in 1995 and has been the face of the franchise essentially since Day One.
He recently announced he was putting off retirement for another year. It seemed a foregone conclusion he’d be back with the Sens, but he decided Thursday to move on. Detroit gave him a one-year deal that totals $5.5 million with bonuses.
“I’ve had nothing but great times in Ottawa and didn’t really see myself making a change if you would have asked me a week ago,” Alfredsson said on a conference call. “It was extremely difficult. We’ve had a lot of discussions here with our family leading up to this the last few days, and it pretty much came down to a selfish decision in terms of I have not won a Stanley Cup and that’s a big priority for me.
“I feel with Ottawa, I think they’re getting closer and closer and that they’re going in the right direction and have a really bright future in front of them. I don’t have the time to wait for that. It was a tough decision to make, and it still hasn’t really sunk in. I feel I’m doing this for myself. I feel this was right for me. I really like the fit with the Detroit Red Wings.”
Alfredsson is a legendary Sabres tormenter, and they’ll still have to face him at least four times a year. He has 42 goals and 84 points in 89 games against Buffalo, second only to the 105 points in 89 games he’s put up against Montreal.
He’ll also have to face the Senators.
“I’m not worried about my legacy,” Alfredsson said. “I expect there will be resentment and anger from fans. There definitely should be. I thought that question through as well. I have my favorite sport teams, too, and if something happens with a player I don’t like and it doesn’t benefit my team, I don’t like it.
“But I know what I’ve done in Ottawa. I gave it everything I’d had throughout my career. This is purely a situation where this is about me. This is a decision I make for myself, not for anybody else. It’s all about trying to get the Stanley Cup.”
The move stung the Sens, who offered Alfredsson one- and two-year deals while debating their ability to contend and promising they’d trade him at midseason if they didn’t.
“It was, for me, a devastating conversation, a disappointing one, hard to swallow like it is for a lot of people,” Ottawa GM Bryan Murray said. “But I understand a veteran player that hasn’t won and wants to win and sees a better opportunity.”
The Senators didn’t sulk for long. They acquired established scorer Bobby Ryan, the erstwhile Anaheim winger who was frequently the subject of trade talks with the Sabres, in exchange for forward Jakob Silfverberg, prospect Stefan Noesen and a first-round draft pick.
“Ottawa,” Ryan tweeted, “I’m coming in hot.”
The trade managed to stand out among the whirlwind of signings. The opening day of free agency was a bore last year with a relatively paltry $202 million in new deals. The league added a two-day conversation period this year, and it contributed to 20 contracts and $141 million changing hands in the first hour.
The first 49 deals totaled $359 million.
Nathan Horton and the Columbus Blue Jackets combined to improve each other’s fortunes. The Blue Jackets, who are moving to the Eastern Conference after coming within a whisper of the playoffs, gave the power forward a seven-year, $37.1 million contract.
“This is a team on the rise with great players, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it,” Horton said. “We felt at home as soon as we visited here, and it was pretty clear to us that this is where we wanted to live. This is the place I wanted to be. It’s been a great day, and I’m looking forward to a lot more.”
Toronto accomplished its primary objectives.
The Leafs re-signed center Tyler Bozak to a five-year, $21 million deal, and also brought in gritty, offensively capable winger David Clarkson for seven years and $36.75 million.
They added to their blue-line depth by signing former Buffalo defenseman T.J. Brennan for one year, $600,000.
Boston added 36-year-old winger Jarome Iginla, signing him to a one-year contract with a base salary of $1.8 million plus bonuses that could increase the value to $6 million.
Tampa signed center Valtteri Filppula, while Montreal acquired tough guy George Parros.
The Sabres will eventually join the transaction festivities. They talked with St. Louis about trading goaltender Ryan Miller, according to Pierre LeBrun, but the TSN and ESPN analyst said the Sabres’ asking price was too high.
Buffalo’s primary signing target is restricted free agent Cody Hodgson. There was no word on the status of negotiations, but it’s possible a team desperate for a center could force the Sabres’ hand by signing him to an offer sheet. The Sabres, who are $13 million under the salary cap, have plenty of room to match if it does happen.
“The offer sheet issue has always been about teams being reluctant because of the assumption that other team most likely will match,” said Steve Bartlett, the agent for Thomas Vanek who famously got a $51 million offer sheet from Edmonton for his client. “As the summer progresses and teams are close to the cap with RFAs still unsigned, the chances of offer sheets increases, in my opinion.”
Bagnall, a St. Lawrence University graduate, has played two NHL games in his career, for Minnesota in 2010.
He will likely replace Alex Biega in Rochester after Biega signed Friday with Vancouver.
The Sabres did not immediately confirm the signing but TSN reported it was a two-year, two-way deal that will pay Bagnall $550,000 in Buffalo or $275,000 in Rochester.
News Sports Reporter Mike Harrington contributed to this report.