Why I’m still cheering for Alfie

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Jun 06

(A
version of this article first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, July 11, 2013,http://www.ottawacitizen.com/sports/still+cheering+Alfie/8648216/story.html)

What has No. 11 Alfie (born on December 11th, 1972 in
Gothenburg, Sweden) meant to the City of Ottawa? This is a question that David
Watson, Editorial Pages Editor of the Ottawa Citizen, asked me the other day.
Let us count the ways…

Alfie was drafted by the Senators in the 6th round of the 1994
NHL Entry Draft by then director of player personnel John Ferguson (Senior).
John knew two things—hockey players and horses and he said to me once that they
were a lot alike, “Look at their teeth and ankles.”

We were told (while we were campaigning to Bring Back the Ottawa
Senators from 1987 to December 1990 when we finally did it) by three wise
hockey minds (Sam Pollock, Glen Sather and Bill Torrey who built Montreal,
Edmonton and New York Islanders dynasties, respectively, in the 1970s and
1980s) to focus on the draft. You cannot build a great hockey program if you
don’t draft well, develop talent patiently and trade infrequently and
judiciously. Mr. Pollock said, “Only one man can have the puck on his stick at
any one time so if a multi-player trade goes down, look for the team that got
the single best player. They just won that deal.”

John Ferguson was the guy who with his huge hockey hands
(decorated with beaucoup Stanley Cup rings) pounded on the table at the Sens
first draft in Montreal in 1992 and insisted that the team should take Alexei
Yashin whether the Sens won the coin toss with Tampa Bay Lightning or not. Some
scouts wanted Roman Hamrlik but John wanted Yash. The Sens lost the toss; Tampa
took Hamrlik number one overall, the Sens got Yashin with the second pick who
was later traded to the Islanders for Zdeno Chara and a draft pick which turned
into Jason Spezza, two pretty good players.

Half the value of an NHL franchise, half, consists of player
contracts. Most of the balance is derived from season tickets—the fan base of
the team. Only a tiny bit is made up of hard assets, things like equipment,
office furniture, arenas. Huh, what’s that you say? Arenas? Yes, an arena
without a prime tenant probably has a negative value just ask (now defunct)
Ogden Corp who built the Honda Center in Anaheim without a lead tenant until
Disney bailed them out when they were awarded the franchise for the Mighty
Ducks in 1993 and signed a longterm lease there.

Bill Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks (now deceased), told
us in 1991 that the key to building a solid franchise was to sell season
tickets. Players prefer to play in front of a full house, they play harder and
it’s more exciting for fans too. And corporate sponsors (people who pay BIG
money for things like arena naming rights) like to be associated with an
exciting team playing in front of rabid fans. Sure, they are investing their
money to capture eyeballs in endless marketing wars but don’t fool yourself,
they like sitting in “their” building with 20,000 other deranged human beings.

Now how do you drive fans crazy? You win. You tell a story. You
create a mythology of heroes and villains. And no Ottawa player has played a
bigger part in developing that type of story arc than No. 11.

My favorite memory of Alfie is probably not what you might think
it is. It was at the NHL Awards dinner in 1996 when Alfredsson won the Calder
Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year. He got onstage and said two incredibly
important things to the NHL family gathered there that night—a) Ottawa was
going to be a good team and b) he would not be the last Sens player up there
getting a major award. There were snickers in the audience that night from
skeptical attendees. It took guts to say that at a time when the team was
really not very good but it soon would be exactly as Alfie promised.

My second best memory is when he scored against Buffalo to send
the Sens to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, their first appearance in the finals
since 1927. Now that’s a long time to wait.

When I asked Sens President Cyril Leeder this week about Alfie,
this is what he had to say, “You know, Bruce, back in 1992, if we had written
down the parameters we wanted in a perfect Senator or Captain, the description
and expectations would not have been as good as what Daniel turned out to be.
He was everything we could have asked for and more. So he has created, left
behind, and now set this standard for being a model captain, Senator, teammate
and member of this community.”

Cyril was in Gothenburg when the Sens opened their season over
there in October 2008. The team played an exhibition game versus Alfie’s old
team, the Frolunda Indians. He describes the scene this way, “I don’t know if I
can put into words what that experience was like. The best I can do is that it
was as if Gretzky had played a game in Brantford during the prime of his
career. The outpouring of affection for Daniel was amazing and I remember
thinking that every player should get that opportunity once in his lifetime to
play in his hometown like that.”

Alfie was in an Ottawa uniform when the Senators were, frankly,
terrible; he was there when the Sens first made the playoffs (in year 5 as
promised); he was there when the team challenged for a Stanley Cup; he was
there when they missed a payroll and when it went bankrupt. He was there when
there was talk about the Sens having to leave Ottawa because they couldn’t make
it here. He calmed fans’ fears and his teammates’ nervousness. He helped keep
this team for Ottawa. He shouldered the responsibility of being a captain of a
small market Canadian team with all its ups and downs. Now that is pressure. He
was, through all of that, Ottawa’s best, most consistent player. He was the
glue guy. He was Mr. Ottawa Senator.

Some economists, when they look at a franchise’s value to its
community, figure it’s pretty minimal. If people don’t spend their money on
tickets and parking plus a few brewskis at Canadian Tire Centre, they’ll spend
it somewhere else, right?

That’s right—in Toronto, in Montreal and in New York watching
world class entertainment there. Ottawa-Gatineau sees itself as a tier 1 town
and isn’t going to be satisfied with 3rd tier acts.

A VC from Boston once told me they only invest in tier 1 cities
and you know how they figure out which ones those are? They don’t; they let
major leagues like the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL do that for them. So he said a big
reason Ottawa is on the map is that we have a major league franchise here.

I realize my bias as the team’s founder is in plain view. I get
that. But even if you are not a hockey fan or a sports fan, these teams have
profound and subtle influences on their communities. When your home team
performs well, people are in a better mood and optimistic people do more
stuff—like start a new enterprise, hire an extra worker, renovate their places,
invest in new machinery, go out more and socialize more.

I would guess that for most of us, our best days are when we
feel we are part of something special—something bigger than ourselves. I
believe Daniel Alfredsson made a lot of Ottawans feel that way. That’s really
why his loss is so devastating.

But if half the value of the Sens franchise is in its player
contracts then probably a third of that was in his contract, possibly half.
It’s a big loss.

But here’s the thing—he probably wanted to play another year or
two without the pressure of carrying the expectations of 1.3 million people
living in a G8 capital on his back. So adios Ottawa, hello Detroit where a
younger Henrik Zetterberg gets to do all that.

If Detroit plays the Sens in the Stanley Cup playoffs in the
spring of 2014, I’ll be cheering for the Sens. But if the Red Wings are there
against any other squad, why I’ll be cheering for Alfie just like I did for
(former Senator) Marian Hossa and the Hawks, twice.

Dr Bruce M Firestone, Founder, Ottawa Senators; Author, Quantum
Entity Trilogy, Entrepreneurs Handbook II; Executive Director, Exploriem.org;
Broker, Century 21 Explorer Realty. Reach him on Twitter @ProfBruce and visit
him online at www.brucemfirestone.com

@ProfBruce
@Quantum_Entity

Dr Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (Civil), M Eng-Sci, Phd. Founder,
Ottawa Senators; Author, Quantum Entity Trilogy, Entrepreneurs Handbook II;
Executive Director, Exploriem.org; Broker, Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc.
613.566.3436 X 200 or 613.422.6757. bmfirestone @ dramatispersonae.org or
bruce.firestone @ century21.ca

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