As a life-long Toronto Maple Leafs fan, it's not very often that I write about the Ottawa Senators in a positive voice. Or even a neutral one for that matter.
Yet I am struck by an interesting peculiarity. The NHL trade deadline is set for February 28 at 3:00 p.m. eastern, and the Ottawa Senators are faced with a dilemma that us Leaf fans know all-too-well.
To trade or not to trade?
Of course that question can refer to any number of Senators currently on the underachieving team roster. Mike Fisher? Free agent bust Sergei Gonchar? Even bigger bust Alexie Kovalev? Defensive mainstay Chris Philips?
But my focus right now is on the team's captain, and the face of the franchise for the past decade - Daniel Alfredsson.
No doubt the Senators GM Bryan Murray will field calls for his captain - only a fool wouldn't - but the question is a difficult one both for Murray and Alfie. No trade clause aside, do the Sens try to move their franchise-leader in nearly every offensive category, signalling to fans and season ticket holders that they are moving towards a rebuild from the ground up?
With a record of 17-27-8, the Sens are last in their division (yes, even worse than the Leafs) and have the fourth-worst record in the league.
And with 30 points on the season along with a dreadful -16 rating - the second-worse rating of his career, topped only by his -18 rookie season - Alfie is having a less-than-stellar year.
Nevertheless, he could provide valuable leadership and secondary scoring to a contending team.
The dilemma is one familiar to Leaf fans, who endured a similar situation back in 2008 with Mats Sundin. Sundin had been unwilling to waive his no trade clause prior to the deadline, which meant the Leafs could not move him for picks or prospects to a contender..
In a story we all know too-well, Sundin became a free agent and chose not to re-sign in T.O., instead waiting half a season before signing a contract with the Vancouver Canucks. He recorded 28 points in 41 games with Canucks, then added eight more in eight playoff games that spring, before skating off into the sunset and announcing his retirement.
An inglorious end to one of Toronto's greatest athletes.
And now Alfredsson is faced with the same dilemma. Certainly there is no hope of the 38-year-old becoming a long-term piece of what could likely become a long-term rebuild in the nation's capital, yet does he put pride aside and end up becoming only one of only three other players to have played their entire career with one franchise and never hoist the Stanley Cup? (Of players with a minimum 1,000 games played, the others are Gilbert Perreault, Dave Taylor and Craig Ramsay.)
The similarities are striking; both Sundin and Alfredsson have been consistent forwards in the NHL. Both have scored more than 100 points just once in their careers (Sundin, 1992-93 and Alfredsson, 2005-06) yet still maintain nearly a point-per-game average. And both led their respective teams to playoff success in their careers, but never hoisted the cup.
In one final twist, however, while Sundin never publicly complained about who he was paired with on the ice Toronto fans incessantly complained that management was never willing to provide Sundin with a reputable winger (minus Alexander Mogilny for two-and-a-half seasons), instead forced to help raise the games of no-namers like Jonas Hoglund or Dmitri Khristich, while Alfredsson spent several seasons on a line with one of the games best wingers (Heatley) and better offensive centreman (Spezza).
Chances are that Alfredsson will not ask to be traded because of his loyalty to the franchise, much like Sundin, and is saying all the right things by insisting he wants to help with a rebuild.
Regardless, it must be painful for Alfredsson who has watched the once formidable Senators franchise fall so far so fast, and to know that his time is running out. He has two years remaining on his contract, but the odds are pretty good that the Sens are more than two seasons away from competing for the Cup once again.
And that's where the differences end. Unline the Leafs when they were faced with this situation, the Senators have something the Buds did not - time. They have a few seasons before Alfredsson absolutely needs to make his decision.
Of course, at 38 years old, Alfredsson's skills have begun to recede and if they want to get the best return on the investment they made 17 years ago when the drafted Alfredsson 133rd overall, it might be in their best interest to move him sooner rather than later.