I've been following the Daniel Alfredsson situation with morbid curiosity but not so much a forensic accountant's interest since the 40-year old winger and former Ottawa captain decided to sign a one-year contract in Detroit, ending his 17-season career with the organization who drafted him in 1994. The way Ottawa's owner Eugene Melnyk and general manager Bryan Murray have handled themselves in public comments since July 5th has been a comedic/tragic mix of half-truths, contradictions, personal shots, and blame deflections.
At first, there was a last-minute blindsiding by Alfredsson, who left the organization after being given a blank check. Next, the blank check never happened and Alfredsson was given his choice between signing for a small enough amount to bring in Bobby Ryan, signing for enough to kill the Ryan trade, or finding employment elsewhere. Almost immediately after that, hardly any of that was true.
Most-recently, Alfredsson revealed he and the team signed his last deal with the intent to have circumvented the salary cap but never actually did because he played out the deal, but he also felt the team broke an unsigned agreement with him to make up for the favor he did the club by playing for a $1M salary which ended up prorated down to $585K. GM and owner fired back with alarming speed by confirming that team and player conspired to circumvent the cap and by implicating Alfie's agent JP Barry in failing to live up to his fiduciary responsibility by disclosing all pertinent information to his client and then by outright calling Barry a liar.
With all of this fun, there have been numerous reports on the financial status of the Sens. What we do know is that the Senators operate on an internal budget which caps their spending well below the official $64.3M leaguewide salary cap. We don't know specifically why. The closest thing to a reason from anybody in a position to know the absolute financial status of the Ottawa Senators is essentially "Ottawa isn't the market that Toronto and New York are", which is true enough until you look at payrolls and see the list of teams who apparently CAN spend more than the Senators.
Regardless of why the Senators suddenly decided it would just be more fun to try and compete for a cup with the difficulty slider turned up a little, they made their bed and drove Alfredsson to Detroit. Since then, the war of words between Melnyk and the Wings has been entirely one-sided and doesn't figure to change anytime soon. Melnyk disagreed with Alfredsson's claim the Wings gave him a better shot to compete (a statement Alfie has since claimed to regret). Melnyk is looking forward to Detroit finishing behind Ottawa in the standings and is looking forward to competing for a Cup.
Meanwhile, Babcock and Holland walk the high road on the whole situation. Holland speaks about the addition of secondary scoring from a veteran while Babcock beams over the addition of a competitor with a high hockey IQ. If the diggers have even bothered to ask them about the barking out of Barbados (where Melnyk lives), they've not been answered. This is good; the benefit to the Wings involving themselves in what is becoming an embarrassing circus simply doesn't exist.
For Detroit, it goes without saying that they want to finish ahead of the Senators because it goes without saying that they want to finish above everybody. Ottawa isn't claiming anything specifically different, but they are setting their bar differently. Melnyk's talk of competing for the Cup is a required tack-on at this point; there are going to be acceptable levels of success set much lower for Ottawa: finish above Detroit and you're a winner. Failing that, doing "pretty well for a team on a budget" will substitute itself nicely as an antidote to disappointment.
Bang for the buck is nice; it's not nearly as nice when it's somebody else's buck and the total bang is comparatively small.
The Wings don't have that. Detroit spent last year being able to get away with being a team in transition who might not make the playoffs, but don't have that net this year. While it's not exactly Cup-or-bust, setting the expectation to finish ahead of any single team is a bust in itself. Failing to live up to such a useless and petty challenge would be a crushing disappointment where living up to it would provide little comfort in the face of other disappointment and would be nothing more than an afterthought if other expectations are met/exceeded.
With the way this situation has played out, the silence from the Wings' front office is calculated and it is intelligent. Melnyk might be doing himself some marketing favors by providing the kind of rivalry fuel that he's brought, but the difference in situations makes that only a one-way benefit. The pressure to perform this year in relation to the Senators falls precisely where it should: directly on Daniel Alfredsson.
For the rest of the team, the challenge is to live up to being the organization that drew Alfredsson to them in the first place. That challenge is there whether or not Alfie is.