Alexandre Daigle looks back on bittersweet memories of his NHL career

As a new documentary on his life premieres on Amazon Prime Video, his life as a draft bust “was not that bad,” he says.

Article content

Alexandre Daigle is famous for being a National Hockey League first-overall draft pick who turned out to be a major disappointment.

But looking back now, Daigle realizes his story isn’t nearly as terrible as it seemed at the time. He had to go back through all these memories, some of them painful, while participating in the new documentary Chosen One: Alexandre Daigle, which premieres on Amazon Prime Video Friday. In an interview Tuesday at a café on Ontario St. E., Daigle, 48, said he’s at peace with what happened to him.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

“I had a view of the way it went as I was living it, but reliving it and looking at it, it was not that bad,” Daigle said. “It seemed terrible (at the time). To me, 30 years later … when they always say I’m the biggest bust ever, well no. I played almost 12 years. I’d say the hype was something I couldn’t control and you have to put in perspective that it was a new franchise, it was a (partly) French-speaking town, it was a Canadian town, and you put all those things together. There’s a French-Canadian guy that’s tearing up the junior league … and the hype was so big.”

Alexandre Daigle makes his way through a packed crowd outside in downtown Ottawa
Alexandre Daigle is introduced to Senators fans in downtown Ottawa on June 29, 1993. Photo by John Major /Ottawa Citizen files

The Ottawa Senators, coming off their debut season in the NHL, had the first pick at the 1993 draft, which they used to snare this Québécois phenom, who had been dominating the Quebec Major Junior League with the Victoriaville Tigres. He had scored 45 goals and had 137 points in 53 games with Les Tigres the year before.

But Daigle, who grew up in Laval, never lived up to the advance hype in the big leagues. Chris Pronger, picked second that year, and Paul Kariya, picked fourth, both had illustrious careers and are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Daigle wasn’t terrible — he actually scored 20 goals his first season — but nor was he great.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Advertisement 4

Article content

As the 48-minute documentary makes clear, a number of factors piled up to magnify the disappointment of Daigle’s career. He received the biggest salary ever for a rookie in the history of the NHL (five years, $12.25 million), didn’t make many friends by saying “no one remembers who goes second” and appeared to be not entirely focused on playing pro hockey.

“I got unlucky, but I made some bad choices,” he said.

One was even before signing with Ottawa, he did an ad for The Score hockey-card company dressed up as a nurse. Even his jersey number was a problem. It was 91, at a time when only the superstars like Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky had those kinds of high numbers.

Alexandre Daigle in an Ottawa Senators jersey with the number 91 on another jersey behind him
Alexandre Daigle on Nov. 18, 1993. Ottawa Senators files

“All of these things put a big target on me on the media side,” Daigle said. “On the hockey side, there was a lot of resentment. When you get into a league you try to put your best foot forward and try to be quiet and make your entry as smooth as possible.”

He admits he didn’t do that the right way. And it didn’t get any smoother. He was traded from Ottawa to Philadelphia and old-school Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke didn’t like that Daigle spent the off-season in Los Angeles. Then coach Roger Neilson told him he needed to become a defensive forward, which didn’t sit well with Daigle. Soon enough he was gone from Philly.

Advertisement 5

Article content

In New York, another old-school guy, Rangers coach John Muckler, asked Daigle in front of everyone in the dressing room what the playoffs meant to him.

“It might mean a new contract,” quipped Daigle.

That comment didn’t go down well either and soon the Rangers dumped him. At 25, he quit hockey, but he returned two years later and played a couple more seasons — with Pittsburgh and then Minnesota. He finished his career in 2006 with a total of 129 goals and 198 assists in 616 regular-season NHL games, but only two assists in 12 playoffs games with Ottawa and Philadelphia.

Alexandre Daigle in a Minnesota Wild jersey in a close-up photo
Alexandre Daigle of the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 3, 2005. Photo by Len Redkoles /Getty Images files

Given his roller-coaster ride after being picked first overall, he naturally enough has been following the progress of Juraj Slafkovsky, selected first overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2022 draft. Slafkovsky also hasn’t exactly lit up the NHL yet, but I suggested to Daigle that everyone is cutting the Slovakian winger more slack than they did him.

“Yeah but I think the circumstances were different,” Daigle said. “The expectations in Ottawa (for me) were different than the expectations here. He’s still 19 years old and mentally it’s a tough thing.”

Advertisement 6

Article content

Recommended from Editorial

Daigle is happy mental health is now a concern in pro sports.

“That’s why I’m happy to see there are people now taking off a month or two for the mental thing. All the sports are doing that and hockey is doing that. They have sports psychologists.”

In Daigle’s era, there weren’t psychologists with the teams. Basically your coach or your agent would tell you to suck it up. And that was tough for Daigle, who says he had trouble setting clear goals for himself when he made it to the pro leagues.

But 30 years later, he is in a much better place. He’s married with three kids — two girls, ages 14 and 16, and a 12-year-old boy. You see him in the documentary getting his son ready for hockey and he is excited to be bringing him to the All-Star Game in Toronto next week. He also wants them to see the documentary since they never got to see him play hockey. And the guy who was accused back in the day for going Hollywood is now working as a TV producer here in Quebec.

[email protected]

Advertisement 7

Article content

Article content