On The Heatley Trade

The Post-Mortem Of A Done Deal

Now that the Ottawa Senators Iced Hockey Team’s regular season is over and the playoffs have begun, it is perhaps not too premature to evaluate the fallout of The Great Dany Heatley Fiasco that captivated the National Capital Region last summer.

Fig. 1: A full-grown Dany Heatley brachiating.

To those not aware, on June 9th 2009, it was made known that the Senators’ all-star winger and top goal scorer, Dany Heatley, had requested a trade despite having just recently signed a $45 million contract guaranteeing the Ottawa Senators his services through 2013.  No-one knows exactly how the word got out, as both the team and Heatley’s agents claimed each other as the leak.  Of course, it’s hard to imagine why the Senators would want a player’s disgruntlement to be known and thus drive down his market value (by impeding their bargaining ability), but still loose lips could conceivably sink ships.

Anyway, a trade was set up with Edmonton, but in a dick move of biblical proportions (and a beautiful instance of supreme irony), Heatley put the kibosh on the operation by invoking the No Trade Clause in his fatass contract, a contract which also, incidentally, provided for a $4 million advance payment on July 1st, the day after he vetoed the trade.  So now, no matter what happened, the Senators were on the hook for more than half of his salary for the 2009-2010 season.

Compounding this douchebaggery, throughout the long summer Heatley retreated to his British Columbian cabin and offered no explanation to the public for this sudden change of heart.  Some prodding from the Canadian Olympic Team elicited some mumblings of “diminished role” and “second power-play unit”, but speculation raged about rumoured affairs with teammates’ and, oddly, mob boss’ wives as well as a possible drug problem.

Fig. 2: Or he's just a dick.

Personally, I think he just didn’t like Ottawa’s chances in the upcoming season and figured, hey, screw the legal contract I just signed, I’m entitled to be on a winning team cause I’m Dany Heatley and I’m a fuckin all star.

And so, after sullenly reporting to training camp, Dany Heatley got his wish with an eleventh hour deal sending him to the San Jose Sharks (one of his “approved” teams).  In return, the Senators got Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, and some draftpickery.

Cheechoo was a rather sad story of a former league leader in goals (56) who, as a result of injuries, had spent the last few years rapidly decreasing his scoring totals (37, 23, 12) until he was basically an overpaid third-liner.  The fact that he was from the isolated native community of Moose Factory in northern Ontario and was, allegedly, a super-nice guy gave his whole metanarrative a poignant twist.  The hope was that Cheechoo would regain some of his scoring touch by returning to Canada and playing for the NHL franchise closest to his hometown.  Apparently, hockey pundits were operating under the theory that Jonathan Cheechoo was a protagonist of made for TV drama.

Milan Michalek, on other hand, was a speedy young Czech forward with a promising future.  Known for his solid two-way play; he can kill penalties, aggressively forecheck, and get goals by standing in front of the net.  Not exactly a top-shelf goal scorer, but sorta like a combination of Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher.  Also, he plays the game with a real give’r attitude, but this also unfortunately gives him the tendency to get injured.  However, if he just stayed healthy…

Fig. 3: Senators GM Bryan Murray displays his confidence.

Now throughout the year the question has been, “Did the Senators get ripped off?”

Well, the results are now back from the lab, so let’s look at the results from this season:

Statistically, Heatley has had a somewhat underwhelming season: he only scored 39 goals, the same amount he scored for Ottawa in his supposedly underperforming, previous season.  This seemed to belie the earlier speculation that Heatley would light up the West playing on a supposedly superior San Jose team.  Some of the more outlandish predictions pegged him to get 65 to 70 goals.

Still, almost 40 goals and a point-per-game is amongst the league leaders.  It should also be noted that scoring in general has been down this season (causing not a small amount of consternation at the League’s HQ, no doubt).

So is he worth the $7.5 million dollar salary?  This is hard to determine as sports salaries are so ridiculously inflated that it’s impossible to say any athlete is worth their recompense.  Still, it’s roughly in line with his statistical peers (although Heatley’s defensive shortcomings are a liability), and besides, from San Jose’s standpoint, he certainly is worth it as they only paid him $3 million this season.

On the Ottawa side, things are a little grimmer.

Milan Michalek started the year out gangbusters, demonstrating his two-way prowess with two shorthanded goals in an early game against Tampa Bay.  However, some long dry patches followed and, of course, he inevitably got injured.  He ended the year with 22 goals and 34 points (42 points if he had played 82 games).  Still, offensive numbers don’t do justice to Michalek’s playing abilities, which include bringing some grittiness and checking ability as well as providing awesome intermission interviews with his stream-of-consciousness partial phrases delivered in rapidfire drawl not unlike that of King Of The Hill character Boomhauer.

Cheechoo, on the other hand, has had a bit of a rough season and that’s putting it mildly.  He managed 5 goals and 14 points in 61 games before being waived to the minors to make cap space for late season trades (his $3 million dollar albatross of a contract, signed after his lone 50 goal season, made him an impossible “asset” to move).  To be fair, Cheechoo worked really hard and was, by all reports, a super-nice guy, but it’s sad to say he was just dead weight.  Hella expensive dead weight.

Fig. 4: Visual approximation of Jonathan Cheechoo's career.

In monetary terms, the Senators have got less for their $7 million and change than San Jose has for theirs, largely due to Cheechoo’s inflated price tag.  To add insult to injury, don’t forget that Ottawa paid half of Heatley’s salary this year.

Also, to compensate for Heatley’s impending absence, Bryan Murray spent his Big Summer Free-Agent Signing on noted pilot, instructional video author, and occasional flashy hockey player Alex Kovalev who then proceeded to have somewhat of a disappointing season despite some good stretches where he quietly carried the team.  This would’ve been alright if he hadn’t gotten injured (perhaps career-endingly so) right before the playoffs when the Sens were counting on him most.

To be sure, the Ottawa Senators were never going to get a full return on Heatley’s market value since not only had the public request taken away any bargaining leverage the team may have had, but they were also limited to dealing with people on Heatley’s list of teams-I-won’t-invoke-my-No-Trade-Clause for; ie. successful franchises in big American cities.

As such, it is important to make sure we don’t compare the trade using Heatley’s past, indeed exemplary performance as an object of comparison.  Now, I myself never really liked the Heater.  Sure, he potted a lot of goals and all (twice reaching the 50 mark), but he was also incapable of playing defence and took  a lot of dumb penalties.  I was particularly annoyed by the way he’d float around with his stick in the air, just waiting for a one-timer.  Also, he killed a guy.

Fig. 5: Dany Heatley takes a drink and misses.

What we have to consider is what he would have contributed to the Senators this season, after having made a public trade request, criticizing the new coach (for not giving him enough premium icetime), and only reluctantly reporting to training camp.  Sure, he still would have scored a bunch of goals, but he would have killed the chemistry of the team (especially given that the Senators are a very much by-committee team).

And perhaps that’s where Ottawa did get a good return.  No longer dependent on a one-dimensional (albeit a high value in that one dimension) goal-scorer, the team has had to elevate its interplay and function more as unit, spreading the scoring around and playing a more defensively responsible game.

Take Jason Spezza, for example: Undoubtedly his numbers are somewhat down due to not having a premium sniper to set up, but his game throughout the season was more generally solid than seasons prior (and despite a slow offensive start, he tore shit up like coked-up badger when he returned from mid-season injury).   Fisher and Kelly have both had better than usual years, and resident pest and noted fucking genius Jarkko Ruutu has had a career year.

Fig. 6: The secret's in the string!

The proof, however, is in the pudding, although Schrodinger reminds us that whether or not the proof is actually in the pudding cannot actually be determined until one eats the pudding and finds the proof inside it (or not).  Until then, the proof is both and neither in (n)or out of the pudding.  Err, anyway, we have eaten the pudding now that the season is done, and the numbers are in: The Senators made the playoffs this year; last year, with Heatley, but without Cheechoo and Michalek, they didn’t.

So, all in all, yeah the Senators did get ripped off in the deal, but they’re a better team for it.

It remains to be seen whether Dany Heatley will be the factor that finally enables the perennially high-seeded Sharks to not get knocked out by an underdog team in the first round.

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~ by Isaac Bickerstaff on April 14, 2010.

One Response to “On The Heatley Trade”

  1. Update: the embedded links to OttawaGh0st’s Dany Heatley parodies are now dead as YouTube, apparently not grasping the allowance for parody in copyright, has suspended his account.

    A recent video by OttawaGh0st2 addresses the hypocrasy, and seems to suggest that the reason his parodies were singled out for deletion were because he’d upset the NHL:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/OttawaGh0st2#p/u/0/fMjXQllweak

    Fuckin’ assholes.

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