Saturday, September 12, 2009
Heatley Traded...And The Lessons Learned
The inevitable has arrived and Dany Heatley has been granted his wish by being sent to the San Jose Sharks today (along with a 5th round pick) for wingers Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a 2nd round pick.
In short, a fantastic trade for Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, even if he was forced in the end to accept Cheechoo, a player he did not want in the deal by most accounts.
The real centrepiece for Ottawa is certainly Michalek, a player I mentioned as being a must in any trade involving San Jose (though Ottawa did not get Logan Couture as I had hoped they would).
The breakdown on Michalek is very good: The 24 year old is signed for the next 5 seasons at a very reasonable cap hit of 4.33 million. Considering his once heralded status as an elite prospect (he was picked 6th overall in 2003) and his obvious skills and power-forward size, getting Michalek is a very good return for the petulant and unhappy superstar that Heatley had become in Ottawa.
Michalek has yet to hit 30 goals in the NHL and his career high so far has been a modest 66 points in his breakout year of 2007. Yet the consensus is that Michalek will one day be a 30-35 goal scorer. He is also very fast for a player of his size and by most accounts has a great attitude and a desire to excel. The Sportsnet scouting report calls him a "low maintenance" player who is "polished at both ends of the ice".
Certainly more was expected of Michalek in San Jose but, as often happens, young players can sometimes be slower to develop and may not get optimal ice-time on squads stacked with veteran star players. The situation in San Jose over Michalek's career has certainly been like that, with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau leading the way and a young gun in Devin Setoguchi nipping at his heels. In a way, Michalek was a bit of a "tweener" and might find himself a better fit on the Senators, who have always needed a power forward since their inception into the league.
The options for Michalek, a natural left-winger, are endless. He would look equally at home with Jason Spezza (Michalek spent some time with Thornton on the wing two seasons ago) or as a complimentary big-body on a line with Mike Fisher. One nice stat is Michalek's 6 game-winning goals last year, matching his power-play total.
After some serious knee injuries early on in his career, Michalek has been fairly healthy and durable recently, playing no fewer than 77 games the past four seasons.
Jonathan Cheechoo on the other hand, is coming in as a once dynamic goal scorer (56 goals in the year after the lockout) but has seen his totals and role on the Sharks plummet ever since. Since his breakout season, Cheechoo's goal totals have dropped consecutively in 3 straight seasons - 37 to 23 to a lowly 12.
The former Rocket Richard winner lost his spot on a line with Thornton and was a minus 3 with the President's Trophy winners last year. His skating and defensive acumen have always been criticised but his skills are too good to totally write off just yet.
It's obvious that Murray, after having a face-to-face meeting with the disgruntled Heatley yesterday, decided to accept a player he didn't want in order to get Heatley out of the organization. Murray told the Ottawa Sun "I did spend some time with him yesterday. When I looked him in the eye I knew I had to trade him"
Heatley didn't want to be here anymore and the weekend was turning into a complete circus with reporters in a complete frenzy over the situation. What once looked like an unpalatable player in Cheechoo just a week ago now seemed like the only solution to the entire mess. Even if Cheechoo turns out to be a bust, the Senators are only stuck with him for the next two seasons at a cap hit of 3 million. It's a risk, but a mid-priced one worth taking.
On the money side, the trade is essentially a wash. Heatley's 7.5 cap hit goes out, Michalek's and Cheechoo's cap hit of 7.33 million comes in. The Senators save some pocket change and get rid of an albatross that was becoming heavier by the day.
But now what?
For Ottawa, the staggering number of NHL ready forwards they already have increases by one.
The following are locks to play barring a trade:
The following will essentially be fighting for the healthy scratch position:
So what and who is going to give?
One solution could be to trade Chris Kelly and let Jesse Winchester assume his role on the club. Winchester is tougher than Kelly and is quickly getting better although Kelly is well liked in the room and is a great penalty-killer. Murray wasn't happy having to give Kelly over 2 million a season and that price tag will make him equally harder to move.
Another factor is that prospects Zack Smith and Peter Regin are both probably ready to make the NHL. Organizations don't like to let their prospects stagnate in the minors and generally try to move out dead wood to make room on their roster for cheap young players. Both Smith and Regin (and possibly Cody Bass) fit that bill but who is the dead wood?
Shean Donovan is certainly not dead wood and plays a great veteran role on the team as a tireless worker and a speedy fourth liner. He deserves better than to be sitting or put on the waiver wire. Getting rid of Jarkko Ruutu is not going to happen because he plays a singular and important role on the team as an agitator and a physical presence, something the Sens need more of, hence their enthusiasm for Smith.
Can Murray turn around and deal Cheechoo to another team desperate for offense? It's possible but not likely anytime before teams submit their final cap-payrolls to the league at the start of October. Barring a fantastic training camp, Cheechoo is unlikely to land that coveted spot on Spezza's wing. Kovalev, Michalek, Alfredsson and Foligno will all give him stiff competition.
Cheechoo may get some good time on the Senators second power-play unit, a spot that Heatley was very unhappy to be in. He might also be a good fit with Fisher on a third or second line.
As for Heatley's departure, no one is going to shed a tear, let alone myself. Yet, I don't feel the wrath for Heatley was warranted to the degree that it got to. It's a common occurrence for NHL players to complain about ice-time and ask for trades. Just ask Senator defenseman Chris Campoli who did both in Long Island just last year. Yet no one is calling into question his values.
Regardless, it is best for both sides that this situation has now been resolved and perhaps the Senators community, both fans and media, can put down their pitchforks and start supporting the team in a more positive manner.
The notion that the Heatley situation was affecting ticket sales, an opinion not rejected by new team president Cyril Leeder, is probably true but not in the way you think.
For the longest time, the fans and media have been quick to jump on a very negative bandwagon and make pariahs out of certain players for reasons that are shaky at best. In turn, the Senators organization has not taken actions to defend their own players and thus, the product that they are trying to sell to the public is devalued. The players are the product and need to be promoted and protected, just like any other asset.
People barely recognize the charitable work these "millionaire" athletes do for the community and are instead judged by their lifestyles and any innuendo that can be attached to them.
Certain radio programs on the Team 1200 spend countless amounts of capital personally attacking these same players, eroding the very product that the station paid handsomely for to broadcast the games and attract sponsors. Yet the Senators sit on their hands and let the rot set in. Maybe the Senators do complain or even threaten to opt out of their agreement with the station, but it doesn't seem to be working if that is the case.
If Leeder can do anything better than his predecessor Roy Mlakar, he can get out in front of negative stories and try to better protect the product he is trying to sell to ticket buyers. If he is complaining about no one buying tickets, maybe it's because they have a negative view of what you are selling to them, regardless of how the team is doing on the ice.
By and large, NHL players are great guys and the Senators need to do a way better job of telling people about this and using their considerable influence to impart that to their media partners.
People will gladly pay money to watch entertaining hockey played by respectable members of the community. They won't pay money to watch "spoiled athletes" who only care about money and "party" their careers away. It doesn't matter that this type of athlete barely exists in the NHL, let alone in Ottawa. If the public perceives them this way, they won't support the team.
After all these brutal, painful lessons - Daigle, Yashin, Emery, Redden, Heatley - perhaps now the Senators and their fans can get on with what is really important - winning hockey games and keeping the organization healthy and vibrant in the capital of Canada.