(Update: Monday, June 22, 4:20pm) - Bryan Murray has said that if he can't move Heatley at the draft and we end up having to pay that $4M bonus in a week and a half on July 1st, he might just keep the guy. So either he's posturing and telling teams to make their absolute best offer by Friday night, or he is really serious about just hanging on to Heatley to see if this can be turned around. Click here for the full story on Sportsnet's site
I like to preface some of these pieces with a quick aside – in this case, I stand by my prediction that Heaters is moved on the draft floor in Montreal on Friday night. But knowing the stubbornness of Bryan Murray, coupled with the history of the Senators franchise to play hardball with its players, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that we enter training camp with Heatley on the roster. What would this mean for the team? Let’s consider what this means for Heatley, what this means for Clouston, and what this means for the rest of the lineup.
At some point in the next little while, Bryan Murray will undoubtedly approach #15 with a small handful of teams that have presented suitable offers for the troubled winger. If Heatley refuses to budge on his list of preferred destinations and Murray gets tough (as he promised us he would), then Dany Heatley will officially become the 800lb gorilla sauntering back in to the Sens locker room in September. Local heroes Mike Fisher and Chris Neil have already gone public in questioning their teammate, so you can safely assume that he’s lost his popularity points among the rest of the team, as well. If he truly is a good team player like some have suggested, he’d be well-served by going into that dressing room with a heartfelt apology, a lengthy explanation, and a commitment to play as hard as possible for his teammates. Rather than avoid the awkwardness, Heatley will need to step up to the podium and deal with this immediately off the ice. As for on the ice, there is nothing here that says he won’t get back to his 90-100 point levels. Even if his teammates rightfully think of him as a total assbag for wanting to walk out, they still have a common goal of winning a Cup. Exhibit A is Alexei Yashin’s performance after his one-year hiatus/suspension/holdout in Russia – 82 games, 40 goals, 48 assists for 88 points, the second highest total in his career. These players are grown ups and when they step on the ice, they perform at top levels. This isn’t the California Penal League, Vaughn, they’re professionals here. They don’t tank plays for personal reasons, so cut the crybaby shat! My point is that Heatley’s biggest challenge coming back to Ottawa will be off the ice and patching up the relationships that he had his agents destroy for him.
What about poor Cory Clouston? The guy hasn’t had a sound byte since his highest paid player threw him under the bus. How does Clouston handle Dany Heatley in the fall? Again, I’m all about communication and confronting that obese ape before it turns into more of a circus than it already is. They’re both men and they need to find some common ground, but with the understanding that Clouston isn’t going to back down from his expectations. If he wants Heatley to play an aggressive forechecking game like the rest of the team, then he needs to stand by that demand. Good coaches find ways to get the most out of each player, knowing that it takes different tactics for different personalities. Find what works as soon as possible and remain tough. If splitting up Heatley and his on-again/off-again boyfriend is what it takes to get the team playing right, then do it. Just be careful that you don’t jeopardize the well-being of this team just to try and make a point to Heatley. The dicey part here is that Heatley is the goal scorer on this team, so you have to find a way to get his performance to suit your team system but without sacrificing his natural ability to put the biscuit in the basket. Coach, you have your work cut out for you. Fair or not, the challenge on you to succeed with this situation is far greater than it is for the guy that put you in this mess to begin with.
And what about the rest of the team? I’ve already said that the onus is on Heatley to step up and make amends with his teammates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to accept those terms. That being said, we’re all better off if they can see this as water under the bridge. Frankly, I don’t know how you can do that, but hopefully his standing in the dressing room is such that he can get back to joking around with his teammates and perhaps even lighten up a bit in the community. Instead of taking Don Brennan’s columns to heart, maybe he can start laughing it off like Spezza has been able to do. Like I said earlier, though, the real challenge here is assimilation back into the dressing room. On the ice, professionalism overcomes personal feelings and they’ll all be fine together. They aren’t going to avoid Heatley when he has his stick teed up in the far circle, are they? They want to win and Heatley helps make that happen. Hopefully, a non-trade serves as a humbling experience for Dany and he realizes he has to clean up his act.
The safe move remains to trade him as soon as possible and let the boys know that they can move on with new teammates that WANT to be in Ottawa. Nobody liked it when Yashin came back in 2000-01, even if they gladly suited up alongside him on the ice. The guy will get booed on home ice, as Yashin did, and will get torn up in the media. Perhaps if Heatley does still suit up for Ottawa this fall, we’re all better off if he can light the lamp as much as possible and get his trade value up to a point where someone can pull the trigger that they’re scared to do this month. Suffice it to say that even if Heatley DOES end up starting the year in Ottawa, he certainly won’t end it here.