Friday, August 21, 2009

Updated Heatley Theory - Dany Never Loved Us!

Finally, some news. And lots of it! Back to back press conferences from Heatley and Murray today and we can all jump back into the message boards and digest what we learned. Now most people will say that Heatley spat out some rehearsed answers, came across as a spoiled millionaire, and still didn't explain why he wants out. That was followed up by Murray giving the 'we'd welcome him back, I'll still try and trade him, but we need to start thinking about Heatley the Senator again'. Granted, Murray did share more details about how hard he's working on this trade and gave an honest answer about the teams on Heatley's list and their cap space issues. But at the end of the day, we're all still scratching our heads about Heatley's apparent 'diminished role' and his need for 'options'.

What Heatley's comments did, to be honest, was take me back to our interview with John Buccigross earlier in the summer. In it, he said "I somewhat sympathize with Heatley. He signed a contract he really couldn’t turn down in a place he didn’t really want to be. I imagine he has had trade in the back of his mind from the day he signed the contract. I don’t think it was as contrived as say Alex Rodriguez in Texas, but I do think he’s wanted to leave. He’s a good player and this should pass." We kinda wrote it off that it didn't make sense and Heatley could have just walked away if he didn't want to sign here.

But as we listen to Heatley today saying things like 'he's been thinking about this for a while' and he 'wants options', the more I am seeing some merit to Bucci's comments. Add to this our belief that his agents have shown an ability to play puppet master and advise him in his comments and actions. What does that math work out to on your calculator?

To me, I see a possibility that Heatley's intentions to be traded have come even before he signed his extension. Think about it - Heatley came here post-lockout as damaged goods, both physically and emotionally. The organization took him under their wing and helped him grow into one of the most prolific scorers of our generation. At the same time, he must have been missing the total anonymity of playing in Atlanta. At Phillips Arena, he could take off a shift or miss a backchecking assignment and nobody would notice (no offense to Thrashers fans). At Scotiabank Place, fans would notice every single stride he took, every pass he missed, every battle he avoided. While Heatley has somewhat of a free ride with fans (Spezza wore his blame like a professional), it was still a much tougher market to play in than his previous place.

So here he is, a 50-goal scorer with another year left on a contract and an eagerness to move back South where he could make his millions and be left alone. Not a problem - Muckler had him on a 3-year contract so he'd just play out the term and then could go wherever he wants.

Then this conversation takes place: "Hold the phone," says JP Barry, "you can't leave Ottawa as a free-agent after everything they've provided for you. Here's the plan, Dan. You are going to sign a long-term contract because you're a good soldier. You are going to ask for a no-movement clause because that's what stars do. You are going to play one season and then we will privately ask for a trade to a list of teams on a preferred list. Trust me, my clients discretely request trades all the time and it is just part of the business. You'll then have locked yourself in for 6 years making bank and you can still pick your team, just like you would have done as an unrestricted free agent. And when you think about it, we're doing the Sens a favour. Instead of leaving as a UFA and they get nothing, you are giving them an opportunity to trade you for value. We think that is fair and I'm sure Bryan Murray will, as well. I know you want to move and play outside of Canada, but just sit tight and let us take care of this. Ottawa will be happy that we're giving them a chance to trade you instead of getting Chara'd for thing, and you'll be happy because you can still hand pick your next team. Sign here for our commissions."

Before you write off this theory as ridiculous and one that took too long to develop, think about what I'm saying here. Dany has admitted that the thought for a trade has been brewing for a while. Is it so far-fetched that the no-movement clause and private trade request was contrived over a year ago by professional agents that do this for a living? They believed they would have all the benefits of free agency and the advantage of already having a long-term contract in hand. The short list of teams they provided Murray is the same as a player on July 1st taking offers from a handful of teams and choosing his favourite one.

Of course, this has all backfired for Heatley and his agent. Perhaps it WAS Murray that leaked the trade request, to remind Barry, McAlpine, and Heatley that he won't be played like this. Instead of having a quiet trade to the Sharks, Murray made sure from the start that Heatley would be exposed as the bad guy. Think about this - is there anybody outside of Heatley's immediate family and posse that has sympathy for him? If Murray had just traded him in June pre-draft, the fans wouldn't have understood why Heatley would be moved over Spezza and the team would look lost. Instead, everything gets out on the table and everyone is clear who caused this shatstorm. Well, played Sir Murray.

Okay, now you can have at it. Am I clutching at the air on this? Is my theory no different than all the other ridiculous rumours going around on the web? Or does this have merit? Think this over and let me know.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Update: Heatley call on Friday...The Bryan Speaketh! and so does Nicholson

UPDATE: According to the Ottawa Sun, Dany Heatley is expected to hold a press conference via phone on Friday.

The list of people that have heard from Heatley this summer just grew longer by one. Bob Nicholson weighed in today and said that he's spoken with Heatley this summer and he, along with the execs at Hockey Canada are expecting Heatley to handle his business before showing up in Calgary on Monday for the Team Canada Orientation Camp. So there you have it - in the next five days, Dany Heatley will allegedly have to speak to reporters. That being said, expect the Patrick Kane job of 'I can't talk about it' followed by a 'only questions about Canada Hockey from this point forward'.

In other news, Bryan Murray shared his voice with Leafs Lunch (the same Leafs Lunch that accused the Sens of being coke addicts). Catch the podcast here, Murray is in the first few minutes (after the first break) and will probably only take up 10 minutes of your time.

Here are the highlights, including bold around the one piece that you probably care about the most.
- rookie camp coming up in Kitchener, expecting big things of Karlsson, Regin, and Zach Smith. Said Cowen is training in Ottawa and likely not ready for game action.
- Murray STRONGLY expects Karlsson to compete for a spot on the club, said he is tremendous and the only thing hurting him is his size. Seriously, given the tone on this, it truly sounds like Karlsson is expected by management to make the team.
- He added that they expect Lee to be a full-time defenceman and grow a lot, also named off the rest of the defenders but seemed to throw a bit more attention to Campoli and Lee and Kuba. "I think our defence is far better this year than last year".
- Kind words for Leclaire, said he's ready to go and is seen as a "considerable upgrade", though they're still very happy with Elliot.
- On cap space, he said he isn't sure where the team is (I hope he's kidding). Simply put, he says if we have Heatley, we're over the cap, if we don't have Heatley, we're fine. Not sure how that involves a trade and salary coming back, but Murray went on to say that we have some players on two-way contracts that we can send down in the short-term while he continues to look for a long-term solution. I'm not positive who is on a two-way contract, but I thought Lee was one, which kinda sucks. I still can't imagine he can solve the cap problems and keep Gator on the big team. LTIR?
- On the Heatley saga "No, we're not any closer to an end. I have continued to talk to a few teams about it has been going slow, dragging on all summer, disappointed that it has gone on so long. It will be resolved soon either through a trade in the next little bit of time, or we expect Dany at camp."- finally, Murray said fans are asking why a good player doesn't want to be in Ottawa, it has been difficult on ticket sales.

So what does it all mean? First off, the whole 'Murray has been quiet so that means something is going to happen this afternoon' idea is out. Murray has now spoken. That being said, he did admit that he is still actively talking to teams and hopes to get this resolved through a trade soon. I'm sorry to call out others on this, but it was plain as day in this interview that there was never a deadline last week for a trade to be made. From this interview, Murray clearly says he'll work on this right up until camp and if no resolution comes via trade, he'll deal with the cap issues in other ways. But nothing in mid-August for a deadline. Nothing. C'mon, people, there are no leaks in that organization right now. The only Sens trade news that is real comes straight from the mouth of the GM. Other sites are right in that if Dreger and McKenzie aren't printing it, it's because it isn't true.

Good news - Murray is still working actively with teams and his first priority is to make a trade prior to camp.
Bad news - Camp starts in three weeks.

Also, what are your thoughts on Murray's opinion that Karlsson is ready to compete for the big club? If he makes it, he'll be babysat like crazy, just seeing PP time and going against second lines that neither score nor hit. That's fine with me, work him in slow!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Your First Look at the Eastern Conference Final Standings

Call it the start of hurricane season, a pre-emptive strike before every single hockey fan posts their Eastern Conference predictions. Mine include Dany Heatley on the Senators because at this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise. When I started this exercise, I was prepared to keep Ottawa out of the top eight because I don't think we've improved enough to jump up from 12th. I know we're excited about Kovalev and Leclaire and Clouston, but would that be good enough to jump four teams? But a funny thing happened when I looked at the middle class - it isn't very good! So by putting Ottawa into the eight spot, it isn't entirely because I think we're the eighth best, rather it is because I think there are seven other teams that are worse. This isn't homerism, folks, because I truly have fears about if we can make the second season. I just really don't think very highly of the conference as a whole.

Here are my final Eastern Conference predictions:

1. Pittsburgh
This is an easy one. It isn't because I think they'll make it back to the Finals for a third year in a row, but I don't think there is another team that improved enough to knock them off. They have two of the most prolific players in the game, a strong blue line (McKee can fill in for Gill and Scuderi is this year's Tom Preissing), and they'll have Guerin and Kunitz for a full season. They're better than the rest.

2. Washington
The reason they can't take the number one spot, and the reason they won't get to the Finals for a few more years, is because they ignore goaltending. The loss of Fedorov and Kozlov will be made up with the further development of the young stars in DC. Varlamov will be much like Emery a few years ago - good enough to make it through the regular season but not cut out for the big time of the playoffs.

3. Boston
It is great to see Chara at the top of his game and it stinks that he's doing it for someone else in the division. Claude Julien has built a system that runs like a well-oiled machine. It reminds me a lot of the Ducks of a few years ago without the clutching and grabbing. Solid goalie, elite defenceman, an old guard of scorers (Savard, Bergeron, Ryder) and a slew of upcoming stars (Krejci, Lucic, Bitz). Boston isn't great, but they're going to be a top five team for a long time. Without question, they are the best team in the Northeast Division.

4. Philadelphia
I'm personally terrified that we're going to see Pronger four times a year now. The guy is a monster and contrary to most pundits, he isn't slowing down. I also think Emery will have a decent year. He won't see too many shots, he won't be the biggest media darling on the team, and he has the cockiness to rise to the occasion. A healthy Gagne and Briere will be important, but Philly is good enough to give the Penguins a run for a while before settling for the 4 seed.

5. NY Rangers
Down with Gomez, in with Gaborik. To me, this is kind of a break even trade off just because Gabby is a point a game player for the 20 games he dresses. The Rags will be hanging around the 5-6 seed as long as Lundqvist is in town and that is kinda the thinking here. I still don't see them scoring a ton of goals and they still have guys like Drury and Redden on awful contracts, but there's enough talent in guys like Dubinsky, Callahan, Prospal, and Staal to get them more wins than losses.

6. Carolina
They're like the New Jersey of the south, the team that you don't really notice until they're winning playoff games in April. Funny how it is usually New Jersey that they're beating these days! If you get a free moment, browse their roster and think about just how deep they are at forward. If Cam Ward plays slightly above average and Staal continues to turn into a top centre in the league, Carolina can actually take a shot at home ice advantage in the four-slot. The Canes are going to be around for a long time and if only Pitkanen could hit his potential, the Canes could go on a run.

7. New Jersey
Martin Brodeur. Okay, I'll continue - they have a very solid top six with guys like Parise, Elias, Zubrus, Rolston, Zajac, and Shanahan. People keep point out out that Stevens and Niedermeyer have never been replaced, but that isn't ever going to happen. Instead, they've left it to Martin, Oduya, White, and Salvador, which is good enough to make the playoffs again. The problem here is that the Caps will torch this defence in the playoffs even more than Carolina did last year.

8. Ottawa
As I said earlier, it isn't that I think we're the 8th best, we're just above the other seven teams below this. I think Clouston is putting the right system in place and AK27 will provide some fantastic secondary scoring, possibly 65-70 points. I also expect big things of Lee and Campoli on the blue line, a big step forward from last year. And most importantly, we're going to get some solid goaltending for Pascal. I really believe that. This kid seems built for the cameras of a hockey market but without the Hummer and the tardiness. We'll clinch in the last three games of the season.

9. Montreal
My initial reaction to Gainey's moves were that he'd run them into the ground. After careful thought, I haven't changed my mind too much. Without question, he has changed the identity of that team. The problem is, nobody knows what the hell that identity is going to be. Scott Gomez has chemistry with Gionta? Gomez doesn't have chemistry with anyone right now. Cammalleri can score but he won't have Iginla helping him much. The defence is a pot pourri of castoffs surrounding their only elite player in Andrei Markov. Finally, their goalie is a basketcase and will never, EVER grow into an elite netminder in that market. Carey Price might have talent, but that city will never let his confidence catch up. The result will be more time on the outside.

10. Florida
Sure, they gave a run for the playoffs last year that lasted until the final week. In fact, Montreal had an OT loss point that made the difference between swapping places. The problem is that even though Booth and Olesz will continue to grow, they replaced Bouwmeester with Leopold. Even if you aren't sure if Bouw was a top flight defenceman, he took up 25-28 minutes a night and was a major part of that blue line. Leopold doesn't hold a chance of filling those minutes. It was fun last year for this team, but they'll slowly start heading back to mediocrity.

11. Buffalo
I'm sick and tired of people talking about how great Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are and how they should not be blamed for the collapse of this team. Then who the hell do you blame? The exodus out of this town over the past few years has been alarming and nothing has been done to replace the departed. If Lindy Ruff is such a good coach, couldn't he get talented players like Vanek, Pominville, and Roy to get this team to the postseason? Isn't Ryan Miller supposed to be the future of USA Hockey? Seriously, this team is not very good and it starts with management and coaching. At some point, when the Slugs continue to miss the playoffs, people will stop showering these guys with undeserved praise.

12. Toronto
This isn't because I think Brian Burke is an idiot. This isn't because we all hate the Leafs. This is because they are no better than last year and somebody needs to stand up and call them out. They don't have anyone to score a damn goal! Am I taking crazy pills here? Wait for the rebuttal of a Leafs fan and they'll point out that they scored lots last year and the focus was on keeping them out of their own net. Sure, and I agree that the blue line is tougher now, but I have concerns about Komisarek, Exelby, and Beauchemin. Komi was destroyed by Lucic and turtled up, Exelby has seen his development hit a major plateau, and Beauchemin is insanely overrated. Anybody could look good playing with Niedermeyer and Burkie should have known that. And Colton Orr? This isn't a new Ducks team, this is a team of thugs that will spend half the game in the box and the other half trying to pass out of their own zone. Ron Wilson doesn't last far past the Olympics before Burkie finds his own coach. If you think this is a playoff team, get a life.

13. Atlanta
This group might actually push up on Toronto and Buffalo more than people think. While a lot depends on Lehtonen's health, they'll get a boost from Kubina and they'll get some help with Antropov. The big question will be how Bogosian and Enstrom develop and if they're ready for top four responsibilities. Both players should be legit top pairing players but stalled last year (Bogosian missed a chunk of time, in his defense). Atlanta isn't playoff material, but it wouldn't shock me if they rattled off some wins late in the year to rally the fans, much like the Sens did last year.

14. Tampa Bay
Mattias Ohlund will help just enough to get them out of last place, but this team stinks. Can you tell me who their starting goalie will be? Cutting Prospal just leaves Lecavalier without his boyfriend, though him and Marty St. Louis might step up in an Olympic year. At the end of the day, though, they will let in so many goals that they'll be getting more sunburn from the goal light than from the beach. Zing.

15. NY Islanders
A step in the right direction for Garth and the boys. They actually have goalie(s) that can stay healthy and the kids will take another step in the right direction. Tavares will be much like Stamkos last year - he'll struggle early under the microscope and will eventually settle into a leadership role and put up 50-60pts. This organization is still a few years from even contending for the playoffs, but they'll get back there soon. If Charles can get them a new arena, then this might even become a destination for free agents on July 1st instead of at the end of the summer when players have no other options. It feels tough to keep these fellas in last place, but JT isn't enough to get them out of the basement yet. Another top three pick will help next year.

Monday, August 17, 2009

One month to go and roster still pending

It would be interesting to chart the inverse relationship between actual Sens news and online Sens rumours. It seems that the less news we see in the papers about the team, the more things pick up on the web. Case in point is this past week - hardly a headline in the papers yet rumours sites are updated daily with the latest Heatley gossip. We've never gotten into delivering rumours on this site because we don't have the sources! In fact, we've known for a while that Bryan Murray runs that organization so tight that absolutely nothing gets out to the media. Add in the fact that the leak of the Edmonton trade obviously curdled his milk a tad and now that office is on lockdown for news. I'm at the point where if you don't hear it from Murray's mouth himself, then you seriously have question its validity.

One thing we can do is continue to analyze potential suitors for the dominant one. Here's a link back to what we said a couple of days before the draft in June. Looking at each team, we figured that there were only ten legit destinations: Anaheim, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota, NY Rangers, San Jose, Vancouver.

After the free agency period, we cut out Boston (at the cap), Chicago (Hossa), and Vancouver (Sedins). Does anyone want to talk about Anaheim? It seems that the Ducks don't really want to line him up with Getzlaf, I suppose. Dallas hasn't really popped up too much either and with the Richards salary, this is a tough pickup (please don't suggest we'd take on Brad Richards as a return). We also know where things stand with Edmonton - they've publicly said the offer is gone but we know deep down that they'd put the offer back in a heartbeat if they thought Heatley would accept the trade.

Florida would love to have the guy for marketing but there is no way Heatley would accept that trade. He might love the lights of Miami but we have to believe that he still wants to win. Minnesota has certainly been geting airtime even after picking up Havlat as a free agent. With Mach 9 already there plus concern about if Heatley would accept THAT trade, I'm not convinced. The Rags now have some backup down the middle with Vinny Prospal signed, so there are some that think Dubinsky is up for grabs. I just can't imagine, though, that Slats would miraculously get out of a terrible contract with Gomez and immediately blow all his remaining cap space with Gaborik AND Heatley. This would give them three forwards over $7M, plus Redden at $6.5M, plus King Hank in nets at $6.875M. Finally, San Jose just doesn't have the cap space. We've already said the three-way trade sounded silly from the beginning.

If it seems that I just ruled out just about all those teams as trading partners, it's because I did. Personally, I'm at a point where I'm grasping to rumours hoping there's some truth to them. I see the Prospal signing as a hint that the Rags could move Dubinsky. I keep hoping that the Sharks can move Cheechoo anywhere but Ottawa so we could get a legit offer from them. And I think that Murray has been remarkebly quiet lately and perhaps it is a whole 'calm before the storm' thing cooking. But when you iron out the facts, the signs are strongly pointing toward a salary dump from Gator and #15 suiting up in Ottawa next month.

While some people think having four legit scoring threats gets us back into contention, I'm on the dark side in thinking we're really not that good of a team right now. Pynch and I will try and get to our Eastern Conference predictions this week and while I don't want to spoil it for anyone, I don't have high hopes for the Northeast Division.