The bizarre circumstances surrounding the Ottawa Senators are not an incidental concern for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After all, both teams compete in the Eastern Conference and while I have never bought the idea of a fierce rivalry (the Sens would have to win a playoff round first), there might be enough talent in Ottawa to get them into the playoffs. This is especially true with the return to team play orchestrated by coach Cory Clouston.
Looking forward, the Montreal Canadiens are unfathomable and the Islanders, Lightning, Thrashers and Panthers don’t seem poised for anything.
The top tier, Boston, Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh look unshakable. For Brian Burke to look like the smartest guy in town, one of last year’s fifth-to eighth place teams, Philadelphia, Carolina, the New York Rangers and the Habs have to drop while everyone else treads water in the non-playoff part of the pool.
And that means, if you are the ambitious new-look Leafs, you can’t give too many points to a divisional opponent such as Ottawa or heaven forbid, allow them to usurp you for the last few spots.
But here’s the thing. I feel sorry for the Ottawa Senators. I was a young man during the Harold Ballard years. I know it only takes one guy to wreck pretty well everything which, if you haven’t been watching, is exactly what Dany Heatley is doing.
With Bob Goodenow cackling in his retirement and Tom Barrasso long retired, Dany Heatley reigns as the hockey person you most love to hate.
Traded to the Senators after the terrible events in Atlanta, he produced excellent numbers and signed a long-term deal. But when Clouston tried to spread out the power play time and put him on the second line, Heatley asked for a trade. He then vetoed what remains the only viable offer because it would have sent him to Edmonton. Ewww.
At last look, GM Bryan Murray said he is ready to impose a drop-dead rate to trade Heatley. If that comes and goes, then he will be expected in training camp. The A he wore last season, you may have guessed, is gone,
For all their brave talk of staying the course, the Senators can’t keep Heatley. How do you give power play time to a player who has openly undermined his coach, especially when it comes at the expense of team-first players? The Ottawa media contingent is small but the outrage over Heatley runs through Kanata and across the city. He’s very bad for business.
Paradoxically, despite his standing as one of the league’s leading goalcorers (he was tied for eighth with 39 goals last year) he is a terribly difficult player to trade.
Heatley’s disastrous contract runs for five more years and will pay him $35 million. That is too much to buy out and way too much to eat.
But the real problem is that he has quit on two teams.
The Senators’ options are scant. If they deal him for nothing, they improve their bottom line but hurt their image in the marketplace. Remember what happened when the Raptors dealt Vince Carter for what amounted to less than nothing?
They can’t keep Heatley and they can’t deal him and the daily distraction does no one any good. Already, the goodwill built on a good run at the end of the season under Clouston has been dissipated.
The Senators don’t have any real way out and for hockey fans in Ottawa, that’s unfair. It could well turn out nicely for the Maple Leafs, who will watch a divisional opponent spin their tires, but the fans in Ottawa deserve better than to be stuck with this guy or the fallout from his trade.