I’m not saying the Ottawa Senators have completely mishandled the Dany Heatley situation – after all, Heatley blindsided them with his trade demand at the most inopportune time possible – but I believe it could have been handled differently.
Heatley is indeed guilty of being a selfish ass and deserves the reputation he has created for himself as a pampered star (not a superstar, by the way) whose sense of entitlement is beyond comprehension. But the fact remains Heatley has done absolutely nothing outside of his rights in the collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated on his behalf.
First, he asked for a trade. Well, anyone from a minimum-wage plug to a 50-goal scorer has the right to do that.
He invoked his no-trade clause when a deal he didn’t like became available. That’s another right he has, one to which he and the Senators agreed when they consummated a six-year, $45 million contract extension a couple of months after the Senators went to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. The ubiquitous “no movement” clause is a classic team-killer that will undoubtedly be a major element in the next round of CBA negotiations, but the fact remains it was negotiated in good faith by both sides.
So it’s a bit of a stretch for anyone to believe the Senators might have a basis for a grievance because Heatley put them in such an untenable situation.
“They have a legal theory and feel like Dany’s conduct has caused great damage to the team,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last week.
Well, of course it has, but that doesn’t mean Heatley has technically done anything wrong.
I don’t think it had to be this way, for a couple of reasons. There’s little doubt Heatley held a gun to the organization’s head, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the team had absolutely no leverage in the situation.
Here are some things I would have considered doing:
• First of all, GM Bryan Murray could have told Heatley what to do with his trade demand. When a much better player by the name of Vincent Lecavalier demanded a trade out of Tampa Bay in 2002 because he couldn’t get along with John Tortorella, then-GM Jay Feaster essentially told the two of them to work it out. He told them he wasn’t prepared to go down in history as the guy who traded Vincent Lecavalier and he thought Tortorella was the right man for his young team. He told both of them to “man up” and accept the situation and we all know how it turned out.
The situation is much the same with Senators coach Cory Clouston. Obviously, he has emerged as a very good coach and seems to be the one who can finally break through the country club that is the Senators dressing room. Murray could have told Heatley there was no way he was going to be traded and it was up to him to get in line. Heatley could have refused to report to training camp and the Senators could have told him to rot at home for as long as he wanted to. If he sat out the year, he’d owe the Senators that year back on his contract the same way Alexei Yashin did.
• Before any trade was made, Murray could have forced Heatley to waive his no-trade clause unconditionally. The way it works now, when a player has a no-trade clause in his deal, he must write a letter to the NHL’s Central Registry office after the deal is made giving his personal approval to a deal, the way Ryan Smyth recently did when he was dealt to Los Angeles.
There would have been nothing preventing the Senators from telling Heatley to write a letter to Central Registry pre-approving a trade to any one of the other 29 teams. No letter to Central Registry, no trade. Simple as that.
• Because Heatley is such a great guy who loves playing for Canada in international competition, the Senators could use the Olympics against him.
Heatley could refuse to report to training camp and sit out until he forces the Senators to deal him to a destination he wants. But the Senators can gently remind Heatley that the Canadian Olympic team wouldn’t be inclined to take a player to Vancouver who had spent the first half of the season sitting on the sidelines.
The Senators should wait until a deal they can live with comes along before dumping Heatley. And the notion they have no say in the matter and no leverage is not quite accurate.
Score one for the NHL’s most prominent agent, Don Meehan. For years, Meehan almost single-handedly kept a brittle and inconsistent Nik Antropov in the NHL, getting him a number of contracts with the Toronto Maple Leafs that were generous for a player who had accomplished so little.
When the lead-footed Antropov informed Meehan he would be seeking between $5 million and $5.5 million in his next contract, Meehan told him to give his head a shake (our words, not his) and that $3.5 million to $4 million would be a more realistic number.
Antropov fired Meehan and fled to Mark Gandler, who got him a four-year exile in Atlanta for $4 million per season.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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