OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators appear to be back at Square 1 in the Dany Heatley saga.
A trade proposed earlier this week that would have seen the disgruntled left-winger dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for three players is off the table – at least for now, according to Senators general manager Bryan Murray.
The US$4-million signing bonus the Sens had to pay Heatley has changed the terms of the deal.
“Well, it’s different now and I don’t know if we will continue or not,” Murray said Thursday. “I will, I believe, during the day talk to (Oilers GM) Steve Tambellini again, but very definitely, it’s not the same deal as it was yesterday.”
The Oilers had proposed sending forwards Andrew Cogliano and Dustin Penner and defenceman Ladislav Smid to Ottawa for Heatley, who refused to waive his no-trade contract.
Murray was blunt when asked where that leaves Heatley now.
“Nowhere, he’s an Ottawa Senator,” he said.
Just prior to the NHL draft last month, Heatley requested a trade out of Ottawa through his agents, J.P. Barry and Stacey McAlpine, citing his dissatisfaction over his diminished playing time and role with the club since Cory Clouston took over as coach in February.
With five years and $31 million remaining on his contract, with a salary-cap hit of $7.5 million per season, Murray is finding the 28-year-old tough to move.
He reached a deal with the Oilers late Tuesday, only to have Heatley nix it. Murray said he doesn’t know why Heatley wouldn’t agree to the trade.
The Oilers reportedly met with Heatley at his summer home in Kelowna, B.C., in order to sell him on the move, but Murray has no intention of following suit.
Murray said the teams’ original deal was no longer an option as a result of Ottawa being forced to pay out Heatley’s bonus and there are no other potential deals on the horizon.
“I think if you call around the league to the other general managers, you’ll find out there were many calls made, many options thrown out there, back and forth with teams. Not a lot of teams were interested in making an offer,” Murray said. “The few that did were, in a couple of cases, not very good. In one case, very insulting for Dany Heatley’s value.
“I took a deal that probably hockey-wise doesn’t match for Dany Heatley, but I thought it was fair to allow the player to have an opportunity to move if that’s what he wanted to do and we’d stock our team with a couple of players that we feel we can upgrade over the course of a year here.”
Murray admitted he’s frustrated by the player’s stance, but said it’s too early in the summer to think about what other options the Senators will have should they be unable to complete a trade.
“Certainly I’m disappointed,” he said. “There’s no question that there was a commitment made both ways a couple of years ago that Dany would be here for a long part of his career. He’s a good player, he’s a good guy – my reaction would be that he probably has not had the total advice that he’s need to be a committed guy to Ottawa.”
While Heatley has yet to public comment on the situation, Senators centre Jason Spezza spoke about it for the first time Thursday during a break from an off-ice workout at Scotiabank Place.
“It’s a complicated situation as players,” said Spezza. “I’m a good friend of Dany’s and if Dany wants to come back, we’re going to accept him back. But if he doesn’t want to be here, it’s just important for him to move on and for the organization to be able to make a trade to help the team move on.
“We just want to win here.”
Spezza has spoken with Heatley recently, but preferred to keep the conversations private.
“I understand (his reasons for wanting out), it’s part of the game and decisions have to be made. I don’t hold it against him at all,” said Spezza. “I just hope that this doesn’t stall our organization. We want to move forward. If he wants to come back, then we’ll accept him back and we’ll be a good team with him, but if he doesn’t want to be here, he has to let us (move) and get some players to replace him.”
The Senators were relatively quiet on the opening day of the free-agent period. Being saddled with Heatley’s contract didn’t leave a lot of room for action, although Murray said he was in pursuit of a couple players.
Ottawa wants to add another forward who could play on the top two lines.
“Money was tight and my thought going into the day was we’d be getting three players for one player and I was still hoping on top of that to be able to get one other forward, so we’re left a little short at the moment,” Murray said.
Despite his status with the Senators being in limbo, Heatley was among the 46 players invited by Hockey Canada to the Olympic development camp in August.
Spezza, however, was not.
Heatley, who is two seasons removed from back-to-back 50-goal seasons for the Senators, is Canada’s all-time leading scorer in international competition, but his inclusion is sure to further infuriate fans in Ottawa who have vilified the once-popular star since his trade request was made public.
“(Heatley’s) invite to the camp was really secured based on his play throughout his career and his play at internationals events to date,” executive director Steve Yzerman said during a conference call. “He’s been a very good player for us.
“I understand the reaction of the fans, but we will pick the most suitable players for this camp and ultimately the most suitable player for the team when the time comes.”
On Wednesday, Murray did manage to welcome one member of the Senators back whom many believed would be on his way out of Ottawa.
Right-winger Chris Neil, 30, agreed to a four-year deal worth $8 million. He reportedly turned down better offers from the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers to remain with the only team he’s played for.
“We’re very happy that he decided to stay,” Murray said. “We probably could have save both of us a lot of grief if we’d agreed a little earlier, but until the market opens and he knows where he fits I think every player wants to know that they have certain value in the marketplace and Chris found out, I believe, and we reacted.
“Chris probably got a little more than I wanted to pay him, but considerably less than what some teams would have paid him.
“I really liked the fact that he wanted to stay here.”