OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators were anything but sad to take to the ice Sunday without Dany Heatley, the best goal-scorer in their history.
It was nothing personal against the disgruntled left-winger, who had his trade request finally granted after a deal was struck Saturday with the San Jose Sharks.
But the end of the summer-long saga came much to the relief of his former teammates and makes the team better, at least in the estimation of captain Daniel Alfredsson.
“I think it is. Dany’s a very talented hockey player, but we knew his situation and him wanting out of here,” Alfredsson said following the teams first on-ice session of training camp.
“I still think we could have worked it out and we would have been OK, but this is obviously something that would have happened eventually, and getting it done earlier is a big plus for us.”
Even longtime linemate Jason Spezza, Heatley’s closest friend on the team, admitted the deal that brings right-winger Jonathan Cheechoo, once a 56-goal scorer, and left-winger Milan Michalek was in the best interest of all involved.
“My relationship with Dany isn’t going to change at all, we’re still going to be friends, but it was a tough situation for both of us,” Spezza said. “He wanted out and I wanted what’s best for our club.
“We had a good understanding this whole way that he was going to look out to make sure he got traded and I was going to look out for our team. Now I wish him all the best, but I’m happy it’s all over with and we can move on.”
Heatley scored 180 goals during his four seasons with the Senators, including back-to-back 50-goal seasons in which he became the first Senators player to hit the magic mark.
Only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (219) and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk (189) have scored more during that period.
So while the Senators may miss those goals, they certainly won’t miss the distraction that began after it became public that the 28-year-old Calgary native wanted out.
“This is obviously the best situation for our team to move forward and not have to answer the questions,” Spezza said. “It would have been tough if we were to lose one or two games right away, then we’d be answering the questions about chemistry and locker-room issues, so I think this is the right move and it’s going to help our team out.”
Alfredsson and veteran defenceman Chris Phillips met privately with Heatley and said they realized that a trade was the only way to go, and the quicker, the better.
The teams also swapped 2010 draft picks, with the Senators giving up a fifth-round selection for San Jose’s second-round choice.
“I’d like to think (we’re better),” said Nick Foligno, who may get a chance to replace Heatley at left wing alongside Spezza. “I don’t think they would have made that deal if it wasn’t possible.
“We have two great guys coming in who want to be here and I think that excites a lot of guys in the locker-room.”
Earlier this summer, Heatley claimed he wanted out because of his unhappiness with his diminished role, particularly under coach Cory Clouston. Later, he hinted at personal reasons as the cause. In the end, he never did reveal why he sought a move.
“Not really,” Phillips said. “He was unhappy and we didn’t push him on that. That’s how he felt. He just wasn’t happy. I don’t think it was one thing or two things, there were a lot of factors that added to that. At the end of the day, that’s all that really mattered.
“There wasn’t anything we were going to be able to do to change that and for that reason, I think it was in everyone’s best interest that it did happen.”
Cheechoo, a 29-year-old native of Moose Factory, Ont., is scheduled to arrive in Ottawa on Monday night. The arrival of the Czech Michalek, 24, may not come until Tuesday because of customs paperwork.
Their addition, along with that of off-season signing Alex Kovalev, should give the Senators a more-balanced attack, a problem they’ve been trying to remedy for several seasons.
“I think we got two quality players,” Clouston said. “One has struggled a little bit more, Cheechoo, in the last year, but I think there’s a lot of reasons that you could put behind that. A new beginning will be great for him and I’m excited about Michalek. Hes a big, strong forward with a lot of potential.”
Cheechoo won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer after notching a career-high 56 goals in 2005-06, but has failed to show anywhere near that form since. His goal production in the past three seasons declined to 37, 23, and 12 goals.
He may get a chance to try and find some of the chemistry he shared with Joe Thornton in San Jose playing alongside a playmaker like Spezza in Ottawa.
“He’s a guy that I think could complement me very well,” Spezza said. “He doesn’t have the puck a lot, likes to score goals and gets to the net and plays hard. I think he’s a guy that with a fresh start, could do very well here.”