When the inevitable Dany Heatley trade went down last summer, it seemed as if the Ottawa Senators had done about as well as they could in procuring Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek and a swapping of draft picks from San Jose in exchange for the perturbed sniper.
Nearly a quarter of the way through the 2009-10 season, we know this now to be untrue. Heatley is doing what he always has, scoring at more than a point-per-game clip for the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. And while Michalek will struggle to eclipse his 57-point total from last year, it is the cratering of Cheechoo’s numbers that must be particularly vexing for Sens management.
The former Rocket Richard Trophy winner (56 goals in ’05-06) is currently tied in Sens scoring with enforcer Matt Carkner and defensive forward Shean Donovan with three points through 17 games (and Donovan has actually only played 10). Cheechoo’s ice time has dropped precipitously since the beginning of the campaign and he is currently averaging less than 13 minutes per game. The notion he would effectively replace Heatley on Ottawa’s top line with Jason Spezza is pretty much shot right now.
So what happened? After all, Cheechoo is only 29 years old and despite sustaining a couple injuries in the past, he’s certainly not fragile. Is it possible the pride of Moose Factory, Ont., is finished? I never want to say that about a player who is supposed to be in the prime of his career, but it’s not without precedent.
Jimmy Carson’s NHL career got off to a flying start, as the main piece of the Wayne Gretzky trade put up 104 goals and 207 points over two seasons. Carson did so as a sophomore with the Kings and a third-year player with the Oilers, but the offense was only there for a good time, not a long time.
By the time Carson was 27, he was out of the NHL, having forced a trade from Edmonton to Detroit, then Detroit back to Los Angeles. He also made stops in Hartford and Vancouver along the way.
But Cheechoo doesn’t seem to have the same attitude as Carson did; from all appearances, he’s an easy-going guy. So would it be more accurate to say the Ottawa right winger is more of a Warren Young type?
Young, lest you forgot, rode shotgun with Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh during The Magnificent One’s rookie campaign. As such, Young posted 40 goals and 72 points in 1984-85, totals he would come nowhere near in the rest of his short NHL career.
In Cheechoo’s case, it’s hard not to make the case Joe Thornton was his gravy train back in San Jose. The Hockey News did several stories on Cheechoo and Thornton’s post-lockout connection and perhaps it should have been obvious only one could survive without the other.
Back in 2005-06, Cheechoo rang up a multi-goal game once every 4.5 contests while playing with Big Joe. Without him, Cheechoo had averaged one every 24.4 games. In the 12 games San Jose played that year before they landed Thornton, Cheechoo scored once in 12 games; afterward he had 25 in his first 29.
Since then, Cheechoo’s point totals have dropped, going from 93 that first season with Joe to 69, 37 and 29. He’s on pace for about 13 this year.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope Cheechoo can pull himself back up and become at least a 25-goal scorer again. In order to do that, he must get back to what made him dangerous in the first place; a sick wrist shot and great 1-on-1 skills. With the Senators out of the playoff picture right now and San Jose flying high in the West, it’s all Ottawa fans can hope for at this point.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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