Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Heatley to San Jose? Not if recent history has a say

One of the stories that has dominated the hockey landscape this summer has been the Dany Heatley saga. Not long after a disappointing season last year (both for “The Heater” and the Sens), the story broke that Heatley wanted out of Ottawa.  (Hmmm, where have we heard this one before?)  A week and a half ago, Heatley reinforced his stance after staying silent this summer by clarifying to the media that “over the last two years and more recently over the past year, I feel my role was diminished. This past season, it diminished a lot more.”  The story has sparked plenty of headlines this offseason, from interest to outrage.  Apparently, Dany has decided he and current Sens coach Cory Clouston don’t and won’t see eye-to-eye on Heatley’s ice time (which was reduced after Clouston replaced Craig Hartsburg as head coach, and strangely coincided with improved play from the Senators). A potential trade to Edmonton went POOF! when Heatley vetoed the move to northern Alberta (ah, the joy of the no-trade clause), and Sens GM Bryan Murray has been unable to find another suitor with enough cap room or one willing enough to meet Ottawa’s asking price (and we certainly know one place Dany-boy isn’t going to).  Edmonton has since retracted their offer, and now the L.A. Kings have pulled their name from prospective destinations for the two-time 50-goal scorer.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast, another headline seemed to coincide nicely with Heatley’s reiterations. Recent rumblings of discontent rippled through the wire this past week when San Jose coach Todd McLellan stated to the press that the Sharks’ captaincy (as well as the assistant captaincies) will be up for grabs this training camp.  In short, Patrick Marleau no longer wears the “C” by the bay, this following an MVP caliber season. For now, anyway. Perhaps this could be a way for McLellan to shake things up for these perennial under-achievers, or there may well be a rift of some sort between coach and captain. The true answers will have to wait for what the future unfolds, but for now all that can be done is to speculate. And much speculation has indeed taken place.

Predictably, these two seemingly separate stories have somehow become inter-twined, as the rumor mill has been working overtime to perpetuate countless Heatley-for-Marleau trade rumors. Now, by this point, you can see where I’m going with this. “He’s about to propose a trade between the Sharks and Senators sending Heatley to the Bay and Marleau to the Canadian capital”, you say. “Could he be any more obvious?”

I will admit, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Marleau-for-Heatley deal happen. With the recent deal sending Christian Erhoff and Brad Lukowich from San Jose to Vancouver for prospects Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi (freeing up nearly $5 million in cap room for the Sharks), the buzz has intensified. But a straight-up for these two A-listers will require more maneuvering. Swapping Heatley’s bloated contract ($7.5 million) for Marleau’s ($6.3 million, in his final year of his current deal) saves Ottawa only $1.2 million. With the Sens currently $2.8 million OVER the salary cap (at least according to the most recent numbers I can find), additional purging must be done by Ottawa. Additionally, at a glance it appears San Jose will need to sign a few more players for depth for 2009-10 following the departures of Mike Grier and Marcel Goc, the retirements of Jeremy Roenick and Claude Lemieux, and the non-tendering of RFA Lukas Kaspar.

But all of this forecasting and prognostication leads me to this question: What ever happened to the big "one-star-for-another-star” trade?

One of the things I was expecting to see in the salary cap era was a little more creativity in the trading department. But the general managers of the NHL’s 30 teams have greatly disappointed me in this department. The majority of deals seen these days are salary dumps or out of desperation at the trade deadline. Sure, in several cases they fit a glaring need for at least one team involved, but the economics of the present-day game take into account getting “more bang for your buck” even more than ever. I’d think trading one proven star for another would be a wiser investment than dealing for middling players and prospects with promise and potential, but every scenario is weighed differently. Plus, most GM’s don’t seem to be willing to part with “sure things” in order to make the missing piece of the proverbial puzzle fit. And let’s face it, bloated contracts of under-achieving (or in this case, disgruntled) players are scrutinized even more than ever.

The vast majority of the trades in the salary cap era involving A-list superstars have involved sending mid-level NHLers, prospects, and draft picks in the other direction. It’s only fitting that Heatley was involved in the last true superstar-for-superstar swap when the Sens sent Marian Hossa (along with Greg de Vries) to Atlanta to get Heatley prior to the start of 2005-06.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the Joe Thornton-from-Boston-to-San Jose deal nearly four years ago, or the Hossa trade from Atlanta to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline two seasons ago just don’t have the same amazement factor to it, since an elite level player didn’t go in the other direction. I know GM’s today are always factoring in the maximum value they can get for a superstar, and Bryan Murray is undoubtedly taking this approach. But I can’t help but feel the longer Heatley stays in Ottawa, the greater the animosity will build in the Sens’ lockerroom. That kind of caustic environment in the clubhouse typically ends in a disasterous result on the ice, essentially ending the Sens’ season before it starts. Seems unwise to me to keep a malcontent player around, but I’ve been wrong about these things before. I can only see him giving his best effort night-in and night-out in an Ottawa sweater for the sole purpose of padding his trade value and marketability, enabling a quick getaway from the city he once rejoiced.

I guess I’m not necessarily advocating for a Heatley-for-Marleau trade. I could outline a number of reasons either for or against the deal. However, I really don’t care what the Senators choose to do with their disgruntled sniper. But I know I’ll continue to hear about it regardless of how this situation turns out. I’d simply like to see one of these ridiculous trade rumors come true. Brian Lawton aside (simply based on his inexperience), the days of the maverick wheeling-and-dealing GM seem to be dead. It’s disappointing to see the end of the era of the big trade. These re-runs of “Deal or No Deal” are a huge let-down, since we already know how they will end.

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