In the face of putting out my first blog on this site and being subsequently torn to shreds by the readers, I'll say what some of us are probably thinking at this point - I miss Dany Heatley. As much as we cast stones at the one-dimensional douchebag over an entire summer (and we continue to do so a year and a half later), the Ottawa Senators have now dropped to 29th in the NHL in goals scored in his absence. Was he a weak body for someone of his size? Yes. Was he a poor skater for someone of his skill? Yes. Was he a terrible back-checker for someone of his salary? Again, yes. He was never going to be the captain of this team and his salary crippled us in our ability to fill gaps around the lineup, but he sure as hell could score. And when his career is over, pundits might look back at his trade demand out of Ottawa as one of the smartest things that he will have ever done.
It isn't something that we think about much, both because we've blocked it out of our minds and because our focus is on the current state of this steaming pile that we call our Sens, but I'm wondering if Heater was right. Let me paint a picture for you - Cory Clouston is promoted as an interim coach to salvage some pride in another lost season, this one at the expense of Craig Hartsburg. The team has been written off for the year when, all of a sudden, some unknown workaholic with a healthy salad and the name Clouston is promoted from the innards of the organization and is now running the show in Kanata. With little pressure, Clouston manages to lead the team on a very respectable run to close out the season, earning himself a contract extension and losing the 'interim' status. It worked in Pittsburgh with Dan Bylsma, right?
But all was not well in the locker room of Scotiabank Place. One player, who just happened to be our most highly compensated staffer, saw something that we didn't. While his teammates and his fans were giddy with anticipation for a new slate of 82 games, Dany Heatley stood up in Bryan Murray's office and said 'trade me the hell out of here'. I don't need to recap the details of that summer, so instead, let me ask you something that hasn't been brought up before: Did Dany Heatley see something that we didn't? Over the past two years, he has held his ground that his trade demand was a hockey-only decision and that he didn't like his role on the team. I know how much we hate the guy, but is it at all possible that he saw some major and tragic flaws in the new coach? Let's give Heaters some credit - he has played a ton of high-level hockey in his career and played for many coaches in the NHL and on the international stage. It is conceivable to me that he just realized that Clouston was implementing a short-sighted system and had too hard-nosed of an approach and that it would one day all blow up. As Senators fans, we now have to admit that this has most definitely blown up, right? Our team is on the fast track to a lottery pick while Heatley continues to enjoy some success (or at least some easy living) in Silicon Valley. Clouston is now turning into the fall guy, there are rumours that he has offended many players in the dressing room, the on-ice product is almost as bad as it has ever been in this building, and there is no sign of actual hope for this season or for Clouston's job.
I want the focus here to stay on Heatley and the state of the Senators over the past two years and not a piece on Clouston's job stability. I'll say this - his contract is up and he'sabout to miss the playoffs with a team that is spending to the cap. To expect him back behind the bench next fall is about as likely as John Muckler being brought back in to clean up the farm system.
But back to my point - how much of Dany Heatley's trade request was based on his own selfishness of being the go-to guy and how much of it was based on him seeing that our organization was being run down by a coach that might not be cut out for the big time? I know that isn't fair to Clouston and he still has a winning record, but his on-ice product right now is just a total mess. If Heatley knew that he couldn't succeed in this system and that the team would toil in mediocrity for the duration of his long-term contract, why not get out?
Another point that Heatley made on his way out was that the Sens were a team built on the old guard (clearly referring to Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips, Mike Fisher, and to a lesser extent Chris Neil and Chris Kelly) and that the new guys can't crack the code. Again, did Heatley see something that we were too giddy to notice? Are our veteran players equally responsible, along with the coaches, for this continued freefall? My colleague, Mark, just asked the question on Tuesday about who our leaders were in Ottawa and even noted that Heatley may have had a point. I adore Alfredsson and will cry like a baby when he retires, but his leadership was a major point of controversy in Ottawa up until he scored the winner in Game 5 against Buffalo. Phillips and Fisher were always seen as untouchables (up until a few weeks ago) simply because they were good Canadian kids that actually wanted to play in Ottawa and because we fans have traditionally overvalued our own guys. Did Heatley see that these weren't guys that could win the big one?
When the dust finally settles on this era of the Senators, and make no mistake that it will one day end, how will we define the organization? Up until this point, we had the expansion years of insane amounts of losing, we had the Jacques Martin years of dominant regular season teams that flopped in the playoffs, we had the John Muckler years (tail end of the Jacques years) that consisted of building for this year's playoffs and not a minute more, and we have the Bryan Murray years. We will probably talk about how Murray restocked the cupboards (which I will argue to anyone that we have no way of proving this yet, outside of Erik Karlsson) and how the team stunk. The more I try and take a step back to see the forest for the trees, the more I wonder if Dany Heatley saw this and got out of Dodge. I wonder if Dany Heatley signed a contract that he didn't want to sign and then used its no-movement clause to get out of here basically as a free-agent. We hate the way he did it but did he save his own career by leaving? Jason Spezza hasn't been the same player without Heatley, right? Heck, Spezza even tried to get out of Ottawa last summer, but seemed to step away from that ledge after a drama-filled summer and some long phone calls with Bryan Murray. I'm not suggesting that I like Heatley or that I forgive him for the way he handled his trade demand, which truly set our organization back five years. I'm just suggesting that perhaps the bum knew this was coming.
The young stars want out, the old guard is getting older, and the only one that will be standing on top at the end of this will probably just be Dany effing Heatley. And I think he saw it coming all along.