McKenzie: Heatley situation likely to get ugly

Bob McKenzie
7/2/2009 12:48:38 AM
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Now what?
Where Dany Heatley and the Ottawa Senators are concerned, it's a good question.

Heatley did not waive his no-movement clause by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on July 1. The Senators, therefore, are responsible for making a $4 million bonus payment to Heatley and that expenditure cannot be transferred to another club should he be subsequently traded.

So while the Senators had a deal agreed to with the Edmonton Oilers that would have sent Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid to Ottawa, that $4 million expenditure is now likely to alter what the Senators expect to give up or get in return for Heatley, who had requested a trade because he wasn't comfortable playing for Ottawa head coach Cory Clouston.

Sources close to the Senators say the decision on how to proceed now will ultimately fall to team owner Eugene Melnyk, who won't be happy having had to invest $4 million in a player who doesn't want to play on his team. Or that Heatley demanded a trade and then when he was offered one, he turned it down.

There are some practical ways to offset the $4 million. For example, if the Oilers were inclined to do it, the Senators could send additional players to Edmonton whose salaries come close to equaling $4 million. Jason Smith and Christoph Schubert, for example, are scheduled to make almost $3.5 million between them this season. If the Senators were inclined to include them and the Oilers were amenable to taking them, there are ways around the thorny financial issue.

But to even get to that point, the Senators would have to want to accommodate Heatley's trade request – that will now be Melnyk's call – and Heatley would still have to be agreeable to waive his no-movement clause and unless Heatley likes the destination, and thus far he hasn't shown a strong affinity for Edmonton, that may not happen either.

In other words, this whole thing is now in uncharted and turbulent waters.

Heatley was wooed by Edmonton Oiler ownership and management in Kelowna just hours before the Senators' self-imposed "deadline" but at the end of the day, literally, he just wasn't comfortable making a commitment at that time.

Might he change his mind about Edmonton in the days ahead? Only he knows that.

All he knows is that he wasn't prepared to work to the Senators' timeline on the trade and felt there may have been other options beyond Edmonton that could be explored as his new home.

The Senators, meanwhile, angrily counter that no other team in the NHL showed the interest that Edmonton did and now that the acquisition price is likely to be higher because of the Sens will feel the need to recoup some or all of the $4 million payout, there's even less of a chance of another team stepping up to the plate.

Both sides in this messy, nasty dispute, which is only going to get more bitter, believe they have some leverage. Maybe the only thing they could agree on at this point is that Heatley playing in Ottawa this season appears to be an untenable situation. The Senators' fans have branded Heatley public enemy No. 1. It would be very difficult for Heatley to go back into the Sens' dressing room and line up alongside his teammates after having demanded a trade. The Sens would suggest it would be beyond uncomfortable for Heatley to return to the team. Heatley could argue the same thing on the flip side, that the Senators could no more tolerate his presence in the lineup than he could.

So the prevailing thought is that, at some point, the Senators will have to cut their losses and perhaps make an inferior deal (to Edmonton's offer) that Heatley would find acceptable, just to rid themselves of their problem. That, though, presumes that the Senators' ownership and management are more concerned about practicality than revenge or making an example of Heatley.

Either way, it's likely to get ugly.

Heatley knows that and knew it when he made his decision and understands he's not going to win any popularity contests.

The Senators know they will likely have the support of the public and much of the hockey community, but that doesn't help them a bit in solving the problem of what to do with Heatley and how to dispose of him in a constructive fashion.

In many respects, this reminds one of the old-fashioned contract holdout battles that used to be commonplace in the pre-lockout NHL, where a player would often sit out a good part or all of one season to back his demands. Heatley, of course, is under contract but the dynamic of the player versus the club in what both now perceive to be a battle of principle – Heatley's right to exercise his no-movement clause as he sees fit versus the club's right to conduct its affairs as it sees fit. In those days, the player almost always won those protracted battles because the individual always seemed to have more willpower and stubbornness to stick to a position than the club.

Whether that proves true here remains to be seen, but one certainly gets the feeling we're going to find out.

Bob McKenzie


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