The Ottawa Senators are having a bit of an attendance issue in the early part of this season and Tuesday night's result in Philadelphia certainly won't help put more people in the seats.
However, there will be a 2-for-1 promotion for Wednesday's home game against the Minnesota Wild.
No, there won't be a discount on tickets for this game, but fans will get a chance to boo two villains for the price of one. And considering how ornery and agitated Sens fans are these days, this could be a perfect outlet to vent their frustrations.
Dany Heatley and Matt Cooke roll into town as members of the Wild, meaning they would only need Alexei Yashin to centre their line to make it the most hated visiting trio in Sens franchise history.
Based on recent history, Heatley and Cooke could very well be Villains 1 and 1A for the Sens fan base. So which player will receive the louder boos tonight?
Let's analyze the case for both Heatley and Cooke.
The Dany Heatley saga is well-documented in this town, after the sniper demanded a trade in the summer of 2009. He cited a "diminished role" under head coach Cory Clouston as the catalyst for his departure.
When Heatley made his first return to Ottawa on December 2, 2010, he was clearly public enemy No. 1 in this city. The Ottawa Sun ran a headline that screamed 'Suck It Up Princess' and was accompanied by a large photo of Heatley with a super-imposed baby pacifier in his mouth. The sub-headline elegantly stated 'Heatley still loved by children…….in Africa.'
Roy MacGregor had the following passage in his Globe and Mail story that day, which perfectly captured the sentiment of the city towards their former hero.
"Dany Heatley screwed up the federal by-elections. Dany Heatley is causing area house prices to drop. Dany Heatley is behind this week-long spit that passes for weather around here…Welcome to Ottawa on Dany Heatley Day in the nation's capital, the day the San Jose Sharks leading scorer gets blamed for, as the Bible might put it, every little sparrow that falls."
That night, fans showed up with old No. 15 jerseys that had the Heatley name plate altered to just spell "H-A-T-E". At one point during the game, a handful of fans came down and threw Heatley jerseys onto the ice in a staged protest. Urinals had Heatley action figures in them, giving a new meaning to the term number-one winger. Ottawa has never had an evening quite like that and unfortunately for the home team, Heatley and his Sharks skated away with a 4-0 win.
But since leaving Ottawa, it's not like Heatley has made Ottawa fans wish he stayed. His goal production has diminished in each of the last five years, going from 39 to 26 to 24 to 11. And last night at the Bell Centre, he scored a meaningless goal with only two seconds left in regulation time – only his third marker of the season. And for a player who once complained about his role on a team, it's interesting to note that Heatley is playing only 14 minutes a night this season under Mike Yeo, marking the lowest ice time of his NHL career.
Heatley is no longer a front-line player in the NHL and, with his contract expiring at the end of this season, it will be interesting to see how many offers he receives as a free agent. Ironically, this is the final year of the six-year deal he signed with the Sens in the fall of 2007. The terms of that contract called for him to receive a $4 million bonus on July 1, 2009, which the Senators grudgingly paid, even after Heatley had demanded a trade and refused to accept one to Edmonton.
Owner Eugene Melynk was so incensed with that turn of events that he filed a grievance against Heatley and that case was only resolved in the past couple of weeks, although the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
So the book on Heatley is virtually closed for Sens fans. It seems like the pitchforks and torches have been put away and the hatred towards Heatley has been replaced with some level of indifference.
Matt Cooke could receive the lion's share of boos tonight because the wound he caused is still fresh in the minds of Sens fans. It was only nine months ago that Cooke's skate blade sliced the achilles tendon of Erik Karlsson in a game at Pittsburgh. At the time, Karlsson was arguably the most dynamic player in the game and since coming back from the injury, he has only shown flashes of his former brilliance.
This will actually be Cooke's fourth visit to Ottawa since the incident occurred and when he returned for his first visit in April, there were 'Wanted' posters that were circulating with his name and face on it. Sens fans wanted Cooke to pay for his recklessness, with some suggesting he deliberately caused the injury. Even Eugene Melnyk went on the record to say he would consider launching an independent investigation into the matter to prove that Cooke's actions were intentional.
To Cooke's credit, he faced the media and answered all of the questions about the incident and adamantly denied he purposely tried to slice Karlsson's leg. And to Karlsson's credit, he completely downplayed the situation when the two faced off in their second-round playoff series last spring. The Sens defenceman likely holds some deep-rooted anger towards Cooke, but he has done a very good job of masking it and trying to defuse the situation.
Still, Sens fans and management can't help but wonder how good Karlsson would be if that incident hadn't occurred. And if Karlsson never regains his Norris Trophy form, Cooke's ranking on the villain list will stay firmly at the top.
If I had to place my bet, I would think that Heatley would receive more boos than Cooke – if only because the fan base still hates the fact that he demanded a trade and had five years left on his contract. And in the case of Cooke, you can make the argument that what he did was an accident; whereas Heatley's decision was calculated and intentional. Both players had a negative impact on the Sens franchise, but only one of them was on the team's payroll when he chose his course of action.
But while the Heatley vs. Cooke argument is debatable, we can probably agree on one thing: If the Sens don't play well tonight, they will be the ones getting the loudest boos from the hometown crowd.