I've held off writing about the Dany Heatley saga. I've tried to get past Heatley--to move on in my hockey life--and for a while it worked. Back in 2002, I invested a lot of hope in Heatley and Kovalchuk. There were the twin cornerstones of the Atlanta Thrashers future. The two guys the team would build around as it became a playoff club and perhaps a Cup contender someday. Years later the future of both players is uncertain as Kovalchuk is now less than a year from becoming an UFA and Dany Heatley has asked for a trade.
But Dany Heatley broke my heart in more than one way. His reckless actions killed one of my favorite young Thrasher prospects, Dan Snyder. I had watched Snyder play in the both the AHL and NHL and was really looking forward to his first full year in the league. I remember being woken in the early morning and being told that there was a serious accident and two players were badly injured. I remember waiting on pins and needles as Snyder was in the intensive care unit right next to Georgia State University. One of my students asked me "what happened to you, you used to be so up beat?"
After Snyder was gone everyone grieved. Everything that could be done to make the healing process begin was done. The Snyders were unbelievably forgiving. The courts let Heatley off lightly. The management and team worked to facilitate his return. Things might have gone much differently for Heatley if he had played in another city and for a different organization. Heatley had his NHL career handed back to him on a silver platter.
At the end of the day, Heatley asked to be traded. After abandoning his Swiss team during the lockout and suffering an eye injury he skipped off to play in Russia. Then he returned after the lockout and asked to be traded. In retrospect, the Thrashers did very well to keep it quiet and to get a quality players like Hossa in return. But just like that, the face of franchise was gone.
He arrived in Ottawa and gushed about how great it was to play in a city that loved hockey and from what I can tell showed very little appreciation for the fans, organization and teammates in Atlanta that stood by him. For example, the Atlanta Thrashers drafted up a press release in which Heatley "thanked the fans" for their support and Heatley deigned to acquiesce to its release.
The truth is that very early on Dany Heatley showed signs of being the spoiled athlete--the sort who populate most major pro sports. The NHL is blessed with an large number of down-earth guys, but Heatley is clearly not part of that camp. And now the rest of Canada is catching on to this.
After Heatley asked to be dealt this summer, his team hammered out a blockbuster deal with Edmonton. The Oilers brass made a pilgrimage to personally visit Heatley and asked him to "pretty please, won't you come play in the frozen tundra on northern Alberta?" But Dany told them he "wasn't ready to make a decision just yet"--which is a less honorable way of saying "no."
And so now, after all these years, the Canadian media are drawing out the knives. When Heatley was riding high scoring 50 goals for his Ottawa Senators nobody noticed that he was a jerk. When he was playing and scoring for Team Canada in International hockey tournaments people were willing to look the other way. But now that he has embarrassed two hockey cities north of the border (Ottawa, Edmonton) the columns are flying.
Terry Jones (Ottawa Sun) writes:
There are no mirrors in Dany Heatley's world. My way or the highway. And my road map.
There's no empathy for the people in Ottawa who bought the tickets and wore his jersey, no feeling for the fans in Edmonton who spent all July left twisting in the wind while their community took another image hit from a hockey player who wanted the bright lights and/or warmer weather of some larger, non-Canadian, no-pressure market.
"I regret the way it's been this summer. It's been a tough summer. It hasn't been fair, especially to Edmonton and Ottawa. But that's the way it went," said Heatley.
Yeah, that's the way it went, Dany. It's all about you. Not about anybody else anywhere else.
"It's nothing to do with Edmonton personally. Edmonton is a great hockey city. It has nothing to do with Edmonton. We want options. I need options to make the right decision. To this date there's been one option and only one option," he said, adding that Edmonton wasn't on his initial list.
Jones carries the cross for fans in both Ottawa and Edmonton, but doesn't mention how Heatley did the same thing to fans in Atlanta. He didn't ask to be traded out of Atlanta in 2005, he asked to be released outright. A release would have made Heatley an unrestricted free agent in his early 20s. It would have made him very rich and allowed him to play in whatever city he wanted. Hmmm, sounds eerily like Dany Heatley's expectations circa 2005. The funny thing is that almost nobody in the Canadian Press remembers this because they were all too busy writing fawning stories about Heatley "coming home to Canada" and how he was "trying to turn the page" on the death of Dan Snyder. But now people are seeing Heatley's antics for what they are--the diva turns of a spoiled hockey prima donna.
Dan Barnes (Edmonton Journal) bores in on the inherent selfishness of the situation:
It went that way because he has decided he cannot play for Clouston, who was the head coach for exactly 34 Senators games last season. Heatley's role on the team was diminished by about two minutes worth of ice time per game once Clouston took over for the fired Craig Hartsburg, as Heatley was occasionally relegated to the second power-play unit by Clouston. That the Senators went 19-11-4 under Clouston apparently mattered less to Heatley than did his own stats. Yes, indeed, he's a team guy. Ask everyone. Well, except Clouston, perhaps.
About the only Canadian journalist who appears to remember anything about Heatley's departure from Atlanta is Scott Burnside. He recalls that back in the pre-accident days Heatley appeared to be the stable franchise player and Kovalchuk the mercurial enigma--but years later those labels have clearly reversed.
Local writer Jeff Schultz of AJC.com correctly points out Dany's father Murray has not always been a positive influence on his son's NHL career. Murray Heatley played in the WHA and German League. I don't know if Murray Heatley feels he was cheated in his own pro hockey career or not. But it appears to observers that he is one of those sort who thinks a pro hockey player should get all the chicks and money while the getting is good. Sometimes the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
And so Heatley goes on breaking more hockey hearts. A man who professed a desire to play in Canada has rejected a hockey mad city like Edmonton. He has embarrassed the Oilers management who publicly pursued him. He has probably alienated the Oiler players who have been identified as part of a potential trade. He certainly has put up a wall between himself and his Ottawa teammates and fans. He might even have cost himself a spot on Canada's Olympic roster with his actions. Folks north of the border have learned that selfish does not respect international boundaries and insolence doesn't care what jersey you wear.