Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Morning After

How did you spend your Tuesday afternoon? If you visited this blog during that time, I think you know my answer to that question.

Yesterday was one of the strangest, and yet most exciting days in the short history of the Ottawa Senators. Let's look at how it went.

At 6AM, I made this post. It didn't look like a deal between Marian Hossa and the Senators was going to be reached, and their arbitration hearing would go on as scheduled.

At 10:30, news broke that the Senators and Hossa had agreed on a three-year, $18 million contract. There was no real consensus opniion from Sens fans, as it was still sinking it.

At 12:30, having sat on the news for a whole two hours, I made this post dissecting where the Sens now stood. I was not optimistic.

And then, at around 3PM, the rumor hit. The Sens and Thrashers were swapping H's. Heatley for Hossa. Oh, and a defenceman was involved. Chaos ensued. Who was it? Wade Redden? The two likely candidates were Greg de Vries and Chris Phillips. de Vries was the accepted choice, but party poopers like James Mirtle rained on my parade with news it was Phillips. No dice, James. A few hours later, the deal was made official. Dany Heatley was an Ottawa Senator, and Marian Hossa was headed south.

Though it's become trendy to bash Hossa as of late, and to an extent with good reason, it would be unfair not to recognize what he's done for the team. As a six year veteran of the team, his evolution as a player has often mirrored the growth of the team. As he got better, so did the Senators.

To say Hossa was a popular player within the team would be an understatement. He was a vital part of the nucleus, of the chemistry, and maybe, that's been the problem. Though this trade was originally seen by most, myself included, as motivated by salary, it could be that there are some actual hockey issues behind this deal.

Maybe this was a shake up?

Senators GM John Muckler walked into a team that, though having stumbled in the post season, was regarded as a success. They had gone through GM after GM, and through it all, managed to remain a top team always considered as being on the verge of greatness. Jacques Martin was accepted as the brainchild of Ottawa and the architect of their achievements. Even though I'm sure he had the desire to put his fingerprint on the team, it was the correct move for Muckler to sit back and follow Jacques' plan.

All bets were off, however, when the Sens were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by their usual assailants the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was the opening Muckler needed to make his moves. Gone was Martin, replaced by Ottawa area native Bryan Murray who, by all accounts, has a coaching philosophy that's the complete opposite of his successor. Gone was Radek Bonk, the local media's whipping boy and scapegoat for playoff failures of years past, though not without good reason. In his place as the new #1 center was young phenom Jason Spezza, who seemed to have a fixed address in Martin's doghouse, never quite allowed to be off his leash. And gone was Patrick Lalime, replaced by one of the greatest goalies in NHL history.

Apparently, that wasn't enough of a shift.

Moving Hossa, one of the main figures of the team, tells the locker room that things will change. That it is a new era.

It's also impossible to ignore the obvious message this sends to the team about negotiating. They will not tolerate being strong armed. The reality is obvious: Hossa, despite his pleas in the local print media about loving Ottawa and wanting to stay, priced himself off the team. He wanted to be paid like Jarome Iginla and Joe Thornton. He also wanted to remain a Senator. He couldn't have his cake and eat it too. The sad truth is that if he truly wanted to stay in Ottawa, if he was as determined to win here as he says, he would've taken less money.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be paid what you perceive you deserve. But it can't happen with this Ottawa team. John Muckler hinted at this finality last week, when he said captain Daniel Alfredsson will be the highest paid player on the team at $4.6 million. Hossa tried to call his bluff and go beyond that. He's now in Atlanta (well, probably Slovakia, but you get what I'm saying.)

You'd think Hossa and his agent, Jiri Crha would know all this, but they proceeded with their gameplan of securing top dollar, and yet, seem to be surprised at the end result. Crha contends that when he and his client signed the deal with the Senators early Tuesday morning, he had no knowledge a trade was in the works. In most pro sports settings, sign-and-trades involve the player. Hossa seemed to be out of the loop, and Crha indicated in an interview with The Score cable network Tuesday evening that Marian was upset and disappointed by the news. A few hours earlier, he thought he had hit the jackpot, in the city he wanted. He had to be on top of the world. Now, he was on the move, gone from a team full of his friends.

A related part of this is that it might sour relations between Crha and Muckler. Since Crha also represents Zdeno Chara, this could be a problem. But let's hope they're professionals about it.

As I talked about yesterday, Hossa's public demands soured a city previously enamored with him on #18. He went from one of the most well liked players, cited by Sens fans as among the best in the league, to a villain whose weaknesses as a player were magnified on blogs like this and on message boards across the Net.

Listening to The Team 1200 yesterday, and hearing caller after caller gush about how happy they were with this trade, I was somewhat disheartened. Here was someone who did a lot for this team, and because of one misguided summer, has tarnished his otherwise sparkling legacy as a Senator.

They lamented about his poor playoff performances. It's possible I was watching different games than these people, I guess, but the last two playoffs, I thought Hossa was one of the most consistently strong Senators. Even in games where he didn't score, he always generated chance after chance.

They say, he didn't have heart, forgetting the image of Hossa, sitting on the ice of the Corel Centre in the moments after game seven of the 2003 Eastern Conference finals, dejected beyong belief with tears in his eyes, all with the New Jersey Devils celebrating in the background.

They say he wouldn't pay the price to win, conveniently chosing not to remember the moment late in that same game, the score tied 2-2, when he went crashing to the net after a loose puck, getting crotched by the post. This was seconds after he was crosschecked to the ice by a Devils defender. It looked like he was throwing caution to the wind and sacrificing his body, and specifically a part of his body we all know is important, to get that deciding goal.

I realize we're supposed to hate Marian Hossa right now, but let's not start rewriting history. This is a fantastic, albeit now maybe somewhat overpaid, player who accomplished a lot for the team. A team that, I genuinely feel, would not have reached the heights it did without him. Were those heights as high as they should've been, with no Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters? Maybe not. But I truly believe it wasn't because of a lack of effort.

The accepted, and somewhat alarming rationalization for why Hossa has no heart is that he's a European. This blog has had this discussion previously, with disasterous results - a right wing conservative called me a socialist for suggesting that those who question Daniel Alfredsson's captaincy do so due to an inherent bias against non-North American players. I hate this logic, despite its prevalence, and whenever I hear it used, I almost always tune that person out. Yesterday, that had to happen a lot.

However, despite his best efforts and all the talent in the world, Marian Hossa could not take the Senators to the top. That team as a whole couldn't. Muckler began dismantling it in late June of 2004, and made his biggest move more than a year later. Anytime you let a superstar calibre player go, it stings, but maybe changes, drastic changes, needed to be made.

I'm sure Marian Hossa will have tremendous success in Atlanta. They seem to be a team on the rise, and there are some pieces already in place, assuming Ilya Kovalchuk isn't too upset about the trade to come back, that will allow them to continue to grow as a franchise. Talented players like Hossa will prosper regardless of where they are. Whether or not he'll do for the Thrashers what he couldn't for the Sens and win the team a Cup remains to be seen. Despite the sour note he ended his run as a Senator on, I think most Sens, deep down, past their initial feeling of resentment and anger, are sad to see such a gifted hockey player leave town and likely wish him the best.

Of course, the player we're getting back, he's not too shabby either. In fact, the city has been abuzz for the last 15 hours with excitement about his arrival. Dany Heatley could run for mayor of Ottawa and win with ease. And he hasn't even played a single shift in a Senators uniform.

Since the trade, there has been debate ad nauseum about who comes out the victor, but it seems to me that it depends on one thing: which Dany Heatley the Senators are getting. Is it the Dany Heatley that won a Calder trophy, scored 89 points in '02-'03, was the All-Star Game MVP, and seemed to be on the verge of superstardom, or the Dany Heatley that struggled to regain any momentum when he came back from the accident?

Heatley's history is well documented, and I'll leave it to someone else to discuss the merits of what happened, but it seems to have had a tremendous effect on the on-ice Dany Heatley as well as the one who exists away from the rink. He hasn't been the same player since.

Since Heatley requested this trade, feeling as though a change in setting would benefit him, it's more than likely that he's all too aware of this, and felt the only way to get off that track and start fresh would be to relocate. Atlanta, despite all his early success there, probably isn't his favorite city in the world. Too many memories.

Beyond the emotional baggage that he brings, there are also ones of the physical nature. Many report his knee hasn't fully healed, commenting that it seems like he lacks that fifth gear in his stride he previously played with. The vision in his left eye is said to be diminished. Will these factors contribute to whatever success he will or won't have in Ottawa?

John Muckler seems to be betting that the answer is no.

''I have no doubts in my mind that he's going to get back to where he was before,'' Muckler said of Heatley. ''It's going to be a great challenge for him to come to Ottawa and show that he can play at the elite level that he once did.''

This is what will determine who truly "won" this trade - though most teams will likely prosper out of it. If Dany Heatley does in fact return to his old form, it'd be hard to argue that the Senators didn't come out smelling like roses. Heatley is two years younger than Hossa, bigger than Hossa, stronger, plays a more physical style, and is $1.5 million cheaper.

The salary cap implications of this trade are obvious. When they signed Hossa, and still had Greg de Vries, their payroll was approximately $38,545,000. With Heatley and his new contract, they're at about $35,244,000. Muckler, like most GMs, has wanted to cap himself at around $37 million, giving the team some wiggle room as far as injuries and trades go.

Now, the team has roughly $2 million to work with. Though most of the premium free agents are off the market, there are some names still out there that might work as far as suring up the line-up. Vincent Damphousse, Andrei Nikolishin and Scott Young up front, Jason York and Jason Woolley on the back-end. Not franchise players to be sure, but adding a veteran at the right price, on a short term deal, wouldn't be the worst idea right now. I'll leave the rest to the Eklund's of the world.

In addition, no longer having the albatross that would've been Hossa's contract around their necks, as well as de Vries' somewhat hefty deal, the Senators now appear to be in a great position to secure the remaining core players. Last week, they said they had approached Wade Redden and his agent about renewing. Zdeno Chara can't be too far off. While a month ago, it looked like a given that one was going to have to go, and fans began debating which world class defenceman was the better choice to keep, it now seems as if both will continue to have bright futures in Ottawa.

In short, they've looked to the future without neglecting the present.

24 hours ago, things were looking pretty bleek for the Senators past this year. That was most definitely the perspective held by Sens fans I read, listened to, and spoke with. A new day, a new outlook. My how quickly things can change.

I also want to thank everyone who visited the blog yesterday, as it was, far and away, the busiest it's been in the month or so that I've had this little hobby going, and especially to the people who contributed comments. It made waiting those couple hours or so, as this story went from a crazy rumor, to a historic moment, a whole lot more fun.


At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great summary. Atlanta gets a player who’s going to pay benefits right away. I think Heattey is still in some ways a work-in-progress – even without the accident and injuries, he’s never played on an NHL winner or in a market where hockey is #1. Sports radio callers had me laughing. On one side, it sounded as if Heatley was stopping at the Hall of Fame to pick up the Cup and bring it to Ottawa for his news conference. On the other, a few callers lamented the loss of Hossa because of his defensive play, and decried Heatley as too offensive minded. Hmmm…maybe the same callers who accused the team of being too defensive-minded in the past? Overall, I think Hossa is a superstar, but Heatley has the potential to be an elite player. Should be an interesting season.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Darthsens911 said...

I am now really interested in what type of line up the sens will go with. Will it remain with Havlat Spezza and Alfredsson on the front line and have Heatley on the second line or does that once again limit Havlat's ice time and keep him on the second...OR...does Alfie go down to the second line and keep his reserves for powerplay and penalty kills?

Also, just started my own blog about sens hockey... check it out if time permits...

At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering ALL factors, this is a great trade for both.
We will miss Hossa for sure but the time had come to move on. It's a business above all else...hossa showed that to us himself... I think getting Heatley in return is fantastic. I think he'll fit right in.
Good blog by the way

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Darthsens911 said...


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