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The Dany Heatley Situation

Since the news broke earlier this week that Senators scorer Dany Heatley has requested a trade out of Ottawa, the rumors have spread, messageboards have exploded and fans of every team have taken a look at whether the supposedly surly winger and his sweet scoring touch could possibly be added to their roster.

Hey, it's summer, why not us, too? Might provide a break from listening to Red Wings fans oscillate between bragging about how fucking great their team is and then complaining about how bad their team is playing. And then complaining about how they get no respect and then complaining about how their team can't finish off the Penguins. And then vehemently defending their imploding city and then bitching about how bad things are in their city.

You know, the usual garbage.

In an email chain directed to all of the hockey bloggers of the SBNation, the guys over at Silver Seven, the ground zero of Dany Heatley news notes, rumors and the refuting of stupid trade proposals, posed the question: would your team be interested and have the assets available to trade for Heatley?

As the responses rolled in it became very obvious that the vast majority of NHL teams fell into one of two categories; they either couldn't afford him or they didn't think he'd fit their current team make up (the Islanders, for instance, are the Blues of 2005 and as full-scale rebuilders would gain nothing from adding him). What also became obvious was that the Blues are one of just a few teams that have the opportunity to even consider the move (the Wild and the Oilers being the other two that immediately stand out). As such, we figured we'd break down all the factors and open up the forum: could the Blues land Dany Heatley? If they can, should they?

First off, what does Dany Heatley bring to the table as a hockey player? 

  • Heatley is an explosive offensive player. He has scored at least 39 goals a season in every year except for his 31-game effort in 2003 and his rookie season (when he scored 26 with the Thrashers). He has tallied 50 twice recently ('05 and '06) and has been a top-10 scorer every season since the lockout.
  • Heatley can also play the playmaker, as he has more assists in his career than goals (283 to 260; totaling 543 points in 507 games).
  • Heatley is 28 years old so he has several good seasons ahead of him left. He is currently signed for five more seasons at $7.5 million per season. The contract is pretty heavy (it would be the largest on the Blues' roster), but is likely worth it in the short run. The big question is what $7.5 million is buying you when Heatley hits the age of 32 and beyond. Can he maintain a scoring pace that justifies that paycheck or will he be a giant anchor on the team's payroll?
  • One troubling note is Heatley's down year last season. Excluding his injury-shortened (an infamous car-wreck induced torn ACL and MCL, among other injuries) 2003 he just completed his worst season offensively since his rookie year. To put a little perspective on the 'down' year though, his 39 goals and 72 points would have been first and tied for first (with Brad Boyes) on the Blues this season.

Clearly, on paper Heatley looks like a player who could fit on the Blues' roster, which brings us to the next consideration.

Would the Blues want Dany Heatley?

  • The Blues have need for more offense. The Blues ranked 19th in the league last year, averaging 2.77 goals per game in the regular season (and just 1.25 per game in the playoffs).
  • The Blues have the depth in their developmental pipeline to trade assets required for a deal of this nature. Several years of drafting early and often have given the team more potential top-two-lines/top-two-pairings
  • The Blues could have room under the cap. The Blues' current cap number is around $46 million (with contracts still to be decided on RFA players Jeff Woywitka, BJ Crombeen, Roman Polak and UFA players Keith Tkachuk and Brad Winchester) and may find that they don't have a lot of room to move (thank you economic downfall!) but could likely maneuver to make the cap numbers work. Heatley's addition would undoubtedly mean that at least one of the aforementioned forwards isn't brought back and could mean the departure of one of the high-priced defensemen is cast off in the same deal or a different one.
  • The Blues ownership has a desire to add another name player to the roster. Paul Kariya's signing sold season tickets, jerseys by the bushel and energized the casual fan. Adding a player like Heatley to the lineup would have a similar effect.

There are reasons Heatley could come to St. Louis, but what of the intangibles?

Is Dany Heatley a good teammate? Would he fit the chemistry of the current Blues team?

When Heatley was drafted second overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2000 there was nothing but positive press for the youngster. What's not to love of an energetic forward who had excelled at the University of Wisconsin and at the WJCs? After a great rookie campaign in 2001 (26 goals and 67 points) followed by a breakout season in 2002 (41 goals, 89 assists in 77 games), Heatley's seeming summit-bound career in Atlanta ended suddenly with the life-ending and life-changing crash of his Ferrari and the death of his best friend and teammate Dan Snyder.

In a move that couldn't really be judged too harshly, Heatley requested a trade out of Atlanta the following summer in order to escape the scene of his worst life experience. The move sent him to Ottawa where he had his best statistical seasons.

Now, just four seasons later, Heatley wants out of Ottawa. This time the reasons sited are a clash with the new coach and with the emerging style of the team. More pessimistic fans will say that he wants to get off a sinking ship, as the Sens missed the playoffs this year for the first time since 1997 and look to be rebuilding rather than making a serious Cup run anytime soon.

We asked Peter, the main man over at Silver Seven Sens to tell us about Heatley off the ice and what story isn't told by his impressive statistics. What kind of man would a team acquire if he was added to the roster. His answers are telling:

  • Dany Heatley's offensive production speaks for itself; there's no sense wasting time talking about them, he can put up points like the best in the league. Away from the puck, though, his play has left something to be desired--particularly in the last two seasons. Aside from short periods of good all-round play, Heatley's backchecking has been severely lacking, and a lot of Senators fans have gotten pretty sick of seeing him cruise into the offensive zone with his stick raised, just waiting to be set up by Jason Spezza for a one-time shot. Don't look at him to try and recover the puck in the offensive zone, either, if he continues playing as he did while with Ottawa.
  • Off the ice, Heatley's a pretty hard nut to crack. He's not usually open to the media, so it's hard to know how he stands at certain points. When he signed the contract, it seemed he had bought in to the Senators' system--he took a relative discount by signing for a $7.5M yearly average, asked for (and was given) a no-movement clause, and signed long-term. Going into the year, he spoke with now-fired Craig Hartsburg about taking on more of a leadership role on the team, and was named an associate captain.
  • Heatley had a well-publicized rift with new coach Cory Clouston late in the season last year, although he did attempt to smooth it over heading into the stretch run. At the end of the season, he made some unpopular comments about how he felt his season was actually "pretty good," despite the fact that his stats plummeted and the team missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. It rubs fans and managers the wrong way when a player talks about his personal "success" when it pales in comparison to the team's lack thereof.

Interesting comments all, especially considering the Blues' team-first, blue collar attitude (historically and recently). A player who goes harder one way than the other isn't unknown to thrive on this team (Boyes, Kariya), but can the team afford to add another one?

Finally, what would the Sens want in return for Dany Heatley?

Anyone who spends more time watching real hockey deals and less time giving credence to fantasy hockey deals knows a couple things for sure with any deal for Dany Heatley: While Ottawa can likely take on some salary in the deal, they are not going to give up one of their good three (expensive) offensive weapons in order to take on someone else's older offensive (expensive) weapons. They are going to want to expend one asset in an attempt to spread out their talent and get younger.

In other words, don't expect Paul Kariya to be part of any legitimate trade offer. Don't expect Fragile Jay McKee to be part of the offer. Do expect one or two of the promising prospects to be offered up. Don't be surprised if a guy like Barret Jackman, who has a good salary and a good reputation, to be the kind of veteran that gets added into the deal.

More on that later. Again, we asked The Silver Seven Sens what their team is going to want to get back for No. 15:

1. Ottawa has plenty of mid-level defensive talent, but they still need a #1 d-man.
2. Ottawa is reportedly looking to fill out the forward lines with 2-3 top-nine forward, including one (or maybe two, now) top-six forwards.
3. Ottawa's farm system is pretty bare, so prospects--especially good forwards--are valuable.
4. High draft picks are always good.

With that, we have all of the appropriate pieces in place to evaluate whether the Blues could, and should, get involved in trade discussions for Heatley.

Why it could happen:

  1. As discussed, the Blues ownership has shown a propensity to go get a big name to help energize the fanbase.
  2. The Blues need an offensive catalyst; Brad Boyes has been streaky as a scorer, and Kariya's numbers have skewed more towards assists than goals since 2002. Heatley's shoot-first mentality would be a boost.
  3. Blues GM John Davidson has said it publicly: when you draft as well as they have since 2005, you wind up with more good players than you have space for on the pro roster. Some of them have to be packaged and moved to capitalize on your investment. Management may determine that a player like Heatley doesn't come along very often and is worth throwing assets at to acquire.

Why it won't happen:

  1. The Checketts regime has never been up against the salary cap and has spent too much money on Kariya ($6 million), Jay McKee ($4 million), Eric Brewer ($4+ million) and Barret Jackman ($3.6+ million), leaving them wary to pay a guy another $7.5 million a year.
  2. Andy Murray has gotten a lot out of his team by preaching two-way play from everyone, though certain stars are held to a more relaxed standard. can the team afford another guy who doesn't always cover his assignment in the defensive zone?
  3. Heatley has gone from college hockey good guy to malcontent who requests a trade every four years. Is his supposed bad attitude media spin or a legitimate concern?

What's it going to take?

If the Blues are involved in the discussions, and we have to believe that a phone call will be made by one of these teams just to test the waters, what will be the right combination to make a deal happen?

In order to give the Sens a deal that they can sell to their fans, the Blues will have to give up a combination of help for this year and help for the future. The Sens have had their once-dominant defense decimated by free agency and would love to see some help there (something that incidentally helps a rebuilding team stay in some close games). Of course, any time a team unloads an offensive star, they'll want to see a forward back that they can sell as a budding scorer/playmaker.

Of the top young players on the pro roster, who's available and who's untouchable?

Brad Boyes (27, $4 million for 3 years): touchable. Potential to be great, but has the potential to go silent in big games too.

David Backes (25, $2.5 for 2 years): untouchable. Too much potential and too much gained from keeping him last year when he got the big RFA offer. Power forwards are hard to acquire, so when you grow one, you keep him.

David Perron (21, $918k for one year): touchable. We hate to say it, but Frenchie is an asset that could be moved. He's highly coveted and highly skilled, but he's due for a big pay raise next summer and will likely always be a great second liner, never a great first liner. The year he scores 50 goals and 53 assists like Heatley has, we'll admit we were wrong for once.

Patrik Berglund (21, $1.2 million for 2 years): touchable. Shocking, we know. But while Berglund looks like a future top line pivot, he's still a wild card in the physical NHL. As good as he was some nights, there were others when he was marginalized. Is that rookie learning curve or not? We doubt he'd get moved, but we just doubt he's truly untouchable.

TJ Oshie (22, $1.2 for 2 years): untouchable. The unmitigated most popular Blue and a future leader of this team, Oshie is likely the least available player on the entire roster. He sells tickets and jerseys, he scores pretty goals and sets up easy ones, he hammers soft-assed huge bitches like Rick Nash and he loves Jack In The Box's Buttermilk Ranch sauce. If you trade him you might as well burn down the arena too. If Ottawa asked for Oshie straight up for Heatley, which they wouldn't, the Blues would politely say 'no thank you.' He's that important to the team on and off the ice.

Carlo Colaiacovo (26, $1.3 for 1 year): touchable. The change of scenery worked to perfection for Colaiacovo, but as a puck moving blueliner who will have to fight for a spot with Erik Johnson, Alex Pietrangelo and Jonas Junland over the next few years, Carlo could find himself as a movable piece, especially considering his contract status. He probably won't get moved in this deal due to his pending UFA status; the Sens want guys who are locked up.

Jay McClement: Not what the Sens are looking to get back.

Alex Steen: Not a key piece to a deal like this, but could be thrown in.

Barret Jackman (28, $3.6 for 3 years): touchable. A player that management deemed untouchable just a year ago, Jackman could make a nice 'now' piece of a trade proposal. Still just 28, but with solid veteran leadership and nasty to play against, Jax is the most moveable of the overpriced group of Blues defenders. The fans have turned on him a bit in the vacuum that appeared when Eric Brewer got hurt, but as a Blues draftee, there are good reasons to want to keep him around.

Roman Polak (23, RFA): touchable. Polak could be a true draft steal for the Blues as he proved to be stud on the blueline as a rookie last year and none of us want to see him leave, but often that's just the kind of player who gets included in deals like this. He's good, underrated, cheap and young. Exactly why we want to keep him and exactly why others would want him.

Erik Johnson (21, $3.7 for 1 year): untouchable. Despite the knee injury that kept him out of the lineup all year, EJ is here to stay. Players like this don't come along every day and the price that was paid by the franchise and its fans to 'earn' the number one overall pick is too steep to let him go away.

Now, of the youngsters in the system, who's untouchable?

Alex Pietrangelo: touchable. The fourth-overall pick and potentially best defenseman in the 2008 draft will be exactly the kind of player the Sens will be asking for in a Heatley trade. With Johnson, Junland and Colaiacovo all under the age of 26 and all adept at running the point, letting Pietrangelo go would be costly, but not devastating. Plus, adding him probably saves the team from trading another high-end asset.

Lars Eller: touchable. At this point, Eller and Patrik Berglund are one and the same; slick playmakers with top line potential. That said, it'll be hard for the Blues to keep both forever and impossible for them to get rid of both. If a team is interested in one, the other becomes untouchable. If the Sens want Eller, Berglund assumes the untouchable tag. That said, Berglund is the known commodity of the two at this point because he has had success in the NHL, thus making Eller a touchable, and valuable, asset.

Ian Cole: touchable. Much like the Eller/Berglund situation, Cole and Polak are one and the same. If the Blues believe Polak is a top-end stay-at-home defender for the next decade, and his success in his first year is compelling evidence, then Cole becomes a very valuable and touchable asset.

Aaron Palushaj: touchable. A future scorer on a top-two line, Palushaj is also expendable. Despite success in college, there's no guarantee he'll earn a top spot in St. Louis, especially considering that the top six spots will be held down by some combination of Boyes, Backes, Oshie, Perron, Berglund and/or Eller for the foreseeable future, even without some potential Heatley deal. Besides, he's a valuable asset.

Phil McRae: touchable. St. Louis Blues heritage or not, McRae represents yet another Palushaj argument: will there be space for him when he is ready for the NHL?

So, where do we stand?

The big question that this possible trade raises is who do we expect these youngsters and prospects to become? If you're like us, you look at the collection and see a lot of great young players in the system...but no true game-breaker superstars. Of the forwards, is there a 50-goal scorer in the bunch?  Can any of Palushaj, Oshie, Perron, Backes, Boyes, Eller or Berglund ever become an impact player on the level of Dany Heatley?

How much do you give up for 28-year-old Dany Heatley? What's the proper gamble?

It's apparent that the Blues have too many prospects for the future top two lines/pairings. Someone will have to be traded at some point in a quantity-for-quality deal. Is now the time? Is Heatley the guy?

The comments are your forum to play GM, but we'll throw out a chart to get you started. Think of this as a way to put together three players in the proposal. Pull one player from each column to build your own offer. The chart is not meant to be read across the columns, but rather to mix and match the three components we feel will have to be in any legitimate offer: one really interesting player, one player who can help fill out the current Senators roster and a player who will add to the depth/prospect pipeline.

A: The Flash B: The Meat and Potatoes C: The Extra
Alex Pietrangelo Carlo Colaiacovo Philip McRae
David Perron Barret Jackman Aaron Palushaj
Lars Eller or Patrik Berglund Roman Polak Jonas Junland

Is Heatley the right guy at the right time, or is he a little too old and a little too costly? Sooner or later players will be packaged to try to bring in an impact player. If not now, then at least within the next couple of years. We've laid out the basic framework of this available player. What are your thoughts?