Kukla's Korner


Heatley’s “Homecoming” Must Be About The Message As Much As The Man

There may not be burning jerseys the way LeBron James inspired Cleveland, but if you look around Ottawa, Heatley’s return is definitely getting all kinds of rise out of the city.

How could it not? Usually people speak of Ottawa as the town without a tongue, voiceless government employees who seem to willingly give up their seats to transplanted Canadian divisional rivals’ fans, a small market team with small upside.

As players and coaches determine how best to play the game as much for the two points they need in the standings as for the irate fans in the stands and other matters currently less apparent, the reality of Ottawa’s passion — and the reason there is a need for it — is much different.

For this visit, you get everything. You get the Senators’ radio broadcaster, The Team 1200, putting on a twitter contest, #myheatleysignsays, and wind up with the full gamut, from classy to expected, with “Even Yashin thinks you’re a jerk” as the winner. They also reminded fans this morning that since Heatley left Ottawa wearing the ‘A’ he wanted atop his Senators crest, he left Ottawa an A-hole.

You get blog contests searching for the “real reason” Heatley just had to run from the city, my favourite number even striking the whispers I had heard from Senators’ staff. You get rants in forums and on the podcasts over at Sens Underground, great for building up your rage as you sit behind a desk. Erin Nicks, as astute a Senators writer as there is runs down the sadly predictable response in Ottawa, which could in itself get a rise out of some.

You get the Ottawa Citizen reminding us that Heatley loved his time in the city, if not on the ice, trying to quell anger and give questions forgotten answers. You get the Ottawa Sun sending mixed messages, as Don Brennan goads fans to let Heatley hear it — reminding them that his ex-teammates were confused when it came out, and some like Kelly want to see the fans’ signs and hear their frustration — while former Senator Jason York warns that Heatley is one of those elite players who succeeds because he has the Don’t Give A Crap factor to see him succeed through thick and thin. You get TSN running through some of the worst returns in pro sport history (at least Lindros set the Avalanche up for Cups when he refused to don a Nordiques jersey), and their quiz panelists last night wondering where Heatley would fit in.

Let him hear it.

Maybe he was spoiled, offered everything he asked for early in his final Canadian season, only to hate having to earn it when Clouston came on as head coach with a mission to get players to buy in and commit. Maybe it was Ottawa that leaked word of his request in order to quell inevitable fan displeasure foolishly before a trade, and maybe it was Dany going tit for tat in squashing a deal with the Oilers and refusing to be traded before Ottawa paid his $4 million bonus on July 1st. Maybe a hundred different theories are all right or all wrong.

Let Heatley and the Senators know what matters.

Fans should be irate as much because they feel it as to get Heatley’s lasting image as a spoiled individualistic player burned into the minds of Ottawa’s management and roster. It is one thing when a player simply cannot work within a system. While Heatley slumped from back-to-back 50-goal season to 41 followed by 39-goal seasons in Ottawa, to rise to 39 and now on pace for a 42-goal season in San Jose, Kovalchuk had averaged 43 goals per 82 game season in Atlanta, and is now looking lost, on pace for 14 in New Jersey. It is entirely another thing when a player believes that they are the coach, that they should dictate every aspect of the game to the coach for dissemination throughout the ranks.

Character is what Ottawa needs now.

Ottawa needs not one single more Heatley, Yashin, Daigle, Nikulin. Had draft and scouting interviews been done thoroughly, it could have been Daigle as the No.2 that no one remembers and Pronger perhaps letting his wife eschew Ottawa’s climate rather than Edmonton’s. Cap restraints, team needs, and talent gaps don’t make it less important to focus on the psychology of the player being acquired in any of these ways; it makes it and the consequences even more critical.

Ottawa can do without any more players who care not for the city, who care about the numbers in the bank and not the numbers in the stands, who think that they can dictate to any coach or GM how to manage and build a cohesive team. Brian Lee is a Senator not in that echelon, but his misfortune to dictate that he needed a one-way contract and was ready to out-compete Phillips, Kuba, Gonchar, Karlsson, Carkner, or Campoli for their roles shows a player who does not yet know the development path as well as managers and organizations whose jobs and futures depend on precisely that.

It costs nothing at all, and yet Ottawa should show Heatley and the fans nothing but players who buy in.

Whether it be at the drop of the puck or not, the first time and every time Heatley lines up at the face off circle, Clouston should pick his players carefully. Kelly, a lifelong Senator, wants to hear the fans and see their signs. Neil, another Ottawa lifer, criticized Heatley heavily after the trade, and like Kelly signed a long term deal for (while debatable how much) less money to be here. Ruutu remains one of the only Senators in the past three years who has not gotten a chance to see real time on the top lines or power play units, and yet does not complain or take nights off. Is that not exactly what Heatley should be across from, let alone his current teammates reminded of the stark contrast with that image that he represents? Spezza had his difficulties this summer, but he found a way to get by it, and also bought in to improving his success on the draw and taking time to re-learn the penalty killing craft. With Alfredsson as the consummate leader respected here and everywhere out of province, and should Michalek’s words are to be trusted as a thing of permanence and not publicity, would that not also help to subtly show the contrast?

As much as the players themselves, Ottawa needs to show a complete team game. Not only would it get a win, it would put on a show for Heatley and Ottawa’s fans, showing how teams can win consistently. Rather than take to the individual rage that may be burning in Neil’s mind, it should be every Senator seeking to finish one solid check on Heatley when the opportunity arises, rather than being manufactured, to echo that team notion. Seeing Spezza on the draw for a penalty kill, seeing back checking and forwards bailing out pinching defence men; every element of team play serves notice to Heatley, but more importantly to Ottawa’s fans and future employees.

In hockey, no Brett Favre, no Joey Votto, no LeBron James, no David Beckham can get you to the money games or win you a championship. It is a team game that is only 20 players seeing eye to eye can dominate. Tonight’s activities on both sides of the glass should not be solely to commemorate Heatley’s past, but markedly to define Ottawa’s future.

Even if that future is indeed set back a few years, thanks to that same Dany Heatley.

Thanks for the memories.

Filed in: NHL News, NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, Trades, | SENShobo | Permalink


Da lil Guy's avatar

I think it’s also worth noting that Heatley’s return should have been about a much needed 2 points as well.

The team really let down their fans and their coach last night in that respect.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 12/03/10 at 07:18 PM ET

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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net

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