Canucks and Beyond

In Defense of Dany Heatley (sort of)

07/02/2009 at 5:32pm EDT

One thing I was struck by yesterday as speculation unfolded on various signings, is that hockey fans and journalists are often very willing to believe the worst things about hockey players, and usually without any substantial confirmation that those things are true.

The Dany Heatley drama appears to be a grand example of this. Ask nearly any fan today what he thinks of Mr. Heatley and odds are he’ll tell you that the guy is a lying sack of waste who screwed over his team for greed and some kind of internal drive to subject the world to his brand of pure evil.

Here’s one comment found on this website yesterday…

I think I can say, without Hyperbole, that Heatley is worse than Hitler.

...maybe even Yashin.

Well, at least Senators’ fans can still muster a sense of humor. Nontheless, most of the rhetoric floating around seems to go off the charts.

And why? Well, the justification for this is clear, we’re told. First, Heatley went public with his desire to leave Ottawa. Next, he turned down a possible

escape

trade to Edmonton, making the situation infinitely worse.

However, being that I’m willing to give Heatley the benefit of the doubt, I’m also willing to believe in at least the possibility that there were other factors at play in the choices he’s made in the last few weeks. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that a goalie named Ray Emery was in the hot seat, getting blamed for all the destruction around him as his once-mighty Senators took an abrupt and unexplainable plummet into the crapper. And back then, everyone whispered all sorts of unsubstantiated and shocking gossip blaming Emery for the team’s fortunes.

But then Emery left and seems to have done reasonably well since then. And yet Ottawa is still… Ottawa.

So isn’t it remotely possible—just an tiny bit possible—that the problems in Ottawa might have more to do with the Senators organization itself than any one player? If so, then maybe Dany Heatley’s comments to Darren Dreger last night, implying he felt he was getting deliberately screwed around by the team, are at least reasonable from his point of view. (Not that I have any reason to believe he was, simply that I’m no more likely to let the Senators off the hook than I am to let Heatley off for this mess.)

On the other hand, Heatley is the one that made this public and that wanted out of a contract that HE willingly signed in the first place, so he has plenty of fault in this no matter what. And I’m not saying the Senators are the “bad guys” in this drama, either. Only that we don’t necessarily know the whole story. And since Heatley strikes me as a reasonably smart guy able to anticipate he’d look pretty bad in all this, I can only assume he felt he had good reasons to take this path.

Whatever the truth, it seems likely there’s far more back-story to this than simply “Dany Heatley is an evil psycho,” and everyone’s sanctimonious moaning about how terribly Heatley has treated the “poor Ottawa Senators” strikes me as an infantile over-reaction. At the end of the day, it’s just business, and conflicts aren’t unheard of in business, especially given the amounts of money at stake.

And given that this is such a very public industry, of course it’s bound to get messy on occasion.

So until some clever and gutsy Ottawa hockey journalist writes a tell-all book about Heatley and/or the Senators, I’m reserving judgment. And hoping against hope that a decent solution to this mess can present itself, since the only people anyone should feel sorry for in all this are the Senators’ fans.

Update 1pm PT:

Here’s a good overview story of this mess from Pierre Lebrun at ESPN. He tries to look at the chaos from everyone’s point of view (and does a nice job, I thought).

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