5-Years Later: Revisiting the Dany Heatley Deal

Yesterday it was announced that Dany Heatley signed a one-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks worth $1 million.

There are two natural responses to this bit of news: 1) Is Dany Heatley still playing hockey in the NHL? And 2) I guess we can write off the Anaheim Ducks as the 2014/15 Stanley Cup champions.

It has been five-years and one month to the day that Dany Heatley infamously demanded a trade from the Ottawa Senators but hardly anyone in the nation’s capital is bitter towards yesterday’s news.

It is just that this fan base has absorbed so many stomach punches since the time of his trade request that Heatley’s name doesn’t even push the needle any more. It helps that Heatley’s game and numbers have predictably fallen off a cliff since he turned 30 years of age.

Keeping the latter fact in mind, you would assume that the Senators wound up winning the trade because of the huge financial commitment that the Senators made to Dany Heatley – signing him to a six-year, $45 million dollar extension following the team’s Stanley Cup appearance in 2007.

At the time of Heatley’s trade request, I expected the Senators to win simply on the basis that any forthcoming trade would bring about a philosophical shift in the organization that saw them go from trying to desperately prevent their window of contention from closing to one in which they could aggressively rebuild and restock their farm system with assets and young talent. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

While a Spezza trade would bring in some assets and cap flexibility, I think it’s the wrong play. Instead, I’d rather see the team approach Dany Heatley about waiving his NTC. I know, on the surface, the notion of trading the team’s best goal scorer might not be the smartest idea. Especially since I was criticizing the Senators lack of secondary scoring. However, unlike Spezza, you would net a better return because of Heatley’s name value and past production. A perfect trading partner could be LA because with Frolov’s impending FA status, they’ll need a winger to compliment Kopitar. If Ottawa could use Heatley and a defenceman to net a package including Oscar Moller, a pick and a prospect, would you do it? What if I told you that the team could reallocate Heatley’s $7.5M salary on one or two players? What if I told you that the last time a player scored 50 goals and won a Stanley Cup in the same season was the 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche team?

Oscar Moller?!?!?! What the hell was I thinking?!?! At last check, Moller is still playing hockey in Europe and I suppose there is still time for him to make a NHL career for himself, but at least my belief that the Senators had to shift gears and move forward with rebuilding movement were well-meaning. It also may have also been a little ahead of the curve. It would eventually take the Senators two more years before they started purging their roster of veteran talent for young assets – even if that purge was short-lived. 

Although the Heatley trade could have been the perfect mechanism to start rebuilding, the Senators wound up with a package including Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek and a second round pick that wound up being dealt for deadline rental Andy Sutton.

Here is a table breaking down the components of the deal:

Dany Heatley Milan Michalek Jonathan Cheechoo
Games played 356 314 61
Goals 112 (T-34th) 96 (T-69th) 5
Points 248 (54th) 180 (T-138th) 14
Total salary from 2009/10 through 2013/14 season $35 million $23 million $3.5 million + contract bought out for $600k

The interesting thing about the money owed to Heatley was that he was paid $8 million for the 2009/10 season, but $4 million of that salary was paid by the Ottawa Senators as part of a bonus that due on July 1st.

The Senators were able to find a suitor before this bonus was due, but the Edmonton Oilers were an organization that Heatley refused to waive his no-movement clause for.

As this deadline came and passed, the Senators were left on the hook for that $4 million bonus before finally moving Heatley to his preferred destination in San Jose.

Eventually this bonus and Heatley’s trade request would become the focus of a contentious grievance that would be settled by the two parties before it was heard by an arbitrator. The Ottawa Citizen reported that details of that resolution are secret, though it doesn’t sound like like much, if any, money will be changing hands.

In essence, the whole transaction wound up being pretty close to even money. The Senators wound up paying $31.1 million for Michalek, Cheechoo and half of Dany Heatley’s first season in San Jose versus the $31 million that Heatley was paid by other clubs.

Fortunately for the Senators, Michalek was a younger player, so he’s aged more gracefully than Heatley – which would makes Ottawa better now than they would have been had they held onto Heatley for the duration of his deal. But, in signing Michalek to a three-year extension worth $4 million per season, the risk of diminished returns for the now 29-year old winger are substantially much higher.

Why the Senators won the deal:

- The Senators may have completely wasted their acquired second rounder on Andy Sutton, but his acquisition did lead to this moment:

- The Senators made out better than anticipated with Michalek’s productive 2011/12 campaign in which he piggybacked Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson’s productive campaigns.

- The organization would probably be quick to point out that they were able to retain Michalek for an additional three years. Even though the money perhaps could have been spent more wisely.

Why the San Jose Sharks won the Deal:

- In his two seasons in San Jose, Heatley scored 65 goals and 146 points before wisely realizing that he was slowing down and it might be in the team’s best interests to move him before other teams caught on. Say what you want about their inability to capitalize during their years of Cup contention, but Heatley was a productive player for them

Winner: Dany Heatley

It’s hard to discern who really won the deal for both teams when the Sharks failed to win a Stanley Cup and the Senators failed to acknowledge that it might be in their best interests to get more young future assets than desperately cling to their chance to vie for a playoff position.

The real winner out of all of this was Heatley, who got exactly what he wanted – a one-way ticket out of Ottawa.

Other News and Notes:

- Sportsnet has confused Derek Grant with Alex Grant, writing that the former has signed a one-year, two-way deal worth $700,000

- In an interview with the Senators’ website, Jared Cowen talked about the impact that his hip surgery had on his play last season.

Yeah, it didn’t bother me so much with pain but the hip effects everything and it’s so important for hockey players. If it was tight it would effect something else in my body and I couldn’t not worry about it and play, I always had to worry about that and make sure I was as healthy as I could be. It was always in the back of my mind.

Considering that Ottawa is investing a lot of faith in Cowen’s ability to bounce back this season, the concern for whether Cowen’s surgically repaired hip will ever allow him to fulfil his projected potential is very real.

- Matthew Coller of ESPN Insider (note: paywall) ranked David Legwand’s contract as one of the honourable mentions for this summer’s best offseason deals.

“A quality veteran at the tail end of his prime, Legwand is still a playmaker and solid two-way center. The Senators may end up being a below-average team, in which case they can cash in this team-friendly deal ahead of the trading deadline.”

- Former Senator Brian Pothier was elected to the RPI Hall of Fame and yeah…

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