Thrashers’ good fortune: Kovalchuk’s here, Heatley’s gone

Dany Heatley is neither stable nor great any more. (AP photo)

Former Thrasher Dany Heatley is neither stable nor great any more.

Question: How screwed up does somebody have to be to demand a no-trade clause in his new six-year, $45 million contract extension, only to ask for a trade one year into the deal, only to then reject a trade because he doesn’t like the team he was going to be dealt to?

This is a hockey blog. But non-hockey fans, hang with me here for a minute because this crosses over lines for all sports.

I covered the Thrashers in their first three seasons. If there seemed two absolutes about the franchise’s future, they were this: 1) Dany Heatley would be their captain and leader for several years to come; 2) Ilya Kovalchuk would be their wonderfully talented but volatile scorer for years to come. And if the team ultimately had to choose one over the other somewhere down the line for financial reasons, it figured to be Heatley. He would become one of the faces of Atlanta sports.

Never could I have imagined that Kovalchuk would end up being the more stable of the two.

Kovalchuk has evolved. Heatley has devolved. He has become the selfish, immature athlete that he once contrasted. Logic dictates that some problems stem from the psychological scars of the car wreck. But this goes beyond that because in his first two seasons with Ottawa, Heatley had two 50-goals seasons and totaled 208 points. He has slid ever since. This past season, he scored the fewest goals (39) and had his worst plus-minus (-11) since his rookie season in Atlanta.

Granted, the Senators’ organization is a dysfunctional lot these days. (Think: Auburn.)  But that doesn’t explain everything. He has been given bad advice from his long-time agent, Stacey McAlpine, and his father, Murray Heatley, has been like the overly meddlesome little league dad, even going back to Heatley’s early days in Atlanta.

In May, Heatley quietly asked for a trade. He claimed it was something about ice time. In June, it leaked out. Ottawa balked but eventually worked out a trade with Edmonton, which Heatley rejected because, it’s believed, he wants to play for San Jose. Heatley has gone from hero to villain over night in the provinces. It’s so bad that Canadian Hockey, before a pre-Olympic camp, persuaded him to do a media conference call Friday after seeing him go in hiding for two months.

Heatley sounded foolish Friday. He defended himself as a “good guy” and a “team player.” Yet he complained about playing time.  When asked if he believed his reputation and character had been damaged by two trade requests (first the Thrashers, then Ottawa), he said, “I don’t worry about questions about my character. The two trades were completely different circumstances. Coming out of Atlanta was a life decision, an off-ice thing. This trade is pure hockey.”

Actually, Dany Heatley used to be pure hockey. That’s what made him a joy to watch. Now he’s something else off the ice and less of a player on it.

Kovalchuk has gone in the other direction. Go figure.

75 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly Deluxe

August 21st, 2009
2:40 pm

Sometimes you just never know things will turn out.

Russ

August 21st, 2009
3:03 pm

Jeff, you are right on regarding Heatley. If he does get traded, what is the over/under until he requests his next trade, about 6 months? Let’s hope the Thrashers can get Kovy signed to a long term contract (unlikely IMO) and that the selfish SOB Heatley never hoists the Cup.

Art Vandelay

August 21st, 2009
3:04 pm

Wait — you mean the Thrashers didn’t move to Hamilton?

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2009
3:08 pm

Russ — Thanks. I’m not as pessimistic on Kovalchuk re-signing as I used to be but I wouldn’t say I’m more than 50-50 either. Certainly doesnt appear like anything’s imminent.

Art — No, not unless the “we’re moving” email got caught in my spam filter.

Ed-Covington

August 21st, 2009
3:09 pm

No mention that the Thrashers ended up with nothing to show for the Heatley trade, abd that Kov. has indicated that he may leave after this season.

PMC

August 21st, 2009
3:14 pm

Oh but he’s right Jeff. Good guys always kill thier friends then run off to avoid the situation and do thier “public service” in Canada then generally act like world class douchebags…

He’s definately a “good guy.” I can see why anyone would want to employ him… seems like a wonderful guy for team chemistry…definately not a me guy.

Hopefully the Sprit did enough to get Kovy to resign… they did get Antropov afterall that’s got to be a plus and he’s the captain.

lee

August 21st, 2009
3:17 pm

yeah, i think waddell is gonna get a little break. now he needs to think about bryan. i don’t think anything should happen soon with anyone but bryan little right now. now this is what gets me…..do we hav enough? i cant decide. yes nikky is good, but wat happens if kovy or nik get’s injured. we really don’t hav a good backup. i think we should snag someone when we r 20,000 under our sal cap.

i personaly do not think heatley is gonna get far. he is selfish and all he wants is money. now all hockey players want to lift the cup. but it seems like that heatley’s scale is tipping from hoisting the cup to selfish and unreasonbility.

nice blog schultzy

ML

August 21st, 2009
3:26 pm

I am a Senators fan but let’s be realistic. Whether or not Dany Heatley wants to play for Ottawa or not, is not going to change my day to day routine. I am not going to say he is a “SOB” or a baby because when it really comes down to it, I just do not care what Dany Heatley wants or where he plays. I have bigger things to worry about than someone else’s choices.

lee

August 21st, 2009
3:27 pm

hey guys i know this is random and off topic but who r the falcons playin this weekend???

Heckler

August 21st, 2009
3:27 pm

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

THIS ARTICLE SUCKS SCHULTZ!!!!!

Heckler

August 21st, 2009
3:28 pm

YOU COULDN’T WRITE YOURSELF OUT OF A SECOND GRADE ENGLISH CLASS!!!!

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

Toby

August 21st, 2009
3:32 pm

ML – Then why are you on a hockey blog?

PMC

August 21st, 2009
3:33 pm

Lee, the ST Louis Lambs… tonight at 8:00

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2009
3:35 pm

PMC – excellent point about doing public service in Canada, not Atlanta, one I’ve made before.

Lee – Thanks. And Little’s not going anywhere.

ML – Wow. You must be the Canadian hockey fan who still has perspective. Then again, you don’t live in Toronto. 

Lee – Uh, yeah, well, the Rams tonight. Back on topic: St. Louis hockey team is the Blues. (see how I did that?)

Heckler – I think I had you in my second-grade English class. You were the 13-year-old, right?

Toby

August 21st, 2009
3:38 pm

Jeff – Good job on 790 yesterday. Mike needs to realize that there is a great hockey market to be found in Atlanta…its just that even the die hard fans are just sick of crappy hockey and crappy ownership.

It would seem though…so far…this off season is different. Great draft followed by a great free agency followed by the ownership ruling.

Oh….Heatley is a baby. The presser today just dug the hole deeper for Ottawa.

Heckler

August 21st, 2009
3:38 pm

I WAS IN THE SAME SECOND GRADE CLASS AS YOUR MAMA SCHULTZ!!!!!

lee

August 21st, 2009
3:42 pm

thx.

i’m happy that kovy is happy and we can forget about the past about dany and can continue on.. really, y do other teams care about heatley’s probs, i mean he really doesn’t need to scream it out to the world.
heatley is a good guy and all and i know the snyder controversy happened, but really, let’s face it, kovy is a better player and person.

lee

August 21st, 2009
3:43 pm

heckler, calm down.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2009
3:44 pm

Toby — Thanks. I hear ya on the fans. But the louder people are — whether in emails, blogs, sportstalk — the more attention the sport will get. But I also understand there’s a chicken-and-egg thing.

lee

August 21st, 2009
3:45 pm

toby, right there with u. i tired of crappy ownership and playing too and i’m a die hard hockey fan too. i need this whole loserville thing to stop.

Darkhorse

August 21st, 2009
3:50 pm

Good blog Schultz. I hope we continue to see Kovy evolve as a well-rounded player and leader. Just hope it continues here.

charliedawg

August 21st, 2009
3:57 pm

Go figure. I am with you on this one. Four years ago, I would never have guessed that Ilya would be Tom Brady and Heatley would be Terrell Owens.

Surprised you did not get a jab in at DW.

aaron @ the outsider

August 21st, 2009
3:58 pm

Nice column, Jeff. The fact that Kovy has ended up a principled dude is my argument against the idiotic idea that he wants out of here as fast as he can. Maybe Heatley’s leaving helped Ilya in his maturation process. Either way, we *are* fortunate the right player stayed.

BugKiller

August 21st, 2009
4:06 pm

Hey Jeff, you tell me:

What do Billy Knight, Don Waddell, and Willie Martinez have in common?

Howard

August 21st, 2009
4:09 pm

Jeff…no response to this column…but did want to touch back with you since you answered my comments on your recent Ky. basketball soap opera. You have come up with a great idea to pose to your readers…to come up with an appropriate title for the huge Kentucky-Louisville basketball showdowns (do they play twice in regular season??) You would get a ton of hilarious reader responses. It’d be great reading indeed. Maybe you could run it like a contest.

Nativebird

August 21st, 2009
4:18 pm

I guess the same inner voice driving his recent decisions is the same one that told him to “step on it” the night of the wreck. Self-control and Thoughtful Consideration are attributes that some have real struggles with. Especially spoiled and worshipped-since-they-9-gifted athletes.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2009
4:22 pm

CharlieDawg – Nice football analogy (although I don’t think Heatley has invited the media to watch him do situps in his driveway yet).

Aaron – Kovie wants to win. If he doesn’t think that will happen here, he will not re-sign. It’s a different situation than Heatley in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the fact that he’s at the end of his contract and DH just signed a huge extension.

Bugkiller – None of them drafted a point guard?

Howard – It’s filed away.

JRY

August 21st, 2009
4:25 pm

I am amazed that Heatley has “devolved” so much also! Who knows why, but your father/agent reference sure reminds me of another player that did not stay at a consistantly high level… Eric Lindros.

P.S. Great slam on “heckler” I hope he understands since it wasn’t in all uppercase.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

August 21st, 2009
4:49 pm

BugKiller, none were appreciated for the fantastic job they did?

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

August 21st, 2009
4:51 pm

JRY, reminds me of Robo QB, dad got in the way of that guy or was it Al Davis. Speaking of father/agents, I wonder how good the Williams sisters would be today if the father got out of the way?

Tim

August 21st, 2009
4:53 pm

Ed in Covington – Here’s a list of significant things/players the Thrashers got for Dany Heatley:

1) A really good player (Hossa) who helped get the Thrashers into the playoffs.

2) Then, after Hoser went mercenary, they got Colby Armstrong. Armstrong was the most popular player on a team with Cindy Crosby/Sydney Crotchby. He’s the opposite of Dany Heatley… average talent but superior leadership and character. It’s doubtful that he would have driven a Ferrari down a city street at 80+ mph… but if he had, he would have been man enough to stay and face his demons. Yeah… I went there!

3) They got Angelo Esposito, potentially a very good player, in the same deal.

4) Lastly, Heatley’s departure created a “face of the franchise” / leadership void that Kovy has grown into quite nicely. I find myself speaking about him like a proud father sometimes. He’s a family man who wants to stay here, in part because his family likes it here. He’s a leader who would rather lead this team through a building process than cherry pick his way to a Stanley Cup. I’m going to write to Mark Messier (if Kovy signs an extension). Hopefully Kovy will be considered for the Mark Messier leadership award next year. It’s rare these days that such a gifted athlete would choose the hard road over the easy one. Is it possible that Mary Jane Hossa is reading this?

Buzzeng

August 21st, 2009
4:55 pm

I see Dany continues to exhibit the same poor judgement that he used while driving in Atlanta. Will this guy ever learn? It certainly doesn’t appear so. I hate to see such talent coupled with bad character – it gives all professional sports a bad rap because of the few bad apples that get more than their fair share of press for all the wrong reasons. Right on, though, Jeff, thank goodness we kept Kovy!! Go Thrashers!

Thrasherville

August 21st, 2009
5:00 pm

FIRST!! Oh, wait… Thought I’d have more time.

He wants to go to the Sharks until the playoff window closes on them, then he’ll want out of there too… Eventually he’ll end up in Calgary or the ‘couv. They can have him. He was fun to watch when he was here, but now even the Canajians know why we were booing him when he returned. It wasn’t because he left, it was the WAY he left. He didn’t ask to be traded out of Atlanta, he asked for an unconditional release so that he could go where HE wanted to go… Now he’s in OT asking to be traded then rejecting that trade because it’s not where he WANTS to go…

JS- What’s your take on players (in any sport) playing out their contracts? Heater, Roddy White, or anyone? You signed a deal, honor it???

Ed-Covington– We have Coby Armstrong out of the Heatley trade.

All I'm Saying Is...

August 21st, 2009
5:00 pm

What I know about Hockey summed up in few posts:

Atlanta Flames: One of the all time coolest team names that also fit the city very well (in a manner similar to the Miami Heat).

Heatley: Given one of life’s all time great opportunities to redeem himself for his stupid actions resulting in the death of a team-mate and friend, he goes on to emulate “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Waddell: How does this guy keep his job? Is it because of apathy on the part of the Atlanta Spirit or Atlanta hockey fans? Both? Inquiring minds want to know (okay maybe just one inquiring half a brain).

Thrashers: Lose Kovy and they have no pulse and thus no reason to live.

Canadiens use to rule hockey. Red Wings recently were kings of the ice. Is it now the Penguins turn?

And I still can’t believe two U.S. based teams battled it out for the Cup….which means that maybe hockey has a window of opportunity to have its ratings rise and become truly meaningful if we can get Pittsburgh and Detroit to go back and forth in the Finals like they did the last two years.

LET’S GO THRASHERS!

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2009
5:00 pm

JRS — nice reference to Lindros’s dad. Heatley’s father isn’t quite as high profile obviously but he was a thorn in Thrashers’ front office.

Thrasherville

August 21st, 2009
5:01 pm

Tim- Espo is 3 months from being officially considered a bust. Lets just stick with the Armstrong angle…

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

August 21st, 2009
5:02 pm

As for Heatly, I think Eastwood said it best in Unforgiven “It’s a hell of a thing killin a man. Take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have” Things like that you never get over.

Tim

August 21st, 2009
5:03 pm

OOPS! I forgot about Eric Christensen. Please forgive me, his stay here was very forgettable after all.

Sergeant Schultz

August 21st, 2009
5:12 pm

Jeff:

Spot on post. I remember how hard he played & how much he HUSTLED when he first arrived here. But unfortunately he has, as you say devolved. I hope things work out for him, on & off the ice.

P.S. It’s never too early to start hating the Rangers!

Andre Arshavin

August 21st, 2009
5:18 pm

“You are who your friends are”. Heatley is Kovy’s best friend in the NHL. ;-) Kovy used to say “One day we gonna play in one team again.”

Bat Masterson

August 21st, 2009
5:23 pm

I went to a Thrashers game once, a plantation owner buddy gave me a couple of free tickets. So another buddy and i drove up from So Ga early picked up some tickets on the street and watched the Dawgs kick Tech ass at Bobby Dodd, I think it was the Reggie Ball throw it away on forth down game, then on to watch the Thrashers. We had great seats, some high roller section I guess, anyway it was a lot of fun and easier to understand what the hell was going on in person. I met Stan Kasten later that night, what an assclown that guy is. Oh well never went back, it’s a good thing they don’t depend on me for their livelihood.

Chris

August 21st, 2009
5:30 pm

Jeff–I enjoyed the article, and its nice to see the local media acknowledge what he’s done in Ottawa. I think that the chances are better of Kovy staying here because he’s been here through the Heatley situation and the Hossa situation, both of which were massive distractions to this team. I’m trying to think of how the Thrashers have handled themselves this offseason (adding Rick Dudley to management, trading for Kubina, signing Antropov in free agency, and a great draft class starting with the number 3 pick Evander Kane) as similar to what another Atlanta team did last year. There are some similarities there between the moves the Falcons made and what the Thrashers have done this off-season. The only major difference is the Thrashers made these moves with a extremely talented group of young players already on the roster, and they’re familiar with Anderson’s system and each other. Here’s hoping the Thrashers emulate the success that the Falcons were able to have coming off of an off-season where they made similar moves.

Sage of Blueland

August 21st, 2009
5:34 pm

HECKLER: I like your style.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2009
6:03 pm

For those who haven’t read it, I highly recommend my buddy Scott Burnside’s summary of Dany Heatley’s career. The link: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/columns/story?columnist=burnside_scott&id=4414646

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2009
6:08 pm

Sgt. — I salute you, sir!

Andre — Kovy’s got a wife and kids now. Not sure if he wants to move around as much as Dany seems to want to.

Chris — I’m sure the Thrashers would love to think they’re on the Falcons’ track of success. Honestly, I need to see more, though. Too early for me to say things have stabilizing esp. with Kovie unsigned and ownership situation and tight purse strings (the latter of which has never been a factor with the Falcons).

Chris

August 21st, 2009
6:38 pm

I’m with you on seeing more from the team, and that’s a valid point on the purse strings. Kovy signing a long-term deal would lead to the increased chances of keeping Little, Armstrong, and some of our other free agents around. I do think Kovy signs an extension, but it’s only going to happen after he’s played with the new guys and sees how the team gels together. And getting the season off to a good start is crucial. Otherwise the rumor mill will be out of control from the end of the first game until something happens.

And hopefully the morons who own this team have realized that if they sign Kovy, give Kovy talent around him and keep the talent we currently have here, there are a large number of people like myself who will happily go into debt in a bad economy to get season tickets to watch this team.

Andre Arshavin

August 21st, 2009
6:58 pm

Mr Schultz, in traditional Russian families decisions are influenced mostly by parents, not wives.

Waffleboy

August 21st, 2009
7:46 pm

Good piece, Jeff. Scott Burnside’s article has to be the saddest thing I’ve read since John Manasso’s book about Heatley and Snyder. I had a friend who has been onto Heatley for awhile. He said, when DW traded Heatley, that he would demand a trade in five years. I laughed at him. This fall from grace might be one of the worst the hockey world has ever seen. Especially considering Heatley’s initial reception by the league. It’s sad to see that most seem to think that he is only going to get worse.

Capt Caveman

August 21st, 2009
8:01 pm

YO Jeff — this is completely off topic but I just want to say how much I like the way you interact with your blog articles. To many times you see a blog where the author writes and then turns all commenting over to the peanut gallery. It’s nice to see how you take the time to actually answer as many comments as you do.

DOB’s blog use to be as fun but lately he and Carroll don’t seem to have as much time to interact.

I don’t usually make such complimentary remarks b/c I rarely feel this way. So just one more time I will say “great job”.

Sherry Taylor

August 21st, 2009
8:32 pm

I know why he left in 2005, I understood it then and I still understand it, but I think it was the wrong move for him. If what you say is true, Jeff, about his father, Dany would’ve been better off here, I know the Thrashers would certainly have been better off. He and Kovy have great chemistry on the ice, something that hasn’t been equaled, certainly not by, oh, what was his name, oh yes, Marion Hossa. Now that was a waste of a trade. Anyway, I think Dany ran from Atlanta for all of the wrong reasons, and as a result he and his game have suffered.