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.