Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Our new star icer is a Slovakian named Marian
My first reaction yesterday upon hearing the news that Dany Heatley had asked for and received a trade from Atlanta was "That ungrateful jerk! We supported him through his toughest time and this is how he repays that loyalty?" Then, I was sad that a guy who was the face of the franchise and was going to be our Lemieux, our Yzerman, our Sakic was heading out of town to be replaced by another European who can score, but does not do the dirty work. Then, I listened to 680's new hockey show from 7-9 on Tuesdays and I came to my senses. I don't usually hand out plaudits to 680, which seems to cater to the angry segment of suburbia that doesn't listen to 750's parade of social darwinists, but they do have the Thrashers now, my second favorite Atlanta team (behind the Braves,) and the Billy Jaffe/Darren Elliott/Dan Kamal radio show is now going to become a staple for me. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Heatley deal:
1. Given that Waddell had to trade Heatley after he requested a trade and the number of available trading partners was small because there aren't that many players in the league who are of equal value, getting Hossa, who's as good as Heatley, and a defenseman who gives the Thrashers something they haven't had before (the description of De vries makes him sound like a slightly less dirty Kasparitis or Ulf Samuelsson) is a great deal. Hell, Hossa for Heatley straight-up would be a reasonable deal. Heatley's upside is a little higher because he's two years younger and is a little more physical than Hossa, but he also has a more significant downside, namely that in the past two years, he's suffered a major knee injury, a fractured orbital, and has likely suffered psychological damage after his car wreck. Hossa is consistent, having scored 29+ goals for the past five NHL seasons. he's also durable. Throw in a quality defenseman that Ottawa had to unload so they can sign Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara after the season and you have a net positive deal for the Thrashers. It's possible that Heatley will light the world on fire and Don Waddell will look like he made a mistake, but keep in mind that a) he had no choice but to make a deal, and b) Heatley might play a lot better in Ottawa than he would have in Atlanta, both because of better teammates and because of the fresh start he's getting.
2. My negative feelings about Dany seemed dumber and dumber the more I thought about them. The best way to describe Heatley's decision came from Ottawa's play-by-play announcer, who had a lengthy bit on 680 last night: Heatley needing to get out makes sense in the same way that parents who lose a child almost always sell their house. Heatley went through a tremendous tragedy and remaining in Atlanta meant constant reminders of that tragedy. The best way for him to deal with the guilt of accidentally killing his best friend is to move on and get some distance from it. Additionally, Heatley went about seeking the deal the right way. He didn't pull a TO and demand a deal in the press. Rather, he thought things through, had an intelligent conversation with his GM, and then asked for a deal, thereby preserving as much of the GM's bargaining power as possible. In a way, Heatley's approach has illustrated the stupidity of Owens' scorched earth approach, which destroyed Philly's ability to keep him (with a straight face) and thus assured that they could not trade him.
3. The Thrashers got better because of the trade and ownership's willingness to take on more salary had a lot to do with the improvement. Hossa is more expensive than Heatley and the team also took on salary in acquiring de Vries, so a little shout-out is due to the much-maligned Atlanta Spirit LLC for further stocking the other resident of Philips Arena. If Steve Belkin was still involved, then the trade would have been vetoed and we'd be starting the Heatley vs. Thrashers stand-off.
4. Will Bob Hartley play Kovalchuk and Hossa on the same line? I tend to think not, although if Marian is a good defensive player, then it's a possibility. So much will depend on which players click with one another once the team starts practicing together, but my guess is that Hartley knows he has about six good offensive players and he's going to split them between two lines. Here's my guess as to how the top two lines will look:
Kovalchuk - Savard - Mellanby
Kozlov - Holik - Hossa
5. Now, the question turns to finding a back-up goalie with the news leaking out that Pasi Nurminen has a career-threatening knee injury as the result of some serious weight-lifting. (Dan Kendra, anyone?) Even if Kari Lehtonen comes right into the NHL and is ready to play on a high level, the NHL season is longer than anything he's ever experienced before, so the Thrashers are going to need someone who can play 25-30 games and not embarrass himself. After trading the franchise's centerpiece and getting full value, this will be child's play for Waddell.