When asked about the stubborn stand his former teammate Dany Heatley has taken with the Ottawa Senators, Garnet Exelby could have begged off with a no comment.
Instead, the rugged defenceman sees Heatley's request to be traded and subsequent refusal to be dealt to the Edmonton Oilers as a potential benefit to the Senators' provincial rival and Exelby's new team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I don't know all the details about his situation, but what he's done handcuffs the organization," Exelby said yesterday. "But being a Leaf now, I hope whatever happens only weakens the Senators."
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said yesterday that he has "never seen anything like this in my life."
On the radio station FAN 590 in Toronto, Melnyk said: "As of right now, he's an Ottawa Senator. We expect him to fulfill his contract. He's coming to training camp, that's the bottom line."
Heatley would reportedly accept a trade to Los Angeles. However, Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall told a fan forum that Heatley had problems with the coaching staff in Atlanta, with Craig Hartsburg in Ottawa and most recently with Cory Clouston.
"That raises a huge red flag for us," Hextall said. "Are we willing to give up two, three, four young prospects along with the hefty contract? I doubt it," Hextall said.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke believes that Exelby's presence will only strengthen the toughness on the Leafs' blueline. Exelby, 27, was obtained from the Atlanta Thrashers along with fourth-liner Colin Stuart in exchange for Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton on Wednesday.
In the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Exelby, the Leafs acquired a tough-as-nails performer who is known by his past coaches as a determined player and dependable teammate.
"He is what I call an everydayer," said Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Brad McCrimmon, who was an associate coach with the Thrashers and the head coach of Exelby's junior team, the Saskatoon Blades. "What I mean by that is he shows up every day, works hard and prepares himself. He's a good pro, a real good teammate. He supports his teammates."
Exelby already has 357 NHL games of experience, a surprising feat considering he wasn't drafted until the eighth round (217th overall) by the Thrashers in 1999. He did not attend the draft that summer and instead found out about being selected by Atlanta while he was involved in a convoy to help his family move to Calgary from the Winnipeg area.
Exelby arrived late on the WHL scene. Born in Craik, Sask. and raised in St. Anne, Man. (near Winnipeg), he grew up cheering for the Winnipeg Jets.
But Exelby did not play Triple A minor hockey because of the cost of playing on travelling teams. Instead, he suited up for the Lorette High School team, won a provincial championship and then joined the Blades late as a 17-year-old.
He made enough of an impact in his third junior season to be invited to the Canadian junior team selection camp in December, 2000, but was among the final cuts.
Exelby credited McCrimmon, an 18-year NHL defenceman, for passing on his experience and expediting Exelby's development.
"He helped instill early in my career about working hard every day," Exelby said. "You are going to have good days and bad days, but you can't take days off."
Exelby played briefly with Heatley at the tail end of the 2002-03 Thrashers' season and late the following season when Heatley recovered from injuries he suffered in the September, 2003 fatal automobile accident that killed Dan Snyder.
Snyder and Exelby were teammates with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, when they won the 2002 Calder Cup and later with the Thrashers. His deceased friend left an impression.
They sat in the same corner of the Wolves dressing room and Exelby later was honoured to win the first Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy as the Thrashers' unsung hero in 2003-04.
"We won a championship together in my first pro year and we were slotted to make the jump to the Thrashers together at the time of his accident," Exelby said.
"If there ever was an everydayer, it was Dan. He gave it everything he had, every day. He had an infectious personality and was an easy person to follow his example. The strength that his family showed in such a difficult time is unforgettable."
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