Reluctantly, in the aftermath of the San Jose Sharks' bold trade for Dany Heatley, it might be time to jump back on the bandwagon of the NHL's perennial underachievers.
The Sharks, who generally follow an exceptional regular season with a do-nothing playoff, have been hinting about major changes since their first-round pratfall to the Anaheim Ducks last spring.
That it took until the eve of training camp for Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to pull off a deal speaks to the warring factions inside the organization, the unwillingness to gut a team that finished with 115 points to win the President's Trophy last season against the clear sense that something needed to be done to rouse his remaining players to attention.
In the 28-year-old Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer who had demanded a trade from the Ottawa Senators in the spring, they may just have found the missing piece of the puzzle. Across Canada, Heatley had been vilified throughout the summer for his actions, first in asking out of Ottawa because he couldn't get along with coach Cory Clouston, then for refusing to accept a trade to the Edmonton Oilers that would have wrapped this controversy up months ago.
That made Heatley public enemy No.1 in both those cities, and getting booed in his hometown of Calgary during the 2010 men's Olympic orientation camp suggests some of that dissatisfaction was close to universal.
Luckily for Heatley, little of that baggage will follow him south. The Sharks represent just about the perfect landing place for him, in terms of trying to forge a new start. The assistant GM, Wayne Thomas, is a family friend. The primary difference-makers on the Sharks - Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Rob Blake - know him from previous international experiences and centre Joe Pavelski was a teammate at the University of Wisconsin.
San Jose, as a hockey market, is perfect, too. It has supportive fans who fill the building 41 times a year, but leave the players alone to slip anonymously into the community the rest of the time.
Heatley will be asked to do one thing only - boost the team's offence and inject a little more life in the dressing room. He'll definitely get a chance to put up numbers, playing alongside Thornton, one of the leading playmakers in the game today.
Moreover, the Sharks will have a full regular season to integrate Heatley into the lineup before facing the usual round of questions come playoff time.
But given the front-office turmoil in Chicago with the Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings' long and weary trek through the past two playoffs and the Calgary Flames' own inability to get the job done in the postseason, the answer is, yes, the stars just might align in San Jose this spring.
The Sharks surrendered Jonathan Cheechoo, a former 50-goal scorer, plus the emerging power forward Milan Michalek in exchange for Heatley. San Jose also sent Ottawa a second-round pick in 2010, while San Jose gets Ottawa's fifth in the same draft.
As recently as three years ago, Cheechoo led the NHL in goals with 56, largely because he and Thornton worked so well together. Cheechoo has never been quite the same player after undergoing sports hernia surgery two years ago. His quickness in finding the holes to accept Thornton's pinpoint passes was never quite the same. By last year, he lost his job on the top line to the speedier Devin Setoguchi.
Michalek will be an interesting commodity for the Senators. He reminds some of Marian Hossa - big, strong and powerful, with a scorer's touch. In 2003, Michalek was drafted sixth overall, ahead of Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Jeff Carter and others. If he can eventually meet the potential that the Sharks detected six years ago, the deal may work out for the Senators in the long term.
In the here-and-now, however, Heatley's addition makes the Sharks more dangerous than they were a year ago.
Wilson said he had no qualms at all about adding Heatley, revealing that he'd investigated his new acquisition thoroughly with a number of hockey executives. Wilson mentioned Steve Yzerman, executive director of Canada's men's Olympic team, and Bob Nicholson, president of Hockey Canada, and said his inquiries raised no red flags.
"We're completely comfortable with the type of player Dany is, and more importantly, with the type of person he is," Wilson said. "There are often cases where players have asked for trades. … Sometimes, it is best for everybody involved. We have zero concerns about that."
Neither Michalek nor Cheechoo were big factors for the Sharks in playoffs past. Heatley had three productive playoff rounds in the Senators' 2007 trip to the final before falling flat against the Ducks in a series that went just five games.
He'll need to do better than that. The good news in San Jose is that the Sharks' supporting cast is deeper than Ottawa's ever was, so Heatley will need to be a cog - an important cog - but a cog nonetheless, and not necessarily the go-to guy.
Under those circumstances, and Heatley's likely realization that he needs to make this work, after previously asking out of the Atlanta Thrashers and now Ottawa, it is a defensible gamble by the Sharks.
Hockey is not baseball, but once principle is the same - three strikes and you're out.
Some time in April, May or June, we'll know if Heatley figured that out - and if Wilson's faith in him was justified, or simply misguided.Report Typo/Error