Ottawa Senators general manager John Muckler insists the timing was right -- both in a business and hockey sense -- for yesterday's deal that brought centre Dany Heatley to Ottawa in exchange for popular forward Marian Hossa and defenceman Greg de Vries.
Hossa, who had played his entire seven-year National Hockey League career in Ottawa since being drafted 12th overall in 1997, was dealt to Atlanta almost immediately after signing a new three-year contract with the Senators yesterday morning, reported to be worth $18-million (all figures U.S.).
Discussions between Muckler and Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell began two weeks ago, after Heatley's representatives requested a change of scene for the young star. At the same time, the Senators were struggling to sign Hossa and ensure enough room would exist under the $39-million-a-team salary cap to re-sign players such as defencemen Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara a year from now.
Shortly after acquiring Heatley, the Senators signed him to a three-year, $13.5-million deal.
"The reason we did the deal is it gives us more flexibility," Muckler said. "We have some other people who will have to be signed in future years and we had to put ourselves in a situation to do that. "And we had to do it also because of the talent level of the player we received."
In sending the 32-year-old de Vries to Atlanta, the Senators will save $2.16-million under the salary cap. The defenceman, who was acquired by Ottawa at the trade deadline from the New York Rangers in March of 2004, had two years remaining on his contract with a salary considered high in the NHL's new economy.
"The move with de Vries was made because we have some young people in our organization who we want to play on our hockey club," Muckler said. "It wasn't just a money move."
Yesterday's deal marked the first big splash this year for Ottawa, which has been busy re-signing its own players while other NHL clubs have gone hard after free agents since the NHL's new collective labour agreement was signed in July.
While criticized from some corners for not being more aggressive, the Senators had roughly $37-million committed to 18 players after signing Hossa just moments before his arbitration hearing was to begin. However, after moving him and de Vries for Heatley, they now have 17 players at roughly $33.5-million.
Both Hossa, who scored 36 goals and added 46 assists in 2003-04, and Heatley, who had 12 goals and 13 assists in 31 games the same season, will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2007-08 season.
Beyond the economics, Muckler suggested he was also looking to shake up his team's makeup following its many failed runs at the Stanley Cup, the most recent of which ended with a first-round exit in April of 2004.
"We let a good player go to Atlanta but I felt it was time for a change," Muckler said. "We had two runs at the Stanley Cup and in the last year we failed [in the first round] The reason we failed has to be looked at and rectified and that's what we've tried to do."
While Hossa has been one of Ottawa's most consistent and popular players, he has rarely been at his best during the postseason. During his career, Hossa has averaged 0.84 points a game during the regular season but just 0.66 during the playoffs.
"[Hossa is]a terrific player who is going to get better but the timing was right for us to make a move," Muckler said.