Only one word for Heatley drama: mess
The Dany Heatley soap opera is far from over. But it's clear as mud as to what will happen next.
The Ottawa Senators have said all along they didn't want to trade Heatley after having to pay out his $4 million bonus, which they did Wednesday night when the clock struck midnight and a trade with the Edmonton Oilers never went through. Heatley still wants a trade to a location he desires. The Senators surely don't want a player on their team in September who doesn't want to be there. But the collective bargaining agreement doesn't allow for another team to simply pay back the July 1 bonus.
Urgh. What a mess.
"I think they believed there were a number of [trade] offers out there. There weren't," Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Thursday after the dust had cleared from a strange 48 hours.
Murray completed a deal with Oilers GM Steve Tambellini on Tuesday night that would have seen forwards Dustin Penner and Andrew Cogliano and defenseman Ladislav Smid go to Ottawa. All the deal needed was Heatley's waiving of his no-movement clause. It didn't happen Tuesday night, and it didn't happen Wednesday night. And then the bonus was paid by the Senators.
"Edmonton was the one offer that was somewhat legitimate," Murray said from Ottawa. "And they [the Heatley camp] didn't accept it, and certainly after telling me that I could talk to Edmonton. So I've said before and I'll say it again, in all likelihood, Dany will be a member of the Ottawa Senators. I don't know any other situation that may pop up. Maybe there will be, but that's my thinking today."
As is always the case in these matters, both sides have a different view of what transpired. Heatley's agent, J.P. Barry, strongly opposed the notion that the Oilers' package was the only good deal on the table.
"Bryan insists that he never really had any other options, which I completely disagree with," Barry told ESPN.com on Thursday from Stockholm, where he went to broker the Sedin twins' deals. "I believe there were several potential options. I think it was clearly their intent to trade him to Edmonton and only Edmonton. That was the approach they took.
"I specifically told him two days ago, long before the trade happened, 'Do not trade him to Edmonton until you have other options.' And he turned around and consummated the trade despite my request. The result of which is that I get a phone call from a guy that I really respect in Steve Tambellini, who was excited, and I had to inform him what happened.
"I think it was completely mishandled by [Murray]. It was a pressure tactic. He loaded up the gun and put the gun against our heads."
Barry said the New York Rangers, a team that was on Heatley's list of desired destinations, had a good offer on the table.
"Based on my understanding of the discussions that took place with the Rangers, the options the Rangers provided were every bit as good, or better, than the options provided by Edmonton," Barry said. "But I'm sure Bryan has a different opinion of that."
A Rangers source said Thursday the team did make "a competitive offer," although a Senators source insists it wasn't as good as Edmonton's three-player package, saying, "We couldn't even get a 13-goal scorer in the deal."
The Rangers moved on and signed Marian Gaborik. But does that still definitely rule them out of the Heatley talks? One industry source said Thursday it was his belief that the Rangers wanted to add two high-impact players, and so far Gaborik has been the only one. Does that leave the door open for Heatley? Hard to tell.
So now what?
The Heatley camp still wants the Senators to seek a trade.
"We would hope so," Barry said. "Just like there was a trade market before the bonus, there may be an even bigger trade market and very likely a better hockey deal after the bonus."
That's probably true, given that any team now picking up Heatley will have to pay him only $4 million in salary for next season after the Sens picked up the $4 million bonus. That's not something Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is terribly happy about and why this thing is muddied at best. You think the Sens' owner wants to move Heatley now after paying him $14 million ($10 million in salary last season) for 10 months of service on the new contract? With the bonus out of the way, Heatley has $31 million and five years left on his deal. We're pretty sure many a team would want to take on a two-time 50-goal scorer for an average of $6.2 million a year.
How can Ottawa try to recoup the bonus? The only way to do it under the CBA is to have the other team in question pick up extra salaries off the Sens' roster, players Murray may deem expendable. Easier said than done.
"The fact that we don't have any other extra players, there's not much of that opportunity," Murray said.
In the meantime, the Senators will win the public relations war outright in a landslide. Rich athlete asks for a trade, gets it, then turns it down. Doesn't get any easier than that in the PR battle. But Barry explained it wasn't that simple.
"We advised Bryan continually that Dany requires more than one option [team] to make a decision and, as of last night, we still only had one option, so he still wasn't able to make a decision, given that there still was only one option in front of him," Barry said.
"We have a right to ask for a trade, and they have a right not to trade him. People seem to think that clubs are the only ones who have rights. What about players' rights?"
Point taken. Keep in mind that Heatley has a no-movement clause, a powerful tool for players in the CBA. It means they can't be sent to the minors or placed on waivers, or as one GM once told us, "You can't say boo to them." In other words, it is Heatley's negotiated right through the no-movement clause to have a strong say in where he gets traded.
But in the meantime, the Sens are paying the price. Even though Murray says he knew Heatley was leaning toward saying no to the Edmonton trade, the Sens' GM sat there on July 1 unable to really react on the first day of free agency.
"What it did do is basically tie my hands yesterday," Murray said. "There were a number of other scenarios that might have taken place, but if I was getting the Edmonton players, I didn't have to do it, or at least pay the price that a couple of guys got. If I thought otherwise, I could have pushed the envelope a bit more. We were in a couple of scenarios, but once it got to a certain level, I dropped out, simply because I was thinking I was adding three players to my roster."
One situation was the bidding on free-agent star Mike Cammalleri, in which Ottawa and Toronto battled Montreal and the Habs won out.
"We were interested in him, and as I said, if we would have known, I mean, I think I suspected [Heatley would say no], but until you know for sure, you don't want to get strung up with extra contracts," Murray said. "So it had an effect on what we did yesterday, or didn't do would be more like it."
So, everyone woke up unhappy Thursday:
• Heatley, because he was still a Senator and didn't like the way he was pressured into one single trade option;
• Barry, because his star client has been battered like a mule in the Ottawa market, and he didn't like the way the Senators handled the whole thing;
• Murray, because he was forced with a trade request from a month ago that he didn't like but still made a trade, only to have it rejected by the player;
• Melnyk, because he has paid a $4 million bonus to a player who wants out;
• The Senators' media, because they'll have their summers ruined by this ongoing saga;
• Senators fans, because they were robbed of a decent trade with Edmonton;
• Tambellini, because he made a good trade for a 50-goal scorer, but it fell through, and now he has to explain to his three players that he still likes them, even though he tried to trade them;
• And Oilers fans, because, once again, a high-profile player has decided their town isn't good enough for him.
Yikes. Somebody get me an aspirin.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.