Hockey Headlines

Monday, 6 July 2009

Signing Kovalev Vs. Trading Heatley

Hours after Bob Gainey broke the news on live radio in Montreal that forward Alexei Kovalev wouldn't be back, Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray backed up the dump truck full of Canadian money, pouring out the contents to the tune of $10 million at the doorstep of the enigmatic Russian. While there is some debate to be had over whether or not such money is deserved by Kovalev - whose career is approaching twilight status - it is interesting to see if this may be the lynch pin that turns the tide for Dany "Get Me Outta Here" Heatley. Heatley, for all intents and purposes, sounds like he'll be a Senator for the upcoming season, but having Kovalev in town should take some of the burden off Heatley when it comes to scoring. That is, if Kovalev is worth all the pennies that Murray is throwing at him.

Kovalev's stats have been up and down more than an elevator during his four seasons in Montreal. He started 2005-06 with 65 points, dropped to 47 points the following season, ramped his play up to an 84-point campaign in 2007-08, and followed that up by going back to where he started with 65 points last season. Not bad over the four seasons, but nowhere close to where he was when he was playing with Pittsburgh.

The problem that now appears for Ottawa is that moving Heatley becomes an academic practice until Heatley waives his no-movement clause. The Senators appear to be over the NHL salary cap upper limit, meaning that some salary will need to be shed. Heatley's $7.5 million cap hit would be the obvious choice, but there has been no team outside of Edmonton that has offered Bryan Murray anything he would deem as acceptable.

Murray still needs to find the dollars and cap room to sign a second-line centerman, goaltender Brian Elliott, and pick up a serviceable defenceman who can eat some minutes. The first two are fairly important for Ottawa's success while the latter would provide some stability. With $7.5 million to play with, Murray's life would become a lot easier when it comes to filling those holes.

I'm not here to vilify Dany Heatley any more than he already has been. The people in Ottawa clearly find him toxic to their team, and they want him purged from the city as soon as humanly possible. I get that they feel betrayed after they had poured their hearts out towards him, cheering him on after every goal and booing those that slowed him down. I get that Heatley metaphorically ripped their hearts out after going public with his trade demands.

However, the people of Ottawa need to view his trade as being beneficial for the Senators as a whole now, rather than projecting their hatred towards him. Much like the Chris Pronger trade from Anaheim at the draft, the Dany Heatley trade saga now becomes a matter of dollars and sense, not a matter of spurned love and trampled adoration.

The Senators need to move Heatley in order to fill holes elsewhere. Whether or not they get Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid, and Dustin Penner is irrelevant at this point. What they need is cap space. If I were GM Bryan Murray right now, I would forgo picking up Cogliano, and just deal for Penner and Smid with a draft pick thrown in. Penner and Smid give you a second-line centerman - potentially - and a serviceable defenceman. The draft pick gives you a future asset. The cap room allows you to sign Elliott. Done, done, and done.

Whether or not you get full value back for Dany Heatley means nothing at this point. What the Senators need is cap relief. Dealing Heatley for anything less than $7.5 million in returning players will offer more than holding onto him for greater returns, especially if he doesn't want to play for the Senators and head coach Cory Clouston.

While I have no clue what other teams are offering for Heatley, it is apparent that he wants no part of landing in Edmonton. Murray needs to be smart about this deal. He needs to go to a Western Conference team with decent assets coming back. There are few teams that have those options right now, but Murray needs to make a deal for his team to be on the right side of the ledger. And he needs to fill holes sooner rather than later.

Signing Kovalev gives Jason Spezza a solid, credible winger who can put pucks in the net. This was an excellent move by Murray to stabilize his scoring and add some veteran leadership. Holding on to Dany Heatley for what seems to be "the impossible deal" only hurts the Senators in the long-term.

If you're going to vilify anyone in this scenario, shouldn't it be the guy holding back the entire team because of his wish to get "market value" for a player whose value is plummeting each and every day? A second-line centerman, a serviceable defenceman, a draft pick, and cap room. It's not that hard to make a deal involving Heatley with those conditions, is it?

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Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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