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Heatley's Gamble

When I went out of town for a week on business, I figured that the big player moves were over and done with. Then, lo and behold, I come back to find Marian Hossa with a new deal, then subsequently traded to Atlanta for Dany Heatley, who is apparently looking for a fresh start after the Dan Snyder tragedy of two years ago. At first bluff, this might appear to be a heartwarming case of NHL general managers finding a way to help a troubled young man and benefit their franchises as well with a win-win deal. Upon closer inspection, however, the story appears more disturbing.

Take a look over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example (free registration required), and you'll find a story by Jeff Schulz that outlines a disturbing trend in Heatley's behavior over the last year or so - hiring and firing agents, spending as little time in Atlanta as possible despite the support offered by the team and community, and finally a trade demand away from a young team on the rise that seemed positioned for greater things under his leadership.

In Ottawa, of course, the perspective is quite different. Heatley is thrilled to be playing in a town that cares about hockey, and the chance to play for a Stanley Cup contender. That optimism sounds incredibly shallow, however. Nobody asks for a trade just to play in a hockey-first sports town, and 24 year-olds typically don't demand trades to championship-caliber teams, especially when they are with a talented young squad that just picked up a proven veteran winner like Bobby Holik.

Something more serious appears to be at work here, and that is hardly surprising. An incident like the one that killed Dan Snyder and seriously injured Heatley leaves lasting psychological scars, that manifest themselves in various ways and at various times. Recall the sad story of Sheldon Kennedy, a talented young forward whose career was constantly thwarted by alcoholism in the wake of earlier sexual molestation at the hands of a junior coach. A fatal car crash isn't the same as sexual abuse, but the lasting psychological effects can be similar - alienation & instability can arise unexpectedly (I'm no psychologist, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night). In short, I wonder whether the move to Ottawa will actually help Heatley in the long run. We can only hope for the best, but only time will tell.

Looking purely at the competitive aspects of the trade, you'd have to think that the Thrashers scored a major coup - they acquire a proven MVP candidate entering the prime of his career, along with a dependable veteran defenseman, for a talented but troubled young talent who seems just as likely to realize his potential as to face further struggles that will make NHL hockey look like a walk in the park. While everyone wishes the best for Heatley, we certainly haven't heard the last of this story. Look ahead to January 2nd, when the Senators head to Atlanta and Dany returns to the city and team that did everything it could to extend forgiveness, yet saw him ask for the first ticket out of town in response.