Monday, September 14, 2009

Are the Senators better?


Figured I might as well weigh in on the Dany Heatley trade.

By now, I'm sure everyone's heard that Heatley was shipped, with his profound approval, to San Jose, along with a fifth-round draft pick, in exchange for wingers Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek and a second-round draft pick.

Winner? San Jose.

Say what you want about Heatley's character, or whether he's a cancer in the locker room, whether he has attitude problems, or whatever. He's also one of the few elite goal scorers playing right now in the National Hockey League. If he ends up paired with Joe Thornton (which would seem likely), that will be a rather potent duo. Apologies to Jason Spezza, but Thornton is a much better player, and it is very possible, if not probable, that Heatley will return to his 50-goal scoring days.

Is he going to bump the Sharks over the top, and help them at least win a playoff round? That will remain to be seen. With Thornton, Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi, they're a more dangerous team now than before.

But what about Ottawa?

The Senators were fortunate enough to once before having swapped an elite talent for an elite talent, a rare trade where both teams received fairly equal value. That happened to be Marian Hossa in exchange for... Heatley.

Bryan Murray didn't get a Heatley-type back in this trade. In Michalek, he acquired a young power forward who will likely provide in the 20-25 goal range, maybe a little higher, on an annual basis. Michalek turns 25 in December and is signed for another five years. I like him better than any of the players they would've gotten from Edmonton and he is very much the centerpiece of the trade from Ottawa's end.

I can't say any of the above about Cheechoo, who has become the NHL posterchild of "fluke" or "one-year wonder" or any other adjective/noun you wish to use to describe such an occurrence.

In 2005-06, Cheechoo exploded onto the scene, winning the Maurice Richard Trophy with 56 goals. Since then, his goal totals have dropped sharply, down to 37, then 23, to 12 last year. That's a rather steep decline for someone who is only 29.

I won't claim to follow the Sharks on a nightly basis during those last two seasons, but I believe injuries and possibly even benchings have contributed to Cheechoo having played no more than 69 games in a season the last two years. And now he'll be expected to help replace Heatley's production in Ottawa, a place I'm betting is a much crazier hockey town than San Jose.

I don't know what kind of pressure or expectations will be on Cheechoo in Ottawa, whether they will be lowered because he was traded, or higher because of whom he was traded for, but I can say his production - or lack thereof - will go a long way towards making this trade a possible wash or win for Ottawa. If he can pot at least 25-30 goals for each of the two seasons remaining on his contract, and Michalek does the same, that would likely make Murray a happier man.

The Senators may have more depth on their team now. If Michalek slots in on the top line alongside Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, and Cheechoo lines up on the second unit - and starts to score again - Ottawa will have more of a balanced scoring attack than before.

But it all depends on Cheechoo. If his production continues to decline - and it can't drop much further - than Murray better make excellent use of that second-round draft pick, because all he'll have to show for one of the game's best players is Michalek.


Nick in New York said...

it's so tempting to just hate on Heatley for being a doosh, but you're right: undervalue his skills at your own peril.

I agree: San Jose wins this trade, hands down.

I heard Dean Brown (PBP voice of the Sens) say "I'm not sure you ever 'win' a trade when you're giving up a 50-goal scorer." and I think he's bang on.

KiPA - Kevin in PA said...

Exactly. You don't improve your team by giving up a guy like Heatley (unless Murray managed to get Hossa back). Overall they have more scoring options, if Cheechoo figures out how to score again, but at best, this trade will be a wash for Ottawa I think, unless that second round pick becomes a dynamite player.