• The Next in the Long Line of Great Oilers Wearing 15?

    by  • June 10, 2009 • Uncategorized • 12 Comments

    I read Jamie Gordon’s piece on Dany Heatley at the recommendation of David Staples. I am something less than impressed. Per Gordon:

    It isn’t shocking because Heatley’s actions and attitude this season belied assertions that he enjoyed the pressure that rained down from the 19,153 fans who normally fill Scotiabank Place to capacity and demand nothing but the best from their professional hockey representatives.

    It’s a kind of pressure that that brings out greatness in some, and crushes others (re: Joe Corvo).

    By mid-season, it was clear he was unhappy. By the end of the season, he was just plain belligerent.

    The team placed an ‘A’ on his jersey in what was supposed to be a harbinger of the 28-year-old’s graduation from talented scorer to a two-way leader who could be tip of the spear in a club’s battle for the Stanley Cup.

    He buckled. Hard. It all started out well and good. Heatley played the part early, acting as a spokesman for the squad as it hobbled out of the gate under new coach Craig Hartsburg. Then, as the season rolled on, he started rolling his eyes or making sounds of disgust at those who would dare ask what was wrong with the team or him specifically.

    I’m going to get to the numbers in a moment, but as far as I can see, the evidence that Heatley buckled under the pressure of having an “A” is that he rolled his eyes or made sounds of disgust at those who asked what was wrong with him or the team. That behaviour might be accurately characterized as “behaving like a jackass”, but I’m hardpressed to conclude that the most likely reason for it is that he couldn’t handle the pressure. Maybe he just doesn’t like dealing with repetitive questions to which he doesn’t have an answer.

    The bit that really got me though, was this:

    …the word traveling along the grapevine today is that he was unhappy with the new system imposed mid-season by replacement coach Cory Clouston and his role within it. Maybe he didn’t like the reduction in ice time or demotion to the second power play unit.

    If that’s the case, it doesn’t shine a very flattering light on the Senators’ sniper.

    In fact, it’s downright audacious, because it unquestionably places the player above the team. The Ottawa Senators were a joke under Craig Hartsburg. They were winners under Cory Clouston. Any player, especially a supposed leader of a team, should be on board and ready to contribute in any way he can.

    Without saying a word, Dany Heatley appears to be saying several things. First, he doesn’t like Clouston and he never will. Second, he doesn’t trust Bryan Murray or the direction the team is headed. Third, he doesn’t much care for his teammates either if he’s willing to jump ship so easily.

    Say what you will about Dany Heatley, but I’d be hesitant to paint demoting him to the second unit on the PP as a stroke of tactical genius, regardless of the short term results that it produced. Here are his numbers for the past four years:

    Heatley

    Those are virtually all great numbers. The PP goal scoring is particularly impressive – he’s basically a top 20 guy year after year, in a stat where the leaderboard shifts wildly from year to year because of puck luck. It’s hard to argue with the results that Clouston got in the short term, but I’m hard pressed to believe that the Sens PP without Heatley playing top five minutes is better than the Sens PP with him doing so in the long term.

    A point on the ES stats too – he had a slight dip last year but, at least part of that can be explained by his teammates inability to score I think – when you factor Heatley’s shooting percentage out, you’re left with the Sens going 34/458 (7.4%) with him on the ice, which strikes me as low considering the offensive talent that they put out there.

    It’s hard to blame a guy who has been an elite scorer on the PP for the past four years, who’s been good enough to play for Team Canada in the Olympics and play a first unit role on a team that was good enough to go to the Stanley Cup finals, if he bridles at the idea that he belongs on the second unit. As far as not trusting Bryan Murray or the direction that the team’s headed, given the past two years, it’s difficult to blame him for that either. With respect to his teammates, hockey’s a job. I assume that Gordon wouldn’t think twice about leaving his teammates at the Citizen behind if he perceived a better opportunity elsewhere,

    As far as the Oilers getting him…we’ll have to see what the price is. If something like Cogliano and Gilbert plus a pick of some sort would get it done, I’d think awfully hard about doing it, provided that my scouts didn’t think that there was some reason for the ES numbers dropping other than an off-year.

    Bryan Murray doesn’t seem to be following the Kevin Lowe playbook in which a star requests a trade and you immediately do whatever you can to accomodate him. Hopefully he ends up doing so this summer and follows it up next summer with Act II: The Disastrous Acquisition of Dustin Penner.

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    12 Responses to The Next in the Long Line of Great Oilers Wearing 15?

    1. overpass
      June 10, 2009 at

      I don’t know if the “A” on Heatley’s jersey makes a difference, but I would agree with Gordon that he didn’t take criticism well.

      As Gordon said, Spezza’s taken a lot more criticism than Heatley and taken it better, though Heatley’s been equally guilty of the same sins. Both players have stretches where they seem to stop skating hard and try to force the perfect play, instead of skating hard and letting their skill work within the game. Spezza’s always been criticized for that, by the fans, media, and the coaches. Heatley got a pass for the most part.

      When Clouston arrived, Heatley was the first player that he called out for lack of effort and skating. To my eye, Heatley deserved it. The demotion to the second power play unit came later. The official reason was that the second unit needed help (and it did), but I have to think that Clouston was trying to light a fire under Heatley. He was obviously still one of Ottawa’s top 5 options on the PP.

      Heatley may have been out of shape, as the media reported that Clouston didn’t think much of the team’s conditioning when he arrived. Apparently the team had lost their traditional conditioning edge under Hartsburg. Whatever the cause, the numbers showed something wrong. No doubt there was some bad shooting luck, but Heatley’s average shot distance 5-on-5 increased to 29.0 feet from 27.3 feet last year. Spezza’s shot distance showed a similar increase, suggesting that they were settling for slightly worse shots this year. Heatley’s goals against were also worse this year. Some of that’s percentages, but some of it is probably the fact that he and his linemates didn’t control the possession as well this year

      I’m sure Heatley’s numbers will bounce back next year, but there’s no guarantee he’ll put out a consistent effort or stay happy on his new team.

    2. Olivier
      June 10, 2009 at

      Overpass: two things

      a) I may be a cro-magnon, but I just don’t trust a 6% year to year variation in shot distance to be significant. I just don’t think those stats are accurate enough for that. But I’ll gladly accept any remotely plausible explanation.

      b) Heatley is, to put it bluntly, a stud. The second you trade Dany Heatley away, you start looking for another Dany Heatly, unless you get Marian Hossa in return. Is the sens are to trade that guy, well, they better get a hell of a guy in return, not a bunch of, y’know, pretty interesting and / or promising prospects. Rates stats are nice, but totals ar nice too; they tell you about a player’s durability… Anyway, 3 players scored 20+ goals in the four seasons we had since the Lock-Out: Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Heatley. Another nine did it 3 out of 4 times: Zach Parise, Vincent Lecavalier, Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, Pavel Datsyuk, Jarome Iginla, Henrik Zetterberg, Eric Staal, Daniel Alfredsson.

    3. Olivier
      June 10, 2009 at

      That should have been “3 players scored 20+ goals *at even strength*”

      *sigh*

    4. overpass
      June 10, 2009 at

      Olivier: I think the shot distance stats are accurate enough for averages of samples over 100, as my comparison used. Is the difference between years statistically significant? Maybe not, but I think it’s related to the drop in SH% from last year, even if it doesn’t continue next year.

      I agree with your second point. As I see it, Heatley could be a better player, and Clouston was trying to push him to be that player. It backfired on him and yes, now the Sens will lose a very good player. I’m sure they’d rather not have to deal Heatley.

      Although Clouston has to bear some responsibility for this situation, I don’t know if I can blame him too much. The team needed a shakeup, he gave Heatley a push, and Heatley didn’t respond well, to say the least. At the time, I didn’t see it as overly harsh – Heatley wasn’t playing well, and Spezza had been similarly demoted and criticized by coaches in the past and had taken it well. In hindsight, of course it didn’t work out well.

      I’m not really a fan of how Heatley’s handled the situation – I’d rather he played harder instead of asking for a trade – but it’s his life and his career, and he knows the situation better.

    5. coach pb
      June 11, 2009 at

      I’m not really a fan of how Heatley’s handled the situation – I’d rather he played harder instead of asking for a trade – but it’s his life and his career, and he knows the situation better.

      But, by all accounts, he’s not a smart man. Which is reason #1 that I wouldn’t want him around.

    6. misfit
      June 11, 2009 at

      I don’t know how much this means, but while Heatley’s PP scoring rates have been top notch over the years, he’s been the 3rd most effective powerplay forward on his team in 2 of the last 3 seasons.

      Were his numbers that good because he’s just a dynamo on the powerplay, or is it because he’s on the ice so much with Jason Spezza with the extra man?

      That said, Spezza and Hemsky have had very similar PPP/60 rates (Hemsky’s have actually been better) over the last 3 seasons, so even if Heatley was a product of Spezza on the powerplay, his numbers likely won’t drop much, if at all, playing with Hemsky.

    7. David Staples
      June 11, 2009 at

      Yeah, when I read the coach had demoted Heatley to the second powerplay unit, I started to question the coach more than I did Heatley.

      Of course, MacT used the same method with Penner, taking him off the first pp unit, seemingly to the detriment of the team, but trying to send Penner a message to work harder/hit more.

      The Oilers were less effective on the pp without Penner, so that hurt the team. But perhaps Penner gathered some messsage that was crucial to his development, and to the ethic MacT was trying to foster.

      Or maybe MacT just got to bash a guy that made the toe his boot itch.

      Was there no other way to get the message through to either player, Heatley and Penner?

      MacT was a good coach, Clouston has a good reputation, but even the best coach doesn’t always get it right.

    8. June 11, 2009 at

      But, by all accounts, he’s not a smart man. Which is reason #1 that I wouldn’t want him around.

      I’m curious, Heatley hasn’t done much different than Penner: a lot of pouting and getting yelled at for lack of effort. Penner never requested a trade in public, but his coach got fired before he had a chance (and $4.25M offensive forwards who score 17 goals aren’t in high demand) so it’s a bit of a wash. Why do we love Penner but hate Heatley? Does a 50 goal scorer have less right to piss and moan when he gets demoted to the second unit powerplay than does a 29 goal scorer?

      I think both of them are probably a bit self-important, so it’s not a matter of me thinking Heatley is better than Penner, it’s just a matter of wondering why people who will forgive Penner kill Heatley.

    9. overpass
      June 11, 2009 at

      Yeah, when I read the coach had demoted Heatley to the second powerplay unit, I started to question the coach more than I did Heatley.

      It’s worth noting that Hartsburg also bumped Heatley to the second unit for a few games in January, when the Senators were really struggling with their PP. I wouldn’t hold up Hartsburg as a model of coaching excellence either, but it’s telling that both Hartsburg and Clouston chose to bump Heatley, not Spezza or Alfredsson, to mix things up.

      You could argue they were both wrong, and they may have been. I suspect part of the reason is that Heatley looks particularly bad when the PP isn’t working, as he just floats around with his stick in the air and Spezza and Alfredsson handle the puck.

    10. June 11, 2009 at

      There are a lot of people who think that there needs to be a major shakeup (blow it up?) in Ottawa, though not the owner if I recall. Heatley asking for a trade is perfect timing for those looking for a shakeup there. What about a deal with those dudes in TB? Or LA has a cap room and wants a sniper…A three way deal?

    11. June 11, 2009 at

      Oops! Had more to say.

      Heatley’s a rare thing: a natural goalscorer. Wicked one-timer, good snapshot, sweet sweet hands. Followed the Sens since 2000 on NHLCI, mostly because my brother lived there until 2007 and he’s the biggest hometown fan ever, and though we never agree on much about hockey, we do agree that Heatley is a one-dimensional player 90% of the time. It’s a very nice dimension — goal scoring — but he’s nowhere on anything else. Like so many players, he could be so much more: he’s good-sized, he can skate and he could be an all around superstar if he wanted to. I’ve seen him dominate a game in all areas of the rink, but only once in awhile.

    12. Joe
      June 16, 2009 at

      There are a lot of people who think that there needs to be a major shakeup (blow it up?) in Ottawa, though not the owner if I recall. Heatley asking for a trade is perfect timing for those looking for a shakeup there. What about a deal with those dudes in TB? Or LA has a cap room and wants a sniper…A three way deal?

      A blowup of Ottawa would be nearly impossible because of the cap numbers they’re committed to for the next several years. Check out these numbers:

      2009/10: 56.014M / 20 players
      2010/11: 42.862M / 9 players
      2011/12: 30.762 / 6 players

      Those are some tough things to fix. Even if you trade off one of the three hugely priced forwards, it’s still going to be ugly in terms of salary structure. For Ottawa to really blow things up, they’d have to give away an awful lot just to get people to take on those contracts, at least in the early portion of those contracts. Alfie is 36, no one will want to take him on. Heatley is 28 and Spezza is 26, so at least they’re attractive from an age perspective, but those are a couple of terrible deals they’re signed to. Fixing that is going to be very hard, and given Ottawa’s track record as a franchise, I doubt they got the smarts to fix this mess.

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