Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Does Heatley Really Want to go to NY?

All reports indicate that disgruntled Ottawa Senators winger Dany Heatley has invoked his no-trade clause to void a trade to Edmonton. The scuttlebutt also appears to be that the New York Rangers are heavily in the mix to land Heatley. The Rangers had trouble scoring last year and general manager Glen Sather cleared a ton of cap space by dealing center Scott Gomez to Montreal yesterday so Heatley could help immensely in that department.
But if Heatley really prefers to go to New York over Edmonton, he should take a few minutes to do some research if he truly wants to take a bite out of the Big Apple. Not a heavy investment of time, just a few short video clips or transcripts of press conferences.
The first press conference I'd pick would come from this playoff season when Rangers coach John Tortorella fielded media queries after he was suspended in a first-round playoff series against Washington for throwing a water bottle into the stands at the Verizon Center. Check out the dogged nature of the questioning from the New York Post's Larry Brooks and the contentiousness of the exchange. (Here's a transcript.)
The second would be almost any from Tortorella's first few years of coaching Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay when Tortorella would call out Lecavalier by name in postgame press conferences for what he perceived to be less than what Lecavalier was capable of delivering on the ice.
Let's take the first one first. Heatley has taken enough of a bashing in the Ottawa media, so there's no reason to go there. But one thing the coverage does reveal is Heatley's aversion to media scrutiny.
In Tuesday's Ottawa Citizen, Wayne Scanlan had a fascinating story in which he interviewed Heatley defender Tom Molloy, a friend of Heatley's parents. Here is one of the most interesting parts: "Molloy wrote a letter to The Citizen sports department because the Heatleys told him they didn't have 'a forum' to express the other side of the story."
Let me clear my throat. Heatley doesn't have a forum? All he has to do is call one of, oh, about 100 Canadian media outlets to provide his side of the story and it would be front-page news all over Canada. In Atlanta, when the Braves cut future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine a few weeks back, Glavine took a few days then hit the airwaves. Everything he said made sense and fan sentiment was universally in his favor. In essence, Glavine understood that any professional athlete of his stature always has a "forum" at his disposal.
Why hasn't Heatley done the same? In short, he hasn't spoken publicly since requesting a trade because he does not like to answer hard questions until he absolutely has to. It's the offseason, so he can continue to send out his agent Stacey McAlpine to answer for him, insofar as McAlpine is inclined to be a punching bag.
I remember when Heatley got traded from Atlanta to Ottawa in 2005. It was huge news. All day long I played phone tag with McAlpine who promised to get Dany on the phone for me. Guess what? Dany had time to do a phone interview with Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun where he could proclaim how glad he was to be playing in a true hockey market, but not with an Atlanta outlet where questions, in this circumstance, where likely to be more pointed about why he wanted out.
Don't get me wrong, the media coverage in Ottawa is intense. I've had enough players who played there tell me about how the city has such a small-town feel so that everyone knows what they're doing. Players can't go out to eat or walk down the street without being recognized.
That would probably not be the case for Heatley in New York -- where even celebrities like Madonna can live without getting pestered all the time -- but I think it's fair to say that the media's relationship with the team is more adversarial than it is in Ottawa. It's just the nature of the media taking on the personality of its city.
Now let's take a look at the coach that Heatley would have to play for, the famously combustible Tortorella, who, I believe, is one of the best in the NHL. Why did Heatley request a trade in the first place? Oh, his coach, Cory Clouston, was too hard on him. Clouston once had the temerity to politely criticize Heatley in the media.
If he didn't like playing for Clouston, how he could possibly co-exist with a coach who is as in-your-face as Tortorella? Reporters I got to know on the beat in Tampa said that the Lightning players really liked Tortorella. They got more off days than most and, let's be honest, Tortorella doesn't play games. What you see is what you get and they understood that. The man led them to the Stanley Cup and they appreciated that he got the most out of them. But, as with all coaches, eventually the message stops losing its potency after a while.
If Heatley was so sensitive that he could not last two months with Clouston, who cut his ice time and put him on the second power play unit -- how else can coaches get the message to athletes guaranteed salaries in the $40-million range? Certainly not by fining them -- because he didn't like Heatley's two-way effort, how on earth could he last a full season with Tortorella?
This saga is fascinating in how it is playing out. I'd imagine that Senators general manager Bryan Murray's head is about to explode out of frustration after he worked hard to put together a deal for players he truly prized and had experience in managing.
Maybe Heatley eventually will go to the Rangers, but, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

1 comment:

  1. Hope this gets to Heatley and he decides The Garden isn't for him.