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Through the 5 Hole


September 18, 2009 11:12 PM

Give Senators edge in Heatley swap


OK, I've had a week to digest the first blockbuster trade of the NHL season, which involved two underachieving teams -- the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks.

At first glance, I'm tempted to say the Senators, who lacked scoring depth behind the Big Three of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, the latter of whom was shipped to the Sharks (along with a fifth-round draft pick) in exchange for forwards Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek, and a second-round pick.

Heatley, for reasons he has yet to explain -- maybe he never will -- wanted out of Ottawa, and it's never a good thing to keep an unhappy player around, no matter how talented.

Heatley is definitely a highly-skilled forward, having averaged 45 goals in each of the past four seasons. But he slipped to 72 points last season, his lowest total in Ottawa, and later complained about a diminshing role under coach Cory Clouston, even though the Senators finished 19-11-4 and showed a lot more life after Clouston replaced Craig Hartsburg.

Will Heatley score a ton with the Sharks? Probably, especially if he skates on a line with Joe Thornton. And maybe, just maybe, the Sharks won't underachieve again in the playoffs.

Of course, the Senators also have been busts since advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006-07. They were eliminated in the first round the following season and missed the playoffs last year.

Michalek is a very underrated player. He totaled 90 goals over the past four seasons and, at age 24, is four years younger than Heatley. Michalek and Cheechoo, 29, will make a combined $7 million this season, $1 million less than Heatley, who still has five years remaining on a six-year, $45 million extension. That's significant in the salary cap era.

Michalek is also a lot more responsible defensively. He was a plus-11 a year ago, while Heatley was a minus-11. And, unlike Heatley, Cheechoo's work ethic has never been questioned. The Senators won't be quite so soft with Cheechoo in the lineup.

It's true that Cheechoo's production, in part because of injuries, has slipped considerably since he scored an NHL-leading 56 goals in 2005-06. He had only 12 goals last season in 66 games, but that total should rise by a substantial margin if he can stay healthy.

For now, at least, I give a slight edge to the Senators for getting a productive deal done after they essentially were forced into making it by a disgruntled star.

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