Finally, Havlat's a top gun

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

All Martin Havlat ever wanted with the Senators was a chance to be the man.

He's getting it this season with Chicago Blackhawks and not only is it paying dividends to the speedy winger's bank account -- he signed a three-year, $18-million contract in July -- it's also worked out well on the scoreboard.

And so it is that Ottawa fans see a rather familiar name at the top of the NHL's scoring race. That's Havlat, with seven goals and six assists for 13 points in his first six games with Hawks.

"It's been pretty good ... A lot of fun," said Havlat yesterday.

No kidding. The Hawks are winning, Havlat is scoring and at this point, anybody in Chicago will tell you he's been worth every dime of the deal he signed with them in the summer.

"He's performed beyond our expectations," said Hawks' GM Dale Tallon from the Windy City. "He's just been terrific. He really has been. He's been a great team player and what I've really been impressed with his work ethic.

"He's a young player with great skills, but he's been a great example for the other players ... When they look at the best player on the team working the way he does, and seeing the success that he has because of it, that is going to rub off on the rest of the team."

Havlat didn't ask for a change of scenery this summer, but he got it anyways. After refusing to sign more than a one-year deal with the Senators -- he wanted to test the free agent market next summer -- Havlat was sent packing by GM John Muckler, rather than lose him for nothing.

When a trade to send Havlat to the Sharks for goalie Vesa Toskala fell apart following the NHL entry draft, Muckler focused on a three-way deal with San Jose that landed Havlat and centre Bryan Smolinski in Chicago.

"Leaving Ottawa was a sad day for me," said Havlat. "I still can't really believe it. Ottawa was my home and it really hurt to move on, but it's all part of being in the NHL.

"At the end of the day, it is all about winning ... that is all that matters. But I always believed I could do more if given the chance. In coming to Chicago, it was pretty clear to me that a lot was going to be expected of me."

It's the opportunity to do more that is driving Havlat to succeed. He played mostly a third-line role with the Senators and an average of 16 minutes a night. With the Hawks, he leads the charge on the No. 1 power play unit and is averaging 22 minutes.

"I was hungry to take on a bigger role, to have more responsibility, to bring more leadership to my team," said Havlat. "I believed I could do it. Sometimes, I was frustrated in the past when I didn't get the same opportunity as some of the other players on the (Senators). That really hurt sometimes. I just wanted to be given the chance."

There is pressure on Havlat to perform. The big contract from the Hawks comes with expectations, but Tallon had a heart-to-heart chat with Havlat after he signed and told him he didn't have to do everything.

"I think what happens is guys want to live up to expectations, so they try to do too much. I really believe that's what happened here last year," said Tallon.

"I told Marty, 'Look, don't try to do too much. Just try to go out there and do what you are capable of doing.' No one expects any more from him than he expects from himself. I don't want him carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. I really like him. He's always walking around with a big smile on his face."

Havlat still keeps a close eye on the Senators and talks regularly with close friend Richard Valente, an owner of Fratelli restaurants. "It's early in the season. I'm sure Ottawa will be fine. They'll turn it around quickly," said Havlat.

Havlat just hopes he can keep going in the same direction.


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