Ottawa is gambling, but it could pay off

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

When he wants to be, Dany Heatley can be the most exciting forward in the game.

He is deceptively big -- the deceptiveness a result of the nifty moves he makes. You don't often see guys his size displaying that kind of agility.

But the question about him is an obvious one. Does Dany Heatley really want to be the most exciting forward in the game?

To do so requires hard work and commitment, neither of which has always been there with Heatley of late.

And so the Ottawa Senators, who yesterday acquired the 24-year-old Heatley from the Atlanta Thrashers, have made themselves a good trade if -- and only if -- they can jar Heatley out of his lethargy and get him to utilize his potential.

After all, the guy they gave up, Marian Hossa, 26, is no fourth-line grinder.

If you simply go by the numbers, he has been the best player in hockey over the past few years. That's why the Senators signed him and moved him.

They didn't want to pay him $6 million US a season, but they knew if they followed the already initiated arbitration process through to its conclusion, they probably would end up paying him even more that that -- perhaps even $7.8 million a year.

What must be remembered about arbitrators is that they don't know hockey. They have been known to ask what is meant by five-on-five, and they have wondered out loud why power-play statistics are any different than other statistics.

Arbitrators look at numbers, and nothing else.

Using that criteria, Hossa is as worthy as anyone of the full 20% of a team's mandated maximum payroll.

The Thrashers can afford to pay $6 million for a player of Hossa's calibre and he'll be a good fit. He will have Ilya Kovalchuk to share the offensive burden and he'll have Bobby Holik to do the bumping and grinding that all good scoring lines require.

But he is not as young as Heatley, and that's where the Sens hope to get the edge.

Ottawa general manager John Muckler knows brilliant talent when he has seen it. He was with those Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s which rewrote the hockey record books.

But by virtue of that association, he also knows the way that youthful players, especially ones with tons of talent, occasionally can forget they must not let the diversions get in the way of the reason that those diversions are placed in front of them.

Heatley asked to be traded out of Atlanta and it probably is not a bad idea. He wants to make a new start, he says.

But Heatley's biggest problems are within himself.

They won't be left behind in Atlanta. He has to realize he will have to deal with them wherever he goes.

Right now, more than anything, Dany Heatley needs to build his self-esteem. He needs to realize he is a magnificent hockey player and that it does no good to dwell on whatever mistakes he might have made in the past.

He has to focus on the future and make sure he's the best player that he can be.

Muckler has played with people who were much, much worse human beings than Dany Heatley. He has coached people who have made bigger mistakes than Dany Heatley.

POTENTIAL

If Heatley listens to Muckler, who has endured some extremely challenging moments of his own over the years, he'll have a chance of living up to the potential that he has showed.

But if he decides to just drift along, he'll waste his talent and cruise through a long but not particularly brilliant career.

In getting Hossa, Atlanta took the sure payoff. On the other hand, if Muckler can bring Heatley around, the Senators will have hit the jackpot.

But maybe there are more important considerations to be weighed as this one unfolds.


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