Playoffs will be true test for Sens' Heatley deal

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

I heard a member of the media say something on the radio last week, and I found it rather odd, yet thought-provoking at the same.

They stated that Ottawa Senators GM John Muckler "had really scored big" when he landed Dany Heatley in exchange for Marian Hossa because, "(Heatley) was a great deal" from a financial standpoint.

The now-infamous sign-and-trade pulled off by the Sens saw franchise winger Hossa head to the Atlanta Thrashers, in exchange for Heatley and defenceman Greg de Vries. Heatley was immediately signed to a three-year, $13.5-million US contact that works out to $4.5 million per season.

Simple math indicates that amount to be less than the three-year, $18-million contract Hossa had signed, but Heatley's arrival also brought with it some well-documented baggage, in the form of multiple long-term injuries and personal tragedy.

But Heatley was a recognizable NHL name to even the most casual of hockey fans -- an elite scorer with Canadian lineage that any Sens fan could get on board with.

Unfortunately, he also represented a large calculated risk on the part of Muckler, because no one knew for certain if the previously described Heatley was the version the Senators were receiving. It was an arguing point against Ottawa, and was regularly brought up during the rampant Heatley vs. Hossa debates that took place immediately after the trade.

But this is one of those rare situations where the naysayers cannot criticize Muckler for his choice. The risk paid off, because so far, Heatley has met or exceeded expectations in Ottawa.

Any residual effects from No. 15's previous knee and eye injuries were never visible once he joined the Ottawa Senators' roster.

NO HEALTH ISSUES

If anything, Heatley has been blessed with good health and great play since his arrival -- 103 points in 82 games during 2005-06, and the winger appears on pace for another 50-goal season without missing a beat, or a game for that matter.

(Aside -- I am now going seek out various wooden objects to knock on. I suggest you do the same.)

Heatley even shirked part of his one-dimensional sniper persona, when he was forced to separate from linemate Jason Spezza, after the centre injured his knee in December. Dany flourished in spite of the adversity - his defensive game showed remarkable progress, and fans were treated to a grittier version of the Heatley they had previously known.

After nearly two seasons sporting the red, black and gold, Heatley has made his risk factor a complete non-issue. Is there anything left to prove for the young star in Ottawa?

Obviously the answer is yes, when the city housing this talent suffers from post-traumatic postseason disorder.

Heatley was given the strictest of mulligans by Senators fans during last season's foray into the playoffs (envision being handled with pumice-coated kid gloves). After all, he was experiencing his first NHL postseason under major scrutiny. No one was entirely sure how he would react. Heatley's initial playoff numbers gave the suggestion of a player trying to find his rhythm: Three goals and nine assists in ten games. Not an atrocious showing, but certainly unremarkable.

GREATER EXPECTATIONS

However, in year two, you can be sure that the gloves are coming off. Heatley's had his taste of the playoffs, and the expectations surrounding his play after April 7 will be astronomical. No. 15 will be expected to demonstrate all of the positive attributes we've seen from him thus far, multiplied by infinity. He'll need the grit. He'll need the consistency. He'll need to be clutch -- a word that has never been associated with the Sens in the second season.

No pressure.

It's difficult to label the potential achievement of a successful post-season as Heatley's most adversarial challenge to date -- he's already dealt with so much, both on and off the ice.

But with Ottawa's elite winger so content to meet and exceed all expectations placed in front of him, you'd have to expect that if the Sens were ultimately meant for greatness, Heatley would play a major role.

Heatley does represent a great deal to Ottawa, but not just from a financial standpoint.

And the more he achieves, the greater his worth to everyone involved -- in more ways than one.


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