Wednesday, July 01, 2009

DanyWatch Day 23: Heater left holding the bag, which might not contain $4 million

None of the principals in the Dany Heatley debacle had time to pick up face paint for Canada Day, but boy are their faces red.

This is not about trying to figure out how this ends. Maybe it gets worked out within a day, or maybe a team who strikes out in free agency will look at "Dany Nicks" as a nice silver medal.

This is more about about being a fan and feeling inadequate trying to figure out what's going on in a league where two front offices do not even seem to understand the rules. The Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers, and possibly Heatley's agents, seemed to work on the assumption a trade had to be wrapped up by 12 a.m. July 1, since hey, that was what they'd heard on TSN and read in the newspaper like all us Al Capp schmos. There was that $4-million matzo ball, the bonus Heatley was due, hanging out there, as you know. It turns out, as mc79hockey explained, they had another 24 hours, possibly longer. Cue Tyler Dellow, who knows this stuff cold (he has a law degree, which makes him the Canadian version of Craig Calcaterra):
"The really interesting thing though is that I don’t think Ottawa necessarily has to pay Heatley the $4MM at some point (Wednesday). The CBA specifically deals with what happens when a team defaults on a contract.

"... There is, I think, some room here for the Senators to simply agree with Heatley that they will default on payment of his bonus and that he'll hold off on grieving that default. Then, once he’s traded, he can file his grievance and his new team can cure the default."
This is the pertinent section of the CBA Tyler dug out:
"11.15 Default. If a Club defaults in the payment of any compensation to the Player provided for in his SPC (standard player's contract — Ed.) or fails to perform any other obligation under his SPC, the Player may, by notice in writing to the Club and to the League and the NHLPA, specify the nature of any and all defaults and thereafter:

(a) If the Club fails to remedy the default within fourteen (14) days from receipt of such notice, except as hereinafter provided in subsections (b), (c) and (d) of this Section 11.15, the SPC shall be terminated, and, upon the date of such termination, all obligations of both parties shall cease, except the obligation of the Club to pay the Player’s compensation to that date."
Cripes, where was that piece of understanding three weeks ago? No doubt there are some CBA experts who were aware, but we are talking about the normals.

It sure looks like everyone believed they had a deadline. Hindsight is 20/15 when someone is standing to the side of it all. However, it stands to reason that if Heatley and his agents were aware of the rules, they could have said to the Senators, "Dany is going to sleep on it," before talking to the New York Rangers, who cleared cap space by trading Scott Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens in the afternoon. The Senators probably could have sat tight and remained in control of the situation. Instead, they were sitting there getting tense because of a deadline that was not only arbitrary, but apparently wrong. No wonder beat writers in other NHL cities are calling Eugene Melnyk's franchise "one of the most dysfunctional clubs in the NHL."

The point, hopefully, is how much one's eyes can get opened to the realities of the salary-capped NHL within a span of 24 hours. This stems from a comment one of this site's users, Alex, left Tuesday morning which turned to be prescient, at least for now-now:
"The reason Heatley is not going to be dealt (at least possibly until the trade deadline) is the lack of understanding of value in the cap environment by Ottawa fans. Every Ottawa fan seems to be expecting a huge return for him. But his value is not high. He is an excellent player and maybe he will get 50 goals again, but his contract is bad enough to cut his value way down. They would get spare parts and other people's salary problems in return. Near the trade deadline when contenders are looking to add salary is when his value will be at its peak, but still with the length of the contact it won't be what fans are expecting.

"Since Murray (who above all wants to avoid looking bad or disappointing fans) can't get what fans expect for him, he won't be dealt."
From the get-go, it seemed like a lot of the Heatley coverage in Ottawa has not reflected that the days are gone when one team could just pick up the phone and hammer out a blockbuster trade.

The other big ball-and-stick sports have gone through this evolution. In the NFL, you rarely see star players traded in their prime. (The deal the Chicago Bears made with the Denver Broncos for quarterback Jake Cutler does not count since Denver's coach is a wingnut and Cutler is not actually a star).

The informational revolution in baseball over the past 10 years has made it harder for teams to flip a veteran for a package of prospects at the trade deadline. Meantime, in pro basketball, only the truly deranged really understand the ins and outs and why it's good to add a player with an expiring contract, like the Raptors did last winter with veteran forward Shawn Marion.

Try telling that to anyone today. After all, the Hockey Reflex dictates that consumers should be led to believe something big is going to go down before the next commercial break. Of course, it does not always go that way, as TSN's insider, Darren Dreger, said on his Twitter after the first round of the NHL draft last Friday ...
"The perfect storm didn't materialize. Tons of talk, but the cap complications killed deals. Saturday should be fun."*
... but it will, probably in the next few minutes, honest.

Ultimately, it seems better to try to understand how this is possible. The endless flame-fanning and rip-jobs in the Ottawa media (and Edmonton too, shame on you, Terry Jones) got really old really fast. Heatley should not rate a single iota of sympathy. He asked for a trade, got one, and shot it down. The situation is akin to Trish Piedmont telling Andy Stitzer in The 40-Year-Old Virgin: "You asked for this, Andy. You asked for all of it." Puck Daddy's headline is "Oilers, Senators had deal in place; Heatley nixed it."

The media might point the cannon at Heatley (fist bump: John Fogerty), but the onus is misplaced. James Mirtle noted the CBA is a culprit:
  • "There has to be some way to force players to either (a) honour their contractual commitment to a team or (b) not be able to veto deals when they're the ones requesting a trade. Heatley put the Sens in a terrible position by asking (publicly, no less) to be moved with his July 1 bonus date approaching, and if he now is going to turn down deals, it's going to become increasingly difficult for GM Bryan Murray to get anything resembling fair value for his top player.

  • "How bad would it be if the Sens had to pay Heatley's $4-million bonus before making a trade? Well, his contract was heavily front-loaded, with Ottawa paying out $10-million in Year 1 of a six-year, $45-million extension he signed in 2007. If Murray pays the bonus, it'll mean Ottawa forked out $14-million — 31 per cent of the contract — for only one season under those terms, and the acquiring team will get Heatley for just $31-million over five years (about $6-million a season instead of $7.5-million)."
See how far you get with that down on Parliament Hill today, though. Heatley is the bad guy, but a NHL GM not knowing the rules might be worse.

Many metabeers should be consumed in Tyler Dellow's honour on this Canada Day. (That is a new word for beers you say you're going to drink in gratitude to someone, except you're now a semi-responsible adult and have to be sober enough to drive, or get on the right bus, subway and/or streetcar).

UPDATE: Alanah McGinley has all-things-considered take defence of Heatley posted at Kukla's Korner that reasonable-minded Senators fans ought to read.
"... most of the rhetoric floating around seems to go off the charts.

"And why? Well, the justification for this is clear, we're told. First, Heatley went public with his desire to leave Ottawa. Next, he turned down a possible escape trade to Edmonton, making the situation infinitely worse.

"However, being that I’m willing to give Heatley the benefit of the doubt, I’m also willing to believe in at least the possibility that there were other factors at play in the choices he’s made in the last few weeks. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that a goalie named Ray Emery was in the hot seat, getting blamed for all the destruction around him as his once-mighty Senators took an abrupt and unexplainable plummet into the crapper. And back then, everyone whispered all sorts of unsubstantiated and shocking gossip blaming Emery for the team’s fortunes.

"But then Emery left and seems to have done reasonably well since then. And yet Ottawa is still... Ottawa.

"So isn’t it remotely possible — just an tiny bit possible — that the problems in Ottawa might have more to do with the Senators organization itself than any one player? If so, then maybe Dany Heatley's comments to Darren Dreger last night, implying he felt he was getting deliberately screwed around by the team, are at least reasonable from his point of view. (Not that I have any reason to believe he was, simply that I'm no more likely to let the Senators off the hook than I am to let Heatley off for this mess.)

"On the other hand, Heatley is the one that made this public and that wanted out of a contract that HE willingly signed in the first place, so he has plenty of fault in this no matter what. And I’m not saying the Senators are the 'bad guys' in this drama, either. Only that we don’t necessarily know the whole story. And since Heatley strikes me as a reasonably smart guy able to anticipate he’d look pretty bad in all this, I can only assume he felt he had good reasons to take this path.

"Whatever the truth, it seems likely there's far more back-story to this than simply 'Dany Heatley is an evil psycho,' and everyone's sanctimonious moaning about how terribly Heatley has treated the 'poor Ottawa Senators' strikes me as an infantile over-reaction. At the end of the day, it's just business, and conflicts aren't unheard of in business, especially given the amounts of money at stake.

"... until some clever and gutsy Ottawa hockey journalist writes a tell-all book about Heatley and/or the Senators, I'm reserving judgment."
(*It wasn't.)


Anonymous said...

Heatley apparently nixed a trade to Edmonton because the Oilers were not on his list of "preferred locations".
If you ask any Sens fan right about now, they would prefer to see Heatley locate himself in hell and rot there.

sager said...

Ask a Sens fan? I might well ask a 12-year-old.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying Senator supporters are wrong for being absolutely livid with this whole affair?

Alex said...

I'd love to see the senators try to sign free agents after defaulting on a payment, ahhaha

sager said...

@ 5:32: No, the point might be more it's wrong to direct all the anger at one person.

Anonymous said...

Well, this one person has effectively buggered up Ottawa's chances of making significant changes to the club in order to improve, because all of Murray's energy so far this summer has been wasted on trying to deal him.
This one person wants outta here so bad, yet refuses to waive his no trade when a deal was on the table, because it wasn't a team he wanted to go to.
Ottawa's management deserves some blame for giving him the no trade and that 4 million dollar bonus.
And may I point out that it isn't only Sens fans who direct all there anger at Heatley.
Most GM's in the league were certainly not impressed with his demands.
Can you blame them?
Let's say Heatley does wind up on a team he wants.
Who is to say that in a couple of years, Heatley will pull the chute again?
Really, for a guy who was rescued from an untenable situation in Atlanta a few years ago and has since been awarded a king's ransom of a contract, he has treated the Sens rather shabbily.

Dennis Prouse said...

Great find on the CBA rules regarding the bonus payment, but do the Senators really want to play that game? Reputations are worth an awful lot as well, and you want your club to have a reputation for treating the players right. Character is doing the right thing even when it is difficult. Making that bonus payment to Heatley yesterday was no doubt hard to swallow, but defaulting on it would have just made a bad situation even worse.

Besides, there are plenty of ways the Senators can recoup that money if they trade Heatley - you just force the club getting Heatley to eat the contracts of Jason Smith and Christoph Schubert, and that club can buy them out and deal with the cap implications. Voila -- problem solved. The other consideration here is that the bonus payment yesterday has nothing to do with the cap -- Heatley's cap hit is averaged over the life of the contract, so the bonus payment yesterday only cost Melnyk cash, not cap space. While I am sure he didn't like paying it, $4 million is not going to make or break Eugene Melnyk.

sager said...

At some point people might have to admit the Senators organization is fallible. Heatley started it, but they took a bad situation and made it worse. No one really knows what they did on the preventative side to keep it from reaching this point.